Armenian Genocide: A monument to the victims of the Armenian genocide, in which some 1.5 million Armenians perished at Turkish hands in 1915-16, rises on the rocks above the city of Bikfaya in the Lebanese mountains. (Ashnag via Flickr)
The U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution today that would officially recognize the Armenian genocide. It's the same resolution that's been introduced in three previous Congresses going back to 2003, causing minor controversies along the way in U.S.-Turkish relations. Turkey, you see, refuses to admit that a genocide ever took place.
All evidence (and there's plenty of it) aside, American presidents since Bill Clinton have willingly spoken of an Armenian genocide--but only on the campaign trail, before being elected. Once elected, they've reverted to disgracefully coy ambiguities designed to appease Turkey.
On June 5, 1996, the House of Representatives went as far as adopting a measure that would have reduced aid to Turkey by $3 million (the amount Turkey was estimated to be spending in lobbying fees in the United States, much of it obviously, to deny its Armenian Holocaust) until the Turkish Government acknowledged the Armenian genocide and took steps to honor the memory of its victims. The measure never passed Congress.
The following year, Clinton (on April 24, 1998) said: "This year, as in the past, we join with Armenian-Americans throughout the nation in commemorating one of the saddest chapters in the history of this century, the deportations and massacres of a million and a half Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the years 1915-1923." But he didn't use the word genocide.
Same with Bush on April 24, 2004, when he described the genocide as "the annihilation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians through forced exile and murder at the end of the Ottoman Empire."
It's Barack Obama's turn.
Obama was unequivocal on the campaign trail. "I also share with Armenian Americans – so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors - a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide," he said on Jan. 19, 2008. "That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history. As a U.S. Senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide." He continued,
Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term "genocide" to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.Will he? Next month, Obama travels to Turkey for his first official visit there as president. The Turkish government has even invited him to address the Turkish parliament, a rare honor. (One wonders what language Obama will use, since Turkey tends to punish those who don't speak Turkish on the floor of Parliament.)
The moment the House introduced that genocide resolution today, Turkey's foreign minister, Ali Babacan, fired a warning Obama's way, claiming that Turkey and Armenia are already discussing the 1915 killings and "steps that could be taken by third countries on the issue would not bring any good but harm this process."
As if truth and historical memory should hinge on whatever discussions Turkey and Armenia are having, regardless of how fruitful some of those discussions may be. What, exactly, has one thing got to do with the other? Leave it to a denying nation to invent further denying stratagems.
Let's hope Obama doesn't play the game and not only follows through on his pledge, but urges passage of the House resolution before his trip.
- The Armenian Genocide by Ottoman Turkey, 1915-1916: Facts and Figures
- Turkey's Genocide Problem--and the U.S. House's
- Obama on the "Importance of US-Armenian Relations"
- Full Text of House Resolution Recognizing the Armenian Genocide
- Turkey, Armenia and Soccer Diplomacy