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Armenian Genocide Resolution in the U.S. Congress — Righting a Historical Wrong?

It's not often that Armenia makes international headlines across the globe, but when it does it's usually because of one issue that remains fiercely debated until this day — the massacre and deportation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians from Ottoman Turkey in 1915-17. 22 countries recognize the events that occurred towards the end of World War I as genocide, a charge that the modern-day Republic of Turkey refuses to accept even though the term was devised by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 with the Armenian and Jewish experience in mind.

Most scholars also recognize the Armenian Genocide as such, but for the large and influential Armenian Diaspora, recognition by the United States is considered to be the main objective of its continuing international campaign. It's no wonder then, that when a U.S. Congressional House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide by 27 votes to 20 on 10 October, not only did the news make international headlines, but it also defined conversation in much of the blogosphere.

Armenia Genocide Memorial

Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

Writing on Cilicia.com’s Life in Armenia immediately after the resolution was passed, Yerevan-based American-Armenian, Raffi Kojian, noted the prominence of the story as a leading item in the international media.

What was very interesting for me this morning, was reading all the news articles, and there was definitely no shortage of them. I opened Google News to search for “Armenian Genocide” to see if it passed, but instead was greeted with “Armenian Genocide Resolution Passes Committee” as the top headline, with 650 stories already on the topic. That’s big news! The coverage and points being raised were quite varied, from the sickening editorial in the Washington Post to widespread calls for doing the right thing. Lantos, head of the committee, summarized the vote beforehand as choosing between acknowledging a genocide, and appeasing Turkey for military reasons. Basically, do the right thing, or give in to the questionable arm-twisting of a supposed ally – though he did not put it in those undiplomatic terms.

Although such resolutions are not new in the United States, with past experience showing that national security concerns and foreign policy objectives eventually prevent such acknowledgment from passing into law, reaction from Diasporan bloggers was ecstatic. Writing on Cilicia.com's Life in the Armenian Diaspora, Lori wrote an entry in pretty much the same vein.

I’ll never forget this day! How monumental is this? Sitting in California unable to watch the House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting I had my father calling me from Armenia to provide periodic updates since he was able to watch the session live. I can’t even begin to express how I’m feeling right now, I’m happy, proud, relieved, ecstatic, encouraged, hopeful…..Finally, our efforts weren’t in vain. Finally, a president didn’t succeed in shooting this resolution down. I must say that as a Clinton supporter I was disappointed in him, but I expected it from Bush and it feels SO GOOD seeing his efforts to stop this resolution from passing fail. I want to find the 27 members of the committee who voted and shake their hands. I want to thank them for not buying into the threats Turkey made and for not allowing themselves or their ethics to be bought by the Turkish lobby, for not bending over and being Turkey’s puppets.

Reaction in the Turkish blogosphere, however, was obviously very different. Even 92 years after what most people do consider to be Genocide, the Republic of Turkey as well as everyday Turks deny that the event took place. Moreover, they blame the Armenian Diaspora rather than the modern-day Republic of Armenia for attempts to have the Genocide recognized in the United States. As the Turkish government responded to the passing of the resolution by threatening to withdraw logistical support for American troops in Iraq, Erkan’s Field Diary was one of the first Turkish blogs to react to the news.

27 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who are the representatives of American citizens are meddling into a past they have no f***** idea, acting as peons of a genocide industry… Well done dudes, this shows very well that a Democrats-controlled Congress is even worse for Turkey. I hope you can do any good for your own people after making Middle East even messier with your anti-Turkish attitude…

Armenian-Turkish border

Armenian-Turkish border, Khor Virap, Ararat Region, Republic of Armenia

Yet, given that the resolution first and foremost concerned Armenia and Turkey, two countries which share an albeit closed border and which have not established diplomatic ties mainly because of the international campaign for Genocide recognition, the bulk of posts on this subject primarily came from American and English bloggers. To begin with, this was because prior to the vote by the House Committee, U.S. President George W. Bush attempted to intervene to prevent its passage.

The blogosphere was set alight by critical posts from American citizens protesting that fact. 1 Boring Old Man was particularly angry, pointing out that Bush is hardly the most appropriate person to offer his opinion on “crimes against humanity.”

I doubt that Mr. Bush knows where Armenia is unless someone briefed him recently, or knows anything about the Turks and the Ottoman Empire, or knows who Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was or of his place in Turkish history, or has read anything [even Wikipedia] about the Armenian/Turkish struggles, or cares much about any of these things. All he knows is that it is not politically expedient for our country to acknowledge the Armenian mass killing as a genocide because it will infuriate the Turks who are NATO Allies. His deepest understanding is to do the politically expedient thing.

[…]

He’s no person to be entering the debate about the Armenian Genocide. First, he doesn’t know anything about it. Second, the issue is way too close to home for him to be objective. He cites his “War on Terror.” What he doesn’t mention is his own Terrorism…

Winter Patriot agreed.

[…] As far as I can tell, it boils down to a question of language. We’re not supposed to call a historical crime against humanity by its rightful name because that would put a crimp in the current crime against humanity, which we are also not supposed to call by its rightful name.

Two days later, the conversation changed as the White House continued to apply pressure to prevent the resolution from being put to the U.S. Congress for a full vote in November. With Turkey continuing to make threats to prevent U.S. troops in Iraq from being supplied via its territory, and with the Turkish Ambassador being “temporarily withdrawn, “opponents of the resolution started to accuse U.S. Congressional Speaker Nancy Pelosi of supporting House Resolution 106 in an attempt to scupper the war effort. Blogs such as The Hill’s Pundits Blog took the same line in cyberspace.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has picked the worst time to play politics when it comes to Iraq, Turkey and Armenia.

[...]

We are now in a real war with terrorists. We have more than 100,000 troops in Iraq. We have the Turks threatening to invade Kurdistan, just as Joe Biden talks about creating Kurdistan out of the ashes of Iraq. We have a more Islamic-leaning Turkish government. We are a fighting a global war on terror, where we need the help of the Turks more than ever.

And Nancy Pelosi has decided to bring the same resolution to the floor, threatening our national security by playing politics.

[…]

This is a bad time to play politics, Madame Speaker, especially on this issue, follow the lead of your predecessor. Choose American national security over domestic politics.

The Simi Valley Sophist went further and effectively accused Pelosi of treason.

Despite the Turkish threat, Pelosi is pushing forward with the resolution. What is Pelosi’s political imperative? It surely is not Armenian votes. And, it surely is not a fear of additional American service personnel deaths.

[…]

Now, you go ahead and tell me that Pelosi cares about the welfare of our troops. And, you go ahead and tell me that Pelosi actually cares about the memories of Armenians. I’ll submit to you that Pelosi has simply found another mechanism to throw a monkey wrench into the Iraqi war effort. I’m sorry, but I don’t find that patriotic. I hark back to the Vietnam War era traitor, Jane Fonda.

This Ain’t Hell… concurred.

[…] Historians will remember that the Democrat “leadership” (using the term loosely) are a traitorous bunch of double-dealing, back-stabbing punk-ass sissies who can’t summon the fortitude to stand up to a few squeakywheels on the internet. That’ll be their legacy.

Faced with such an outcry domestically, perhaps it was no wonder that many of the same Congressional Representatives that supported the resolution started to back away from HR 106. Interestingly, though, few of those bloggers which opposed the resolution actually denied that the Armenian Genocide took place. Instead, once again, national security and foreign policy objectives took precedence over what most Armenians consider to be the quest for “historical justice.” Cribs and Ranting was one of them.

It was a grand and appropriate gesture, befitting statesmen, by the US House of Representatives to officially dub the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as “genocide”. The US need not have made the first move on this, but it did it in line with its assumed role as a global leader, as a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, reality hit the House representatives, real hard. It is not the truth that prevails, even if it is a genocide. Usually it are the hard, cynical ground realities that win.

[...]

Worried about antagonizing Turkish leaders, House members from both parties have begun to withdraw their support from a resolution backed by the Democratic leadership that would condemn as genocide the mass killings of Armenians nearly a century ago, reports The New York Times.

[…]

Turkey has promised to turn over documents and support a conference to determine whether there was a genocide of Armenians. That conference would take years to convene, and maybe years to arrive at any conclusion. But it may now provide the House of Representatives a fig-leaf of an excuse to get out of the embarrassment their idealism got them into.

Deja vu — the same happened in 2000 when another resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide was about to be put to a full Congressional vote. It wasn't long before Armenian bloggers such as ArtMika at Unzipped started to write more on developments which to be honest, shouldn't really have come as much surprise to anyone.

It seems that Bush + Turkey & co ‘succeded’ again. A number of House members panicky withdrew their support as co-sponsors of the resolution. To get majority seems unlikely now, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be forced to shelve or postpone it. I felt kind of disgust when read the news (below, via iararat). They used us or got used and then threw away… as usual. Pure ‘moral dimension’ in politics.

[...]

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos reports: “According to Congressional and Bush administration sources, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now unlikely to bring a resolution which would label the deaths of Armenians in a conflict more than 90 years ago as “genocide”.

Yet, while history looked set to repeat itself with another resolution about to be blocked because of concerns about the war in Iraq and U.S.-Turkish relations, some interesting precedents did occur in the blogosphere. Firstly, and as was the case with the murder earlier this year of ethnic Armenian journalist and editor Hrant Dink in Istanbul, the Armenian blogosphere was defined more by numerous posts from non-Armenians.

Truly, the conversation was global and the media also sought to solicit opinions from bloggers and internet users. One of those was Inside Higher Ed which ran an interesting article on the role of academia in the debate over the Armenian Genocide. The online article allowed commenting in the same way as a standard blog post.

More significantly, perhaps, and although Armenian and Turkish bloggers avoided discussing HR 106 together online, some Turks attempted to reach out to ethnic Armenians via their blogs. One of those was Turkish writer, Mustafa Akyol, at The White Path.

A few days ago a new friend of mine who happens to be an American Armenian played some beautiful songs for me that come from the deepest roots of her ethnic tradition. While I enjoyed the numinous rhythms of that magnetic Armenian music, I realized how similar they were to the tunes of the Turkish classical music that I have grown up hearing. “Despite all the political warfare,” I said to myself, “alas, look how similar we are.” I actually have a similar feeling when I drive along the magnificent mosques and palaces of Istanbul, some of which were built by Armenian architects – men in fez who devoutly worshiped Christ and proudly served the Sultan.

Well, we were the children of the same empire, weren't we? We actually lived side by side as good neighbors for centuries until the modern virus called “nationalism” descended upon us. And then hell broke loose.

[...]

Convey your message calmly, in other words, and it will be heard. But don't try to impose it onto us. We are not a nation of monsters, but we do have a stubborn side. When foreigners start to dictate our history to us, we tend to revert back to our grandmothers’ stories. And if we will start listening to your narrative, that will not be because we are pushed into a corner by the politics of a powerful lobby, but because our hearts are touched by the memoirs of a terrible tragedy.

Apart from Raffi Kojian at Cilicia.com and myself, few Armenian bloggers chose to participate in what can be considered an invitation to discuss and debate. In general, the Armenian and Turkish blogospheres remained polarized and isolated from each other although both Talk Turkey and Blogian were notable exceptions. Hopefully, as the resolution continues to be discussed in American political circles, there will be more examples of Armenian and Turkish bloggers communicating with each other on this and other matters.

Certainly, and even though the fate of House Resolution 106 remains uncertain, Global Voices will continue to keep readers up to date on the latest developments. Until then, the latest posts from the blogosphere represent the two main views in circulation — that the Armenian Genocide happened and it should be recognized, or that it happened, but the resolution in the United States is not the way to right what most consider to be a historical wrong.

While I understand the need to maintain good relations with an Islamic democracy, NATO member, and strategic ally, we cannot play along with Turkey’s policy of whitewashing history and suppressing dissent. The United States cannot be a moral leader in the world if we only stand up for human rights issues when economic and strategic interests aren’t at stake.As the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-29) asks:

“How can we take effective action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?”

Georgetown University College Democrats

Is there an example of more extreme, hypocritical arrogance than the U.S. Congress, and other politicians, as well as newspapers columnists and human activists attempting to have a resolution passed acknowledging the Armenian genocide by Turkey?

[...]

The fact that the U.S. Congress wants to pass a resolution regarding the genocide that Turkey has committed, but has not said anything about the genocides the United States is responsible for, shows that passing these type of resolution is completely meaningless.

Getting Truth

Two days ago, I lauded George Bush for having the courage to meet publicly with the Dalai Lama. Today I am embarassed to note that the American Congress has succumbed to the pressure exerted upon it by the Bush White House by refusing to recognize the Armenian Genocide. [...]

[...]

We are not talking here about a compromise on a tax treaty, a trade-off on a bill to support pork producers if someone supports your wheat farmers. We are talking about the killing of 1.5 million people. Recognizing genocide for what it is will not bring the dead back. But it will do justice to their memory and let others know that there will be no negotiating or compromising on the issue. Shame on Bush and shame on the US Congress.

University of Alabama Faculty of Law

There seems little historical doubt that the Armenian massacre was indeed genocide. The eye-witness accounts of the time are overwhelming, and Ottoman government documents talking openly about eliminating the Armenians as a people group are plentiful from the period 1915–1917. But with the U.S. dependent on the friendship of Turkey to support a difficult war in Iraq, it seems at the very least an ill-timed notion to rub Turkey’s face in the judgment of history. True, all Armenians and American-Armenians will feel affirmed by official American national recognition of the injustice they suffered. But isn’t it more important that the Turks themselves should finally come to acknowledge the truth of what happened to the Armenians 92 years ago? That may yet take decades to come to pass. Assuredly, it won’t be hastened by this week’s Congressional resolution. And what if resupplying American troops in Iraq is seriously compromised by a Turkish curtailment of U.S. base usage in Turkey? To rephrase Congressman Lantos’ well-stated dilemma: “Is the gratification of wounded Armenian sensibility worth the possibly serious risk that could ensure to American forces in wartime?” [...]

Implications

The Armenian Observer also carries a summary of what Armenian bloggers in the Republic as well as the Diaspora wrote on the resolution, and there is full coverage on the Oneworld Multimedia blog. For now, the story looks set to continue.

Armenian Genocide Survivor

Genocide Survivor, Arax, Armavir Region, Republic of Armenia

All photographs © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2005-6

  • Hamid Tehrani

    Thanks a lot for report.As far as I know two third of States in USa have recognised Armenian Genocide.European PArliament and United Nations did the same.

  • http://oneworld.blogsome.com/ Onnik Krikorian

    Forty U.S. States according to Wikipedia.

  • Pingback: Armenian News, Analysis & Photography — Oneworld Multimedia :: Global Voices First Post :: October :: 2007

  • http://gettingtruth.blogspot.com RandallJones

    Is there an example of more extreme, hypocritical arrogance than the U.S. Congress, and other politicians, as well as newspapers columnists and human rights activists attempting to have a resolution passed acknowledging the Armenian genocide by Turkey?

    How about asking the U.S. Congress to put an end to the genocide it is committing in Iraq? Most politicians only acknowledge the deaths of American soldiers, but have nothing to say about the deaths of the Iraqis. Even the political left pretend that what is going on in Iraq is just a civil war and the U.S. is an innocent, helpless bystander. This is no different from Turkey, who mourns the deaths of its own and claims that in 1915 it was civil war and there was mutual suffering at the hands of the other.

    It was the United States that helped Saddam Hussein into power and supported him strategically and financially, when he was committing his worst atrocities. The U.S. has bombed the infrastructure of Iraq during two invasions; no one really knows how many were killed during these bombings or due to the use of chemical weapons and depleted uranium. Thousands of Iraqis are put in jail without justification. Reconstruction projects are benefiting foreigners more than the Iraqis. American agent provocateurs are fueling the violence between the different religious and ethnic groups; but no one is investigating this.
    Millions of Iraqis have fled their country in fear for their lives. The Iraqis are scapegoats for U.S. foreign policy.

    For those who have no sympathy for the Muslims in Iraq (and Afghanistan), let’s look at what the United States did in Vietnam and Cambodia. Three to five million Buddhists were killed when the U.S, bombed and used chemical weapons on these countries. Where is U.S. acknowledgment of this genocide?

    What about how the United States preaches human rights and democracy, yet it engages in regime change, supporting brutal dictators and kings who do its bidding?

    The fact that the U.S. Congress wants to pass a resolution regarding the genocide that Turkey has committed, but has not said anything about the genocides the United States is responsible for, shows that passing these type of resolution is completely meaningless.

  • azer

    How nice?!
    Your Armenia currently occupies about %20 of Azerbaijan, you cry genocide for what happened during the World War!? Your armenian named, Adronik Migranranian, a russian crony, self-named russian nationalist, claimed in 1991 that it is normal that wars start when empires dissolve. He knew very well that Russians were supporting Armenia and it would win. That was Ok, but when you loose it is called genocide. No one in the US knows the extent of your territorial claims to your neighbors. That is the main reason for all your cries.
    Armenia is a cliant country of Russia. It is well known that Armenia is a fort-post of Russia in Caucasus. It exists with total financing and prompting of the most militant wing of Kremlin circles.
    The amazing cynism of Armenians is that, in 1920 when the Russian troops approached Armenian, the country had asked officially protection from Turkey, the same country they are accusing now.

    • Grigor

      Your biased opinion reflects the passion of the Safarov-minded extremist and can never reveal justice to a third party. Unfortunately, so far I have never met an azeri analyst who would be able to cast off the limiting thoughts of hatred and anti-Armenianism and to look at the historical facts, just calling a spade a spade!! The Armenian genocide 1915-1923 was a well-masterminded attack against the Armenian minority living in the Ottoman Empire. Remember and notice that no war was declared against the Armenians; instead on 24 April 1915, the Turkish militia launches a cruel slaughter of the Armenians living in their historical motherland which had become a part of the Ottoman Empire.
      I am not surprised to read your comments as you feel fine with what happened in Sumgayit in 1988 and in Baku in 1990; so anything called genocide is a common procedure that can be passed and overlooked for political reasons and racial hatred

  • http://www.talkturkey.us metin

    As I mentioned on my blog:

    This is not really about the Armenians or their plight, or a case of proper ‘verbiage’ as it relates to ‘mass killings’ or ‘Genocide.’ The Armenians just happen to be the ‘innocent’ bystanders as the ‘current’ recipients of this latest attempt to polarize Islam (not the one Turkey practices anyway, but the one as perceived by the West) and the West (not the real one as perceived by Islam or at least the one Turkey thinks it’s a part of). And the Turks (also guilty) are looking at this as a pride issue and this is simply and unfairly favoring the ultra-nationalists’ goal of isolation, all at the expense of the religion of Islam.

    This may come to a proper resolution as the ‘resolution’ may never make it to the House floor after all. And if it did, its defeat would be more embarrassing to the ‘used’ Armenians than its passage would be to the Turks! Unfortunately, the Kurds might come out of this as the biggest losers when it’s all said and done . . .

    Turkish parliament’s not so surprising decision (possibly more so as a result of the Genocide vs. ‘Genocide’ debate) to go for and allow the leader(s) of Turkey (including the aging generals) to act out their non-invasive fantasies of capturing rich oil fields (I mean create a buffer zone to protect its ‘Kurdish’ citizens from ‘bad’ Kurds), will put to risk the current ‘War on Terror’ (exclusive to the U.S. ‘intervention’ only??) as we all know it.

    Or Is this the beginning of the engagement with the real enemy . . . Iran . . . at the expense of an independent Kurdistan?

    Oh well . . . nothing better than an escalating of (hopefully just the rhetoric) Muslim on Muslim crime!

  • Pingback: depotab » Blog Archiv » Armenian Genocide Resolution in the US Congress — Righting a …

  • Pingback: More Comments from Armenian Bloggers on US Congress Resolution 106 « The Armenian Observer Blog

  • http://forgetbaghdad.blogspot.com Nadia

    metin, i completely disagree.
    armenians have been trying hard to get the genocide recognized worldwide and have failed so long in the west because the strategic importance of turkey and turkish pressure has been too strong.

    if you think this is simply a matter of religion, i would point out that orientalist bernard lewis is among the genocide deniers, bush is opposed to the recognition and israel refuses to recognize the genocide as well as lobbies against its recognition in the us.

  • http://forgetbaghdad.blogspot.com Nadia

    and randall if you want to be taken seriously maybe you should stop supporting 9/11 conspiracy theories.

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