Bush’s Politics of Terror and Turkey’s Genocide of Armenians

Political Affairs Magazine, NY
Oct 13 2006

Bush’s Politics of Terror and Turkey’s Genocide of Armenians

By Norman Markowitz

A House committee yesterday passed a resolution to condemn the
genocide carried out against the Armenian minority in the Ottoman
Turkish Empire between 1915 and 1917 during World War I.

Twenty-one nations by my last reading have formally recognized this
organized mass murder as genocide, and scholars generally regard it
as the second most studied genocide in modern history, after of
course the genocide of the Jewish people of Europe by Nazi Germany
and its fascist allies. That genocide, carried out with the railroad
cars and gas chambers of what were industrial killing factories saw
the murder of a minimum of six million people whom the Nazis
considered Jewish according to their racist ideology, along with many
millions of other civilians who were murdered either for racist
reasons or because they were anti-fascists.

The genocide was carried out against the Armenian minority by Pan
Turkish racists and militarists (of the `Young Turk’ movement praised
by major capitalist states as `modernizers’ before the war) in
control of the collapsing Ottoman empire. As many as 1.5 million
people were killed. But the fact that the perpetrators were largely
forgotten after some fairly limited actions against a few of them
after the war and the events largely buried outside of the Armenian
Diaspora (along with a far less developed record keeping in the
Ottoman empire than in Nazi Germany) makes it more difficult to say
how many people perished.

In effect, the nationalist military leader Mustapha Kemal, known to
the world knows at Attaturk, successfully fought off various armies
in the collapsing empire, took power over what became modern Turkey,
and after the war continued the extreme nationalism of the `Young
Turks.’ He combined that nationalism with a fierce anti-clericalism
and coercive social reforms, and remains to this day the center of a
huge personality cult in Turkey that connects secularism with an
authoritarian nationalist tradition contemptuous of a any form of
cultural pluralism for non-Turkish minorities in the present Turkish

That regime has made aggressive denial of the Armenian genocide into
a prop for its anti-Kurdish policy and its general policy of
suppressing liberal and humanistic criticisms of its treatment of
minorities and denial of civil liberties.

It is indisputable that there was a policy of mass forced
deportations of Armenians established by law. The state viewed
Armenians as a "threat to national security" during a war that the
Ottomans were clearly losing. The law ordered the confiscation of
Armenian property, special units acting as killing squads against
Armenian civilians, and policies that led to mass starvation among
the Armenians herded like animals in death marches.

These events were big news in the neutral U.S. and allied countries
in 1915. Henry Morgenthau, Sr., U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and father
of Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury (who during the war
fought against the developing Holocaust against the Jewish people of
Europe) played an important and courageous role in disseminating
information about the planned atrocities to U.S. sources and the
atrocities, particularly the mass starvation, became widely known and
commented upon in the U.S.

The allied powers condemned the actions of Turkey’s military, and the
New York Times wrote in 1915 that the murders were "systematic" and
"organized by the government." Britain and France and Czarist Russia,
the allied powers, had good reason to condemn the mass murder.
Turkey’s wartime allies, the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, on
the other hand, kept silent about the news of mass atrocities against
Armenians. Ironically, some of the best documents historians have
found that confirm the genocide are from German and Austrian sources
who were on hand to witness what was going on as allied reporters
were excluded.

One could go on and on, looking at the international denunciations of
Ottoman mass murder, the previous history of anti-Armenian prejudice
which preceded the state organized mass murder, the specific Ottoman
military disasters that were the immediate cause, the humanitarian
campaigns in the U.S. and other countries to save the Armenians, the
Turkish government’s initial denials, portraying the Armenians as
subversive agents and tools of its historic Czarist Russian enemies,
with whom it was now at war, the receding of the policy in the wake
of international condemnation and deepening military disaster, and
the post WWI very limited attempts to punish perpetrators.

But what is at stake here is the opportunism and the hypocrisy of the
Bush administration and previous U.S. governments whose example it is
now following. The Bush administration playing crude politics with
what was a genocide that prefigured the World War II genocide of the
Jewish people of Europe. (It sought to round up and exterminate
through starvation, forced marches, forced labor battalions and
murder detachments the scattered minority population of a large
multinational empire stretching from Suez to the Balkans.)

The nationalist Turkish government created by Attaturk, often in
reality a de facto military dictatorship with political parties
serving the military and threatened with removal if they challenged
military prerogatives, has for generations refused to acknowledge the
genocide, sought in recent years to sponsor genocide denial
scholarship, and use diplomatic and economic forms of blackmail and
retaliation against those nations which have formally condemned the
genocide That is what the present government, in which a clerical
party plays a leading role, is doing at the moment.

The official Turkish government positions minimizing both the number
of Armenians killed and explaining the killings as a regrettable
response to anti-Turkish Armenian rebellions in which Turks also died
are not worthy of serious discussion (even though the Turkish
government has bought scholars who do will make some version of those
arguments). The fact that some left forces in Turkey, opposed to U.S.
imperialism rhetorically, have found it useful for themselves to
identify with the Turkish nationalism of Attaturk and support the
genocide denial argument of right-wing Turkish nationalists is also
not worthy of serious discussion (such opportunism is both
unprincipled and almost always politically unsuccessful for left
parties and movements).

The Bush administration, in opposing the House resolution has in
effect taken the Turkish government position. "We deeply regret the
tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915," Bush
said, "but this resolution is not the right response to these
historic mass killings and its passage would do great harm to a key
ally in NATO and to the war on terror."

Morally and ethically, although those are not terms one would usually
use for the Bush administration, this would be like a U.S. cold war
government, having established a West German state after World War II
in which German militarists and open supporters of the Hitler regime
played a much more direct and leading role than they did in reality
and contended that the genocide against the Jewish people during
World Wa rII was greatly exaggerated and also the result of Jewish
pro Soviet and pro Communist activities against Germany (a version of
Hitler’s contentions) supported that West German government’s
campaign to keep the U.S. Congress from passing a resolution
denouncing the Holocaust.

The Turkish government, which has praised Bush’s position, has used
its denials over the generations to, in effect, bolster and sustain
deep racist prejudices against Armenian people, prejudices which are
very similar to the historic prejudices that existed against Jewish
minorities in European states, that is, members of a minority
religion loyal to their own members, controlling the economy, the
traditional scapegoats for the problems and failures of Muslims and

One could of course mention that the Bush administration, which has
done so much to aid fundamentalist Christians and undermine the
separation of church and state, has now counseled against the U.S.
Congress joining other civilized nations in a formal condemnation of
a genocide carried out against a Christian minority. One might also
mention that Bush is by no means the first to do this – successive
U.S. governments in effect winked at the Armenian genocide as part of
a policy of supporting Turkey as a NAT0 state and military ally
against the Soviet Union through the cold war era.

The racist denial of language and other cultural rights to Turkey’s
Kurdish Muslim minority was also not a problem for these governments
as for that matter Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Iraqi Kurdish
minority was no problem for the Reagan administration when they
supported his regime in the1980s in its war against Iran. (Iran of
course had and has its own history of abuse against its Kurdish
minority, but this has never been an issue in U.S. policy toward Iran
and isn’t today.)

But the issue should be to support and pass this resolution and then
have Bush speak to the world, if he would dare, in condemning it. How
can Turkey become a state that is worthy of support if it continues
to support and subsidize genocide denial internationally and take
repressive actions against those Turkish citizens who acknowledge the
Armenian genocide? How can Turkey be in the long run an ally against
the ultra-right clerically based terrorist groups in the region if it
sustains policies of separation and ethnic religious hatred that
these groups feed upon? It does the Turkish people no good to
continue to wink these historic crimes against humanity in order to
use the Turkish military for U.S. ends, which essentially has been
the policy of successive U.S. governments.

Theodore Roosevelt, a former Republican president called the mass
killings against Armenians "the greatest crime of the war." In
reality, it there was a much greater international outcry against the
Armenian genocide during World War I by the Allied powers and neutral
states than there was against the WWII genocide directed against the
Jewish people of Europe (perhaps because the victims were Christians)
and this may have played a role in limiting the extermination policy.

But the existence of a post World War I Turkish state, in which
nationalism and military elites have played a leading role, led to a
situation where these real crimes against humanity can be denied or
at least hidden by the government of the United States for its own
geopolitical reasons. And that is not a small thing. In 1931, Adolph
Hitler, two years before the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship
said "we intend to introduce a great resettlement policy….remember
the extermination of the Armenians." In 1939, in advocating a policy
of mass killing in Poland to take the "Living Space" for Germans, he
said privately to his officers, "who, after all speaks today, of the
annihilation of the Armenians.

Who does? Civilized people throughout the world for whom human rights
aren’t an empty slogan. But not the Bush administration, its State
Department, and its policy planners who have gone from one disaster
after another in the Middle East and everywhere else.

Hopefully, the U.S. Congress will remember.

Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs.



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