TWO WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
By Claude Salhani, [email protected]
Oct 21 2007
United Arab Emirates
THERE are two ways of looking at the diplomatic tug-o-war currently
being fought in Washington over the question of the Armenian
genocide. One can either decide with his heart, taking the side of
the Armenians, and vote, yes, the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians
was genocide. End of story.
Or, one can vote with his mind, and oppose the notion. Either way
the United States will upset a close ally in the region.
While mulling over the issue, the question for the Bush administration
and for the Congress is the following: from a national security
perspective, which of the two countries – Turkey or Armenia – is more
important to the US war effort in Iraq, and which one contributes
more towards what President Bush calls "the war on terror."
My guess is Turkey and by a long shot.
The fact that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide in the
slaughter of Armenians around the time of World War I is not in
question. The massacres did take place. The killing of Armenians
is well documented. There are images, films, as well as firsthand
accounts – the testimony of the hundreds of thousands of survivors
who managed to escape and tell their stories. The killings did happen.
Other than a few hard-line Turks, few are those who contest the facts:
Armenians were killed, slaughtered by the tens, by the hundreds,
by the thousands, until more than 1.5 million died. The killings
followed a pattern that appeared to fit the definition of genocide:
The "systematic killing of a people with the intent of eliminating
that particular ethnicity."
The fact that those acts of massive killings are labelled "mass
murder," "ethnic cleansing" or "genocide" is a matter of pure
Regrettably, the dead are dead; changing the tactical name of how it is
they came to die is not about to bring them back to life. Nor would it
change how they died. What it will accomplish is possibly help their
memory and somewhat sooth the sufferings of their descendants. But in
so doing, it risks producing a major geopolitical upset, accompanied
by strategic alliances being reviewed at a time when the United States
needs all the friends it can get, particularly in such a sensitive
part of the world.
Both Armenia and Turkey are important US allies. Turkey is a NATO
member. But Turkey also plays an important role of mediator between
the West and Central Asia. Alienating Turkey at this juncture could
have grave consequences, not least for the US military fighting in
Iraq. Turkey provides the use of some of its military bases close
to the Iraqi border to US air force planes. A vote recognising the
Armenian genocide as such would result in these bases being closed
to the US military.
Incirlik Air Base serves as a hub for military material going in to
both Iraq and Afghanistan. About 74 per cent of air cargo into Iraq
transits Incirlik. Six US military C-17 aircraft based at Incirlik
move the amount of cargo it took 9-10 military aircraft to move
from Germany, saving $160 million per year, according to Anthony H
Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"Americans need to understand that the Turkish government and Turkish
military have provided substantial support to the US in Iraq since
the fall of Saddam Hussein," said Cordesman in a report.
Another question the US government can ask itself is why bring up the
matter now? None of those responsible for the killings of Armenians
are still living. "Sanctioning Turkey today for atrocities committed
against the Armenians in 1916, would be equivalent of punishing
the son for crimes committed by the father," said Alon ben Meir,
a professor at New York University.
"Tragic as the fate of the Armenians may have been in the aftermath
of World War I, the fact remains that the issue is more than half a
century old," said Cordesman.
What is desperately needed between Turkey and Armenia is to promote
reconciliation – if that is at all possible – rather than enact
non-binding resolutions which will only widen the schism and further
distance a precious US ally.
Turkey, who wants admittance into the European Union, could close the
chapter on the Armenian genocide by admitting that what happened in
1916 was indeed genocide, however, stressing that the crimes were
committed by an entity predating the modern Turkish Republic, which
after all, bears no resemblance to its forerunner. For the sake of
maintaining stability in the region, Ankara can issue an apology
to Yerevan, and while making it clear that modern Turkey is not
financially or morally liable for the crimes of their fathers.
And if despite the protests and advice the US Senate passes the
resolution anyway, the Turkish parliament can always reciprocate by
recognising the genocide of Native Americans by the white settlers.
It should have about as much political weight as Washington recognising
the Armenian genocide.