Robert Fisk: Broken promises and an unfolding tragedy

Broken promises and an unfolding tragedy

Armenians may find that by April, Time?s ‘Person of the Year’, Obama,
will change his mind on the usage of the word ‘genocide’

Independent.ie WebSearch By robert fisk
Saturday December 27 2008

If reporting is, as I suspect, a record of mankind’s folly, then the
end of 2008 is proving my point. Let’s kick off with the man who is not
going to change the Middle East — Barack Obama — who last week, with
predictably, became ‘Time’s’ "person of the year". But buried in a long
and immensely tedious interview inside the magazine, Obama devotes just
one sentence to the Arab-Israeli conflict: "And seeing if we can build
on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that’s been made
around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority."

"Building on progress?" What progress? On the verge of another civil
war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, with Benjamin
Netanyahu a contender for Israeli prime minister, with Israel’s
monstrous wall and its Jewish colonies still taking more Arab land, and
Palestinians still firing rockets at Sderot, and Obama thinks there’s
"progress" to build on?

I suspect this nonsensical language comes from the mental mists of his
future Secretary of State. "At least in conversation" is pure Hillary
Clinton — its meaning totally eludes me — and the giveaway phrase
about progress being made "around" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is
even weirder. Of course, if Obama had talked about an end to Jewish
settlement building on Arab land, relations with Hamas as well as the
Palestinian Authority, justice for both sides in the conflict, along
with security for Palestinians as well as Israelis, then he might
actually effect a little change.

An interesting test of Obama’s gumption is going to come scarcely three
months after his inauguration when he will have a little promise to
honour. Yup, it’s that dratted April 24 commemoration of the Armenian
genocide when Armenians remember the 1.5 million of their murdered
countrymen on the anniversary of the day in 1915 when the first
Armenian professors, artists and others were taken off for execution.

Bill Clinton promised Armenians he’d call it a "genocide" if they
helped to elect him. George Bush did the same. So did Obama. The first
two broke their word and resorted to "tragedy" rather than "genocide"
once they’d got the votes, because they were frightened of all those
bellowing Turkish generals, not to mention — in Bush’s case — the US
military supply routes through Turkey, the "roads and so ," as Robert
Gates called them, in one of history’s more gripping ironies — these
being the same "roads and so on" upon which the Armenians were sent on
their death marches in 1915.

So I bet you that Obama is going to find that "genocide" is "tragedy"
by April 24.

I browsed through Turkish Airlines’ in-flight magazine while cruising
into Istanbul earlier this month and found an article on the historical
Turkish region of Harput.

"Asia’s natural garden", "a popular holiday resort", the article calls
Harput. And you have to shake your head to remember that Harput was the
centre of the Christian Armenian genocide, the city from which Leslie
Davis, the brave American consul in Harput, sent back his eyewitness
dispatches of the thousands of butchered Armenians. But I guess that
all would spoil the "natural garden" effect. It’s a bit like inviting
tourists to the Polish town of Oswiecim — without mentioning that its
German name is Auschwitz.

But these days, we can all rewrite history. Take Nicolas Sarkozy, who
not only toadies up to Bashar al-Assad of Syria but is now buttering up
awful Algerian head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika who’s just been
"modifying" the Algerian constitution to give himself a third term in
office. There was no parliamentary debate, just a show of hands — 500
out of 529 — and what was Sarko’s response? "Better Bouteflika than
the Taliban!" Not least when former Algerian army officers revealed
undercover soldiers as well as the Algerian Islamists (Sarko’s
"Taliban") were involved in the brutal village massacres of the 1990s.

Talking of "undercover", I was amazed to learn of the training system
adopted by the Met lads who put Jean Charles de Menezes to death on the
Tube. According to former police commander Brian Paddick, the Met’s
secret rules for "dealing" with suicide bombers were drawn up "with the
help of Israeli experts". What? Who were these so-called "experts"
advising British policemen how to shoot civilians on the streets of
London? The same men who assassinate wanted Palestinians in the West
Bank and Gaza?

Not that our brave peace envoy, Lord Blair, would have much to say
about it. He’s the man, remember, whose only proposed trip to Gaza was
called off when yet more "Israeli experts" advised him that his life
might be in danger. Anyway, he’d still rather be president of Europe,
something Sarko wants to award him. That, I suppose, is why Blair wrote
such a fawning article in the same issue of ‘Time’ which made Obama
"person" of the year. "There are times when Nicolas Sarkozy resembles a
force of nature," Blair grovels. will Blair now tell us he’s going to
be involved in those "conversations" with Obama to "build on some of
the progress" in the Middle East?

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