A Moment of Recognition

Turkey must acknowledge the crimes of its past

Amid the mire of ways, means, and appropriations, a history lesson may seem out of place on the docket of the United States House of Representatives. This month, however, a particularly vivid example has materialized, and rightly so: The United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs has approved and submitted a bill that would recognize that neglected genocide of more than a million Armenian Christians by Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1917.

If the Congress was slow to recognize the great crimes perpetrated nearly a century ago, one would hardly blame them: the Armenian genocide was scarcely acknowledged for 50 years. Another one of history’s great criminals, Adolf Hitler, used the mass killing’s anonymity to justify his own violence towards the Poles in 1939, saying: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Much has changed since that dark moment in history, but modern Turkey, beholden as it is to the Young Turk perpetrators and in spite of the light of historical perspective, still refuses to admit the taint on its history and clings to dramatic understatements of the death toll. Turkey cannot continue to deliberately avoid dealing with the disturbing facts of its history. Other countries have stared their genocidal demons in the face, and the fact that they have done so is a sign that they have moved past a dark era in their history.

Armenians around the world have lobbied for statements of recognition from major powers in light of Turkey’s frightful obstinacy, and have won support in more than twenty nations. With Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in control, it appears that the time has finally come for America to join this group.

The White House and the Republican members of Congress, however, warn that this abstract resolution will have no tangible effects beyond alienating America’s relationship with a key ally in the war on terror. In particular, they are worried about the United States military’s mission in Iraq, in which neighboring Turkey has been a critical ally. It seems there is some legitimacy to these claims, as Turkish General Yasar Buyukanit has warned that his country’s “military relations with the United States can never be the same,” and the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. has been ordered to return from Washington.

But as Pelosi has pointed out, “there’s never been a good time” to draw Turkey’s ire over this issue. Furthermore, a modern nation yearning to join the European Union ought to make peace with its past. If President Bush can claim that acts of genocide will never occur “on his watch,” surely he should not shy away from recognizing one for the sake of political expedience. We are also disappointed that leadership of the recognition of the Armenian genocide has largely been left to politicians by academics. Academia aspires to question all orthodoxies in the name of the truth; the Armenian genocide is one area in which it has fallen woefully short.

So let Turkey rage. The tide has turned globally in favor of the frank acknowledgement of all the horrors that took place in the chaos of World War I. Even if this resolution serves as a mere symbol of solidarity, one may hope that its weight might counteract the indelible pain of almost a century of impunity and silence.

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