Monday, November 3, 2008

Is a stand on the Armenian genocide relevant to a US Congressional race?

I spent some time thinking about this one.

Dave Krikorian, the independent scoring well in the polls in Ohio's 2nd, has put out a new flyer about his opponent, Jean Schmidt.

Here [h/t to Independent Political Report] is the text of the flyer:

Representative Jean Schmidt has taken $30,000 in blood money to deny the genocide of Armenian Christians by Muslim Turks.

"The Armenian genocide has been a prelude to the horrors which followed: the two world wars, innumerable regional conflicts and deliberately organized campaigns of extermination that have ended the lives of millions of believers." Pope John Paul II (September 26, 2001)

"At this time she does not have enough information to characterize these deaths as genocide, especially when those responsible are long dead." Jean Schmidt's office (March 29, 2007)

"Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it--and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples--the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten." Ronald Reagan (April 22, 1981)

"The question comes to the definition of genocide, and I don't think we are comfortable making that attribution at this time." Jean Schmidt's office (March 30, 2007)

"Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" Adolph Hitler

"The United Nations describes genocide as carrying out acts intended 'to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethic, racial, or religious group.' In this instance it was very difficult to know intent." Jean Schmidt's office (May 11, 2007)


Let's get a couple of things straight at the outset:

1) The whole Armenian genocide resolution affair is not a simple one, as a quick visit to WorldPoliticsReview can attest. There has been extensive lobbying on both sides of the issue, and the passage of such a resolution is politicized in light of the difficult balancing act between the US, Israel, and Turkey, wherein Turkey is one of the most moderate secular Muslim governments in the Middle East, whose support we need in Iraq, but which is also conducting a campaign of what many consider to be cultural genocide against the Kurds. So it raises real questions of realpolitik versus the need to call a genocide a genocide and let the diplomatic chips fall where they may.

2) If this were a State or local race, the incumbent's opinion on the Armenian genocide wouldn't really be relevant, but this is the US Congress, and the issue touches on a lot of foreign policy and public morality issues. I've got to admit I've always been unhappy with the fact that President Clinton seemed willing to apologize officially to every group the US had ever offended or mistreated, and the sheer audacity of some Congressional resolutions leaves me breathless. It also bugs the crap out of me that American politicians are taking money from either Armenians or Turks [from organizations inside or outside this nation's borders] that will affect their votes on resolutions or legislation.

That all having been said--and assuming that Krikorian has both the contributions and the quotations correct--I've got a real problem with Jean Schmidt's responses. If she'd said, I don't think, given the sensitive nature of US-Turkish relations at this time, it's a good idea for politicians in America to be attempting historical judgments on century-old crimes, I'd have been hard put to argue with it. But that's not what she said. What she did was parrot the official Turkish party line, that we don't know the motivations of the mass murderers of Armenian Christians, and that all the killers are dead anyway, so we can't ask them. This, unfortunately, is right out of the Turkish genocide-denying playbook. And while I may think that the Armenian lobbyists, like the Israeli lobby, aren't exactly pristine, there's no real dent in the historical consensus that what happened to the Armenians qualifies as genocide.

You almost have to accept Adolph Hitler as an expert witness on this one; the man surely knew a genocide when he ordered one.

As part of a political campaign, however, this kind of thing makes us all ... uncomfortable. It's too raw, it smacks of, well, attempting to hold our elected leaders accountable for--of all things--moral judgments.

Yet it's germane--and I cite as my evidence the statements of Senator Barack Obama at his final debate with Senator John McCain:

Moderator Tom Brokaw asked the candidates what their "doctrine" would be "in situations where there's a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national security," such as "the Congo, where 4.5 million people have died since 1998," or Rwanda or Somalia.

In such cases, answered Obama, "we have moral issues at stake." Of course the United States must act to stop genocide, he said. "When genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening . . . and we stand idly by, that diminishes us."

So if using the power of the US and our armed forces to prevent genocide on moral grounds alone is on the table as possible US foreign policy, then Krikorian's question--regardless of whether or not it grows out of his own Armenian roots--is a legitimate one. Because how can you take up the question of whether or not to intervene against genocide if you lack the ability to define genocide as genocide even in a well-documented case that took place a century ago?

But then, our national political leaders have often lacked the moral courage to do just that: to examine critically the Turkish treatment of the Kurds, the Chinese treatment of the Tibetans, the Sri Lankan treatment of the Tamils, the Indonesian treatment of the inhabitants of East Timor, the Russian treatment of, well, just about anybody in a breakaway republic....

This is one of the paradoxes of American interventionism around the world. We were so morally outraged after September 11 that in building a consensus against the Axis of Evil, we allowed the Chinese to define Tibetan patriots and the Russians to define Chechen rebels as terrorists as long as both Vlad Putin and those old mass murderers in Bejing played along with our rhetoric.

So what Dave Krikorian has done may not have been politically correct, and it may not even work in his favor, electorally speaking, but it is a service to the body politic nonetheless.

We spend too much time shying away from tough questions, which is why the general inertia of American foreign policy and the defense industry rolls on.

Thanks, Dave.

A footnote on Senator Obama's stance on genocide: mass murder with exterminationist intent apparently isn't always sufficient reason for American intervention, as the rest of the article I cited above explains:

But that wasn't how Obama sounded last year, when he was competing for the Democratic nomination and was unbending in his demand for an American retreat from Iraq. Back then, he dismissed fears that a US withdrawal would unleash a massive Iraqi bloodbath. "Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn't a good enough reason to keep US forces there," the AP reported on July 20, 2007 (my italics).

Some times the change we're supposed to believe in is just the candidate changing his mind.


Ross Levin said...

Thanks for the great analysis. You put it into perspective for me.

Sevgi said...

I would like to thank the author for an interesting article. As an American of Turkish decent, I would like to point out that the historical issue at stake here is not a question of what can be acertained about motives or that the relevant parties are dead; during the same time period 2.5 million Muslims were killed, and of those, 500,000 Turks were slaughtered by Armenians. As one who has many friends whose grandparents were wiped out and forced out the area, it bothers me when Armenians act "holier than thou" as though they are the only victims and don't have any blood on their hands. Unfortunately, they do. Unfortunately, both sides killed each other during that time. And that is why this is so heavily disputed right now...because it was not one sided. Thanks again.

hahajohnnyb said...

You are forgetting the most important genocide of all. The genocide of the entire white race through multiculturalism, which is currently occuring in the United States and Europe.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I can agree with the author's objection to the statement:

"we don't know the motivations of the mass murderers of Armenian Christians, and that all the killers are dead anyway, so we can't ask them."
The fact of the matter is that the existing documentation is more than sufficient to piece together the (extremely complex) details of what happened. In view of the extent of the documentation, there's a moral problem with failing to describe it accurately.

...But this statement is quite incorrect:
"there's no real dent in the historical consensus that what happened to the Armenians qualifies as genocide."
There is a long list of recognized authoritative Historians and scholars who reject the "genocide" label for the 1915 events. Some Non-Turkish Historians who reject the "genocide" label for the 1915 events are:

1. William Batkay, associate professor at Montclair State University;
2. Roderic Davidson (RIP), former professor at George Washington University;
3. Paul Dumont, Professor at Strasbourg-II University, director of the Institut français d'études anatoliennes (French Institute of Anatolian Studies, Istanbul);
4. Gwynne Dyer, Ph.D. in Ottoman military history;
5. Edward J. Erickson, Ph.D. in Ottoman military history, researcher at Birmingham University;
6. David Fromkin, professor at Boston University;
7. Edwin A. Grosvenor;
8. Michael M. Gunter, professor at Tennessee University;
10. J.C. Hurwitz, former professor at Columbia University;
11. Eberhard Jäckel, professor emeritus at Stuttgart University;
12. Steven Katz;
13. Avigdor Levy, professor at Brandeis University;
14. Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton University;
15. Guenter Lewy, professor emeritus at Massachusetts University;
16. Heath Lowry, professor at Princeton University;
17. Andrew Mango, researcher at university of London;
18.Robert Mantran (RIP), former Professor of Turkish and Ottoman history at Aix-Marseille University;
19. Justin McCarthy, professor at Louisville University;
20. Pierre Nora, former professor at School of High Studies in Social Sciences (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris), member fof the French Acadamy;
21. Pierre Oberling;
22. Dankwart Rostow;
23. Jeremy Salt, Professor of political science at Melbourne University;
24. Stanford J. Shaw (RIP), former professor at UCLA and Bilkent University;
25. Philip H. Stoddard, Ph.D. in Ottoman military history;
26. Norman Stone, professor at Bikent University;
27. Gilles Veinstein, professor at Collège de France;
28. Annette Wieviorka, researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris).

Anonymous said...

I had to read this post through twice, curious as to your glaring omission of the central fact in this story. Let me give you a hint: Krikorian is kind of a funny-sounding name; you don't suppose it might be...ummm...Armenian?

Sure enough, it is. A quick peek at his campaign website includes this tidbit:

"Both sets of my grandparents are survivors of this first Holocaust of the 20th century and came to America in the early 1920’s. Most of their family members at the time were murdered."

So for him it's personal, and having lived in Ohio I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of people with similarly funny-sounding names in his district, who might have similarly strong personal feelings about the issue.

Steven H. Newton said...

G rex--that was in the original IPR story and I thought I referenced it; I see now I didn't; not an intentional omission--and there apparently ARE a significant but unknown number of Armenians in the district.

Which explains the passion but does not get us around dealing with the issue.

Anonymous said...

The quotation attributed to Adolf Hitler is a fake:

Many other arguments for the so-called Armenian genocide are other fakes:

The truth is that Armenian nationalist parties butchered several hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and that the Ottoman governement could not prevent all the unaceptable acts of revenge, or simply acts of banditism, by Kurdish and Circassian gangs, againt many innocent Armenians.

Anonymous said...

About the atrocities against innocent and unarmed Muslims during the WWI, and the fith-column role of the Armenian revolutionaries: (eyewitness testimonies translated into English). (Ottoman documents translated into English). (report of American officials, 1919). (Ottoman and Russian documents translated into French).

Anonymous said...

CUP Rule in Diyarbekir Province, 1913-1923 : Ugur Umit UngOr :

Le regne d'une terreur : Province de DIAYARKEBIR : .

Anonymous said...

Nancy Pelosi takes millions of dollars before every election from Armenian community in CA. I'm sure that money 'donated' by the Armenians are actions with a good grace. I actually don't care whatever happens, but I blame Armenians for keeping this clueless woman as a congresswoman in the US congress. I also never hear a word of terrorist attacks in Turkish Embassies by Armenian terrorists that was supported by the same 'gracious' Armenians either. You guys carry out one lopsided campaign let me tell you that. Besides all these commotion, I've actually had the chance to ask both my Armenian and Turkish friends one question that I cannot find the answer to. The question is: Didn't those events take place in the same time as the independence war of Turkey, where Anatolia was captured by allied forces? I mean, it just doesn't make sense that while your country is being invaded, you would take time to kill 1.5 million people instead of actually trying to save your own ass. Neither side has a legitimate answer to this question. Anyway, I hope along the way Armenians and Turkish people find peace. But in my humble opinion, I don't think that is what Armenians want.