I’m in two minds about the resolution passed by the US House of Representatives' foreign affairs committee condemning the genocide of Armenians during and after the first world war.
It is good to help set the record straight on one of the most unconvincing denials of the 20th century. As A Shameful Act by Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian working at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, makes crystal clear, in the period 1915 to 1921 the Turkish state deliberately and systematically murdered about 1 million Armenians. The genocide was not as methodical or as extensive as the Holocaust in Germany, but it shared many of its characteristics. A Shameful Act can leave you in no doubt that the Turkish state, in particular the sinisterly named Special Organization, set out to exterminate Armenian communities.
• The title of A Shameful Act was Mustafa Kemal’s (Ataturk’s) own description of the genocide.
• In a classic demonstration of guilt, the Turkish authorities destroyed most of the documents associated with the killings. Here is an extract from one of the main indictments at the postwar war crimes trials: “From close inspection of the remaining documents of the Special Organization we understand that most of that body’s documents, and all the Central Committee’s documents have been destroyed.” At the trials the postal minister admitted that all the military telegrams had been destroyed on the orders of the war ministry.
• The bloody pogroms were reported by numerous foreigners, including the Soviet Ambassador, British officers, and German diplomats, and by some brave Turks. Here for instance is an extract from the memoirs of Huseyin Kazim, an Ottoman official in Damascus: “200,000 people were sacrificed to the government’s evil designs in Lebanon alone”.
• Genocidal acts can only take place in an atmosphere that validates race hatred and there is plenty of evidence of that from the period in Turkey.
For example, Vehip Pasa, the Third Army commander after 1916, felt that Turkey needed lebensraum.
Destiny draws Turkey from the west to the east … Our brothers are in Baku, Daghestan, Turkestan and Azerbaijan … You Armenians are standing in our way … you must draw aside and give us room.
In an early justification of genocide, Mazhar Mufit, a deputy in the National Assembly, chose a striking image in 1922.
It has been said “choose the lesser of two evils”. Very well. Gentlemen … I accept this lesser of two evils” notion. Here is an example: If a pig swallowed a diamond, should you spare the diamond or spare the pig? That gem, that diamond, must not be sacrificed to spare the Armenian swine.
• The Turkish people have been encouraged to deny the genocide by the political class that profited by it. Many politicians and military types who had been under suspicion for war crimes rose to occupy high positions in the Ankara government. Many leading figures in post-war Turkey grew rich from plundering the possessions of massacred Armenians.
Still, whether US congressmen cynically wooing their Armenian-American constituents (the resolution was written by Democrat Adam Schiff, whose California district is home to the US's largest ethnic-Armenian community, and strongly supported by the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, whose district also contains many Armenian-Americans) are the right the people to rule on the matter is another matter.
I thought this Armenian commenter on the BBC website made some good points on the resolution.
The US Congress ruling could create real political tensions not only for Armenia and the wider region, but also for the US.
I think that this discussion should be halted.
It could really hurt the many thousands of Armenian people who live and work in Turkey.
The US recognition of genocide may seem beneficial for Armenia, but we don't need conflict with Turkey.
The two countries would do better to leave this topic to the historians and focus on improving relations between neighbours.