Armenian Genocide Resolution Moving Forward

If you're like many of us, you probably have mixed feelings about the resolution passed the by the House Foreign Affairs Commitee denoting the systematic killing of 1.5 million Christians, most of them of Armenian descent, by Turkey in 1915 as genocide.

It is a classic case of Real Politik versus a moral imperative. Turkey is absolutely insistent that any such acknowledgement of genocide by the House will bring down swift retribution in the form of reduced military cooperation with the United States - something that could have very serious consequences for our efforts in Iraq.

On the other hand, history demands that we, as a civillized people, bear witness to the crime against humanity perpetrated by the Turks when, for a variety of reasons including economic and religious, they set about the task of starving, massacring, and driving from their homes millions of Armenians.

Does national security trump all other considerations in this case? Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn't think so:

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives insisted Sunday that she would bring to the full chamber a resolution condemning the killings of Armenians nearly a century ago as genocide, even as a Turkish general warned that this could lastingly damage a military relationship crucial to American forces in Iraq.

A House committee Wednesday passed a nonbinding resolution declaring the killings, which began in 1915 in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, to be genocide, and the speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi, said Sunday that "I've said if it passed the committee that we would bring it to the floor."

But in Ankara, the Turkish military chief, General Yasar Buyukanit, said that if the full House passed the resolution, "our military relations with the United States can never be the same," Reuters reported. "The U.S. shot its own foot," he told the Milliyet newspaper.

Buyukanit's comment came two days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautioned that bilateral relations with the United States, a key partner in NATO, were endangered. To underscore the point, Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Washington for consultations.
The Turks have a wide range of options open to them as far as retaliation is concerned, from mild to catastrophic. One interesting note is that Turkey is one of America's biggest arms customers which includes spare parts. This opens the question of how much do the Turks wish to damage their own interests when punishing the US for the House vote.

Most experts agree that the Turks will almost certainly curtail or even cut off our ability to resupply our forces in Iraq through Turkey. This would be more than an inconvenience for our military who would then be forced to bring even more supplies overland through Kuwait - a long and dangerous journey that is already stretched to the limit as far as logistics is concerned.

Turkey has also been a steadfast ally in the War on Terror. Reduced cooperation in that theater would also hit hard our capability to fight al-Qaeda.
The Turks continue to deny their "relocation" of Armenians and other Christians during World War I was anything except an unforseeable tragedy. This flies in the face of mountains of evidence including the deliberate confiscation of Armenian property and the denial of food deliveries to the refugees which caused mass starvation. There are also numerous eye witness accounts of the massacre of more tens of thousands both by Turkish troops and the so-called "Special Organization" who were designated as "escorts" for the refugees after they had been forcibly kicked out of their homes.

The Armenians were rounded up and marched out into the desert where unspeakable atrocities were committed against them. Most simply died of thirst or starvation. Others were brutally murdered by roving gangs of criminals while members of the "Special Organization" stood by and watched, sometimes actively participating in the killings themselves.

Those who survived the trek across the desert were brought to detention camps. There were contemporary and historical reports that many of the women and children were burned to death at these camps with others being poisoned and even drowned.

The question of whether the death of 1.5 million Armenians was genocide or not shouldn't be the issue. It was. The question should be is the House vote really necessary in light of the consequences that will fall upon our military in Iraq?

Is there a right or wrong answer? We are at war and there is a compelling argument to be made that we don't have the "luxury" of taking such a moral stand. The countervailing argument, that the vote is long overdue as is recognition of the Turkish government's culpability in crimes against humanity also strikes a chord in our conscience.

A cynic might point out that getting Turkey riled at us enough to cut off access to our troops plays right into the hands of the anti-war crowd. But I have enough faith left in most politicians that they will vote based on the issues I outlined above rather than some end run around our war policy. 

Whether a vote of conscience or convenience, there will be a vote. And how it turns out will say something important about this country.
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