Which one of these is not like the other? We’ve condemned Burma, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and even powerful Russia for each country’s mistreatment of ethnic minorities. Yet Turkey continues to play the victim, campaigning for EU membership even as it eschews European values, not the least of which is recognition of human rights for ethnic and religious minorities. In the post-WWII era, this commitment is one of the most central unifying features of Europe.
During WWI, Turkey massacred its Christian Armenian population, whom the Turks characterized as fifth columnists. One million or more were murdered. Turkey, unlike Germany, has not come to terms with its past. It routinely dismisses any characterization of the forced marches, concentration camps, and outright massacres of Armenians as genocide. Yet Hitler himself used these acts as a model, noting “Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Now George Bush, champion of all things liberal and democratic in the Middle East, is leading the charge to prevent a Congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide for what it was. Bush’s “idealism,” it should be clear by now, is a slippery thing. It takes absolutely no courage for him and others to condemn a poor and insignificant country’s misdeeds, such as those of Burma or Sudan. And it is also no great shakes to employ moralistic rhetoric when one’s perceived strategic interests are aligned, as in our ritual condemnations of atrocities in Iraq, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. But Turkey is different; it is a nominal ally that is also seeking to forge closer ties with the West. While it speaks our language on the whole–secular state, freedom of religion, separation of powers, elections etc.–its tone and grammar betray its alien roots. It is still a fiercely nationalist place peppered with radical Islam, and neither tradition has much use for dissent and criticism . . . or Armenians, for that matter. To condemn Turkey over its mistreatment of the Armenians might actually cost us something, and it might cost Turkey something too.
Turkey needs to grow up, recognize its awful and bloody past, and behave like a normal country if it wants to be treated like one. From its election of Islamic fundamentalists to its threatening moves on Iraq’s border, it shows more and more that it is not ready for prime time. On reflection, it would not be such a bad thing if the whole world saw its leaders denying the undeniable: that the Ottoman regime massacred an enormous number of innocent Armenians; this was an official policy; and the Turkish nation has never lifted a finger to recognize this wrong-doing, let alone to rectify it.
I would be sympathetic with complaints against this Congressional Resolution if they were lodged by consistent realists, who adopt an across-the-board policy rejecting interference with other nations’ internal affairs. But the defenders of Turkey’s right to live in a world without criticism are normal, run-of-the-mill western politicians–these, the same people that piously utter “never again” at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. In Turkey’s defense, the Madeline Albrights and Cyrus Vances of the world are standing shoulder to shoulder. I’d like to see where Bronco Bomber is on this, considering his punctilious concern for human rights in Pakistan and at Gitmo. This could be a great show.
Or is the real reason that so many big wigs are skittish about condemning Turkey’s record not an arcane matter of foreign policy, but rather seemingly unrelated matters of domestic policy? After all, if we call what happened to the Armenians a genocide, then surely we must recognize the same about events in Cambodia. And if Cambodia, then why not the Soviet Union, Ukraine, China, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia? But of course, such recognition would ultimately contextualize the Nazi genocide, depriving it of its unique role in our moral imagination. This development would call into question the dominant “exceptionalist” account of western history that classifies Europe’s sins to be worst among equals because of the Holocaust. The Armenian Genocide suggests a gruesome precedent for the Holocaust may indeed exist, and, disturbingly for the anti-Western Left, this precedent comes from a non-Christian nation outside of Europe.
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