By the time this page is read, the Armenian Genocide Resolution in Congress may be a done deal – or a dead horse. We go to press on Wednesday, the day before the bill comes up before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
Some 1.5 million Armenians were reportedly massacred by the Ottoman Turks in 1915, and as the Jewish War Veterans of the USA put it, in a statement released on Wednesdayparaphrasing Gertrude Stein, “A genocide is a genocide is a genocide.” (You could also say, “If it walks like a duckâ€¦.”)
While Turkey acknowledges the World War I-era deaths of many Armenians, it claims they were due to civil war and unrest. It does not buy the genocide label and has been fighting against it for decades.
It’s been tricky for the Jewish community to take sides. Genocide is “our” issue. The very word was coined, by Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book “Axis Rule in Europe,” in response to the Holocaust. And the United Nations’ Genocide Convention – outlawing mass murder and similar actions causing bodily or spiritual harm to ethnic and other groups – also rose in reaction to the Shoah. The awareness – and, it is hoped, the prevention – of this particular, grievous kind of crime is a legacy inherited from the 6 million.
Yet for fear that Israel’s relations with Turkey will be further strained, Jewish leaders tiptoe around the topic. The United States is also loath to offend an ally, and Congress has defeated this resolution every time Americans of Armenian heritage have pressed for its adoption.
In an interesting opinion piece we’ve posted on our Website (jstandard.com), Shoshana Bryen, senior director for security policy of the Journal of International Security Affairs, cogently argues that “The ‘Armenian Resolution’ should be opposed and defeated.”
Her main points are persuasive but not entirely convincing: 1. that “[t]he Congress of the United States is not the place to debate the history of other people in other times,” and 2. that “[t]he Ottoman and Soviet empires are gone; Turkey and Armenia are independent countries. Their governments have to find whatever understanding and accommodation are possible.”
While the latter point is undeniably true, the former misses the point – genocide is a horror and must be acknowledged and repudiated.