Whether or not the
Turks were guilty of genocide 92 years ago is an issue for researchers and
historians. The Turks say hundreds of thousands of Armenians died as a result
of war. The Armenians put the figure at between 600,000 and 1.5 million, and
contend they were the victims of genocide. The question is why are the
Americans getting in on the act -- and why now?
A resolution that the
killings amounted to genocide was passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee
last week and is set to be voted upon by the full House later this month.
Turkey is furious. It has temporarily pulled its ambassador and warns that such
a vote risks a breakdown in US-Turkish relations. These, of course, are already
strained by Turkish threats of launching incursions into northern Iraq to quell
PKK guerilla activity.
administration is working hard at damage control. It senior officials are
pressuring the House not to go ahead with the vote, which they say could affect
national security. And, at the same time, they are attempting to persuade
Ankara not to interfere in northern Iraq.
On both issues, those
involved are guilty of humbug.
House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi is pushing for the vote on a moral platform. But shouldn't she first
take the log out of her own country's eye before she tackles the mote in
Perhaps she has
forgotten that her nation was founded on what some historians refer to as
"genocide." For instance, Ward Churchill, a professor of American
Indian studies, who wrote the book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust
and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, or Andrea Smith, the writer of Conquest, Sexual Violence and
American Indian Genocide.
They may be wrong, but it is generally believed that only
15-20 per cent of the indigenous American population survived the years between
1492 and 1900. It is also true that the US government approved mass slaughter
of the buffalo, thus depriving the Plains Indians of their food supply and
forcing them into reservations. Incredibly around 300 reservations still exist.
Just as Turkey is
sensitive to being accused of genocide, so is the US, which refused to ratify
the 1948 UN Genocide Convention until 1988 with the proviso it was immune from
prosecution for genocide without its consent. And just to remind you, it still
hasn't ratified the International Criminal Court, established in 2002 to
prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
Put simply, Pelosi in her capacity as House speaker has no
moral platform from which to throw rocks at Turkey unless she first institutes
a vote on whether the US was built on the genocide of America's indigenous
Better still, let
that alleged genocide be investigated by the UN and if and when the US is found
culpable it should make financial reparations to the living descendents of
those who suffered. It should also be up to the UN to pronounce on whether or
not Armenians were the victims of genocide. Pelosi, a California Democrat, has
a large number of Armenians in her constituency and rather than acting out of
some deeply held conviction may be playing to the gallery.
President George W.
Bush is being similarly hypocritical in his attitude towards Turkey. He has
stood firmly against the vote condemning Turkey but only because it is an ally
in the so-called "war on terror," a friend to Israel, a member of
NATO and, most importantly, a safe conduit into Iraq for US military supplies.
Bush knows that
Turkey isn't given to making empty threats since it has already severed
military ties with France in response to the French National Assembly's bill
that criminalises denial of the Armenian genocide.
Just hours before the
vote, the president told reporters, "We all deeply regret the tragic
suffering of the Armenian people," but "this resolution is not the
right response to these mass killings." One can only wonder whether he
would have issued the same response had Turkey not been an ally and a very
useful one at that.
But when it comes to
glaring double standards, the Bush administration is a master. This is a
government that took its country to war on false pretexts, is presently
occupying another country and is threatening Iran with military repercussions
for allegedly allowing insurgents and weapons to cross its borders into Iraq.
And it does all this
citing its own national security even though the US is 6,000 miles away.
Yet when Turkey, an
actual neighbour of Iraq, takes measures to protect its stability and
integrity, it is painted as a troublemaker and warned to stay clear.
Finally, I harbour no
intent to undermine the Armenian tragedy or to defend the actions of the
Ottomans during the First World War. Further, I neither condemn nor advocate a
Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. My distaste is reserved for the US
government and certain American lawmakers who obviously have never heard of the
adage "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" or even if they
have, are simply too arrogant to care.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.