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  • Joseph

    Washington Post
    Oct 15 2007

    Athens - It should be the obligation of every individual, every
    country and every transnational organization to try to prevent - or,
    failing that, to condemn - a crime of such magnitude as the organized
    extermination of Turkey's Armenian population. You are either on the
    side of right or you are not. So, on the face of it, this should be
    a simple issue for the United States and for every other country.

    Reflecting this, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Resolution
    106 claims, "Despite the international recognition and affirmation of
    the Armenian Genocide, the failure of the domestic and international
    authorities to punish those responsible for the Armenian Genocide is
    a reason why similar genocides have recurred and may recur in the
    future." It concludes that, "a just resolution will help prevent
    future genocides." (That remains to be seen: The Holocaust, though
    it was officially recognized and its perpetrators were punished, was
    followed by genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda and "ethnic cleansing,"
    genocide's little brother, in several other instances.)

    The complications in condemning genocide begin when countries begin
    to consider their own present interests and when we try to untangle
    the web of grievances, victories and defeats that constitute nations'
    conflicting histories. And all this is complicated further by the
    great length of time that has passed since that dreadful time in the
    Middle East, whose aftershocks are still at the center of dramatic,
    historical events.

    There is no doubt that there was a concerted military effort at the
    end of the Ottoman Empire to remove the Armenians from Anatolia.

    Whether this was prompted by Armenian collusion with the Russian
    enemies of the Turks or the execution of an old wish to rid eastern
    Turkey of the Armenians is for historians to decide. What actually
    happened - the massacre of an ancient nation and its extermination
    from its ancestral homeland - is not up for debate.

    The massacres and deportations were not unprecedented, as it was
    general practice throughout human conflict for conquerors to remove
    unruly subject peoples or defeated neighbors from their homes through
    deportation or extermination, or both. An obvious instance is the
    removal of the Jews to Babylon. The Armenians were the victims of
    massacres as recently as 1894, 1895, 1896 and 1909. So when Russia
    attacked the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians were more likely to side
    with the invaders than with the Turks. That's where the Turkish
    authorities base their argument that there was no genocide: that
    the deaths resulted from the general turmoil in the Ottoman Empire's
    dying days, and that there were many victims on both sides.

    The problem for the Turks is that they were executing a tried and true
    method of solving historical problems in an era when, for the first
    time, there were enough foreign witnesses and international interests
    involved to seize on the slaughter and portray it for what it was in
    terms of modern sensibilities: a crime of monumental proportions.

    The Turks of the time got away with it, even though the crimes
    hardly went undetected, because most of the Western World was already
    chin-deep in blood shed in the Great War. Since then, Turkey, always
    of great strategic importance, has, through judicious alliances,
    sharp business acumen and wily neutrality, managed to keep friends
    and enemies by tiptoeing around its past. For the Turks, their
    country's modern history begins with the establishment of a secular,
    Westward-looking republic in 1923, after Kemal Ataturk's forces
    defeated an ill-judged Greek military campaign in Asia Minor. The
    years before that, during which the Ottoman Empire collapsed, are seen
    as a glorious struggle to save the Turks' honor from the ignominious
    defeats that the Empire suffered at the hands of foreign invaders,
    and to create a nation out of many disparate parts. This is the
    mythic underpinning of the Turks' identity, which, like all nations,
    arises out of a benevolent reading of great victories and unjust
    defeats. Demanding that the Turks acknowledge that their forefathers
    were the perpetrators of genocide, in effect, demands that they
    undermine their very identity. After denying the Armenian genocide
    for so long, which government (indeed, which individual?) can accept
    accountability for such a crime without putting up stiff resistance?

    But this is where the Turks, who have never seemed to accept the fact
    that military might is not the automatic answer to every problem,
    have met their match. Yesterday's victory spawned today's defeat. The
    remnants of the crushed Armenia spread out all over the world, reliving
    the horror of slaughter and dispossession in their collective memory
    without respite. They raised their children to demand recognition
    of the horror that removed the Armenians from their ancestral
    homeland. The genocide drove them to America, to Canada, to France,
    to other great democracies. And as their wealth and influence grew,
    so did their political power. They have proved themselves implacable
    foes. This, too, is part of the genocide's legacy: the Armenians
    have had nothing to lose and everything to gain from their demand
    for historical restitution.

    Today Turkey finds itself in a position where its value as an ally is
    countered by the political clout of Armenians within its allies. So
    time has run out. Turkey will, eventually, have to come to terms with
    its history or face the prospect of turning its back on the world that
    it set out to join in 1923. The only way that this can be achieved
    is if the Armenians and their backers make clear that the matter is
    moral and not political - because the issue is to honor the victims of
    the past, and not to undermine the common future of Turks, Armenians,
    Azeris and all the other nations of this troubled region.

    As for Turkey's allies, including the United States, they need only
    consider the simple part of the question: are you on the side of right,
    whatever the cost - or are you not?

    Leave a comment:

  • Joseph

    Inside Higher Ed, October 16, 2007

    Genocide Deniers

    In the buildup to last week‚s vote by a House of
    Representatives committee officially calling for U.S.
    foreign policy to recognize that a genocide of
    Armenians took place during World War I, at the behest
    of the „Young Turk‰ government of the Ottoman Empire,
    a flurry of advertising in American newspapers
    appeared from Turkey.

    The ads discouraged the vote by House members, and
    called instead for historians to figure out what
    happened in 1915. The ads quoted such figures as
    Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, as saying:
    „These historical circumstances require a very
    detailed and sober look from historians.‰ And State
    Department officials made similar statements, saying
    as the vote was about to take place: „We think that
    the determination of whether the events that happened
    to ethnic Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire
    should be a matter for historical inquiry.‰

    Turkey‚s government also has been quick to point
    American scholars (there are only a handful, but
    Turkey knows them all) who back its view that what‚s
    needed with regard to 1915 is not to call it genocide,
    but to figure out what to call it, and what actually
    took place.

    Normally, you might expect historians to welcome the
    interest of governments in convening scholars to
    explore questions of scholarship. But in this case,
    scholars who study the period say that the leaders of
    Turkey and the United States ˜ along with that handful
    of scholars ˜ are engaged in a profoundly
    anti-historical mission: trying to pretend that the
    Armenian genocide remains a matter of debate instead
    of being a long settled question. Much of the public
    discussion of the Congressional resolution has focused
    on geopolitics: If the full House passes the
    resolution, will Turkey end its help for U.S. military
    activities in Iraq?

    But there are also some questions about the role of
    history and historians in the debate. To those
    scholars of the period who accept the widely held view
    that a genocide did take place, it‚s a matter of some
    frustration that top government officials suggest that
    these matters are open for debate and that this effort
    is wrapped around a value espoused by most historians:
    free and open debate.

    „Ultimately this is politics, not scholarship,‰ said
    Simon Payaslian, who holds an endowed chair in
    Armenian history and literature at Boston University.
    Turkey‚s strategy, which for the first 60-70 years
    after the mass slaughter was to pretend that it didn‚t
    take place, „has become far more sophisticated than
    before‰ and is explicitly appealing to academic
    values, he said.

    „They have focused on the idea of objectivity, the
    idea of Œon the one hand and the other hand,‚ ‰ he
    said. „That‚s very attractive on campuses to say that
    you should hear both sides of the story.‰ While
    Payaslian is quick to add that he doesn‚t favor
    censoring anyone or firing anyone for their views, he
    believes that it is irresponsible to pretend that the
    history of the period is uncertain. And he thinks it
    is important to expose „the collaboration between the
    Turkish Embassy and scholars cooperating to promote
    this denialist argument.‰

    To many scholars, an added irony is that all of these
    calls for debating whether a genocide took place are
    coming at a time when emerging new scholarship on the
    period ˜ based on unprecedented access to Ottoman
    archives ˜ provides even more solid evidence of the
    intent of the Turkish authorities to slaughter the
    Armenians. This new scholarship is seen as the
    ultimate smoking gun as it is based on the records of
    those who committed the genocide ˜ which counters the
    arguments of Turkey over the years that the genocide
    view relies too much on the views of Armenian

    Even further, some of the most significant new
    scholarship is being done by scholars who are Turkish,
    not Armenian, directly refuting the claim by some
    denial scholars that only Armenian professors believe
    a genocide took place. In some cases, these scholars
    have faced death threats as well as indictments by
    prosecutors in Turkey.

    Those who question the genocide, however, say that
    what is taking place in American history departments
    is a form of political correctness. „There is no
    debate and that‚s the real problem. We‚re stuck and
    the reality is that we need a debate,‰ said David C.
    Cuthell, executive director of the Institute for
    Turkish Studies, a center created by Turkey‚s
    government to award grants and fellowships to scholars
    in the United States. (The center is housed at
    Georgetown University, but run independently.)

    The action in Congress is designed „to stifle debate,‰
    Cuthell said, and so is anti-history. „There are
    reasonable doubts in terms of whether this is a
    genocide,‰ he said.

    The term „genocide‰ was coined in 1944 by Raphael
    Lemkin, a Jewish-Polish lawyer who was seeking to
    distinguish what Hitler was doing to the Jews from the
    sadly routine displacement and killing of civilians in
    wartime. He spoke of „a coordinated plan of different
    actions aiming at the destruction of essential
    foundations of the life of national groups, with the
    aim of annihilating the groups themselves.‰ Others
    have defined the term in different ways, but common
    elements are generally an intentional attack on a
    specific group.

    While the term was created before 1915 and with the
    Holocaust in mind, scholars of genocide (many of them
    focused on the Holocaust) have broadly endorsed
    applying the term to what happened to Armenians in
    1915, and many refer to that tragedy as the first
    genocide of the 20th century. When in 2005 Turkey
    started talking about the idea of convening historians
    to study whether a genocide took place, the
    International Association of Genocide Scholars issued
    a letter in which it said that the „overwhelming
    opinion‰ of hundreds of experts on genocide from
    countries around the world was that a genocide had
    taken place.

    Specifically it referred to a consensus around this
    view: „On April 24, 1915, under cover of World War I,
    the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began
    a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens ˜ an
    unarmed Christian minority population. More than a
    million Armenians were exterminated through direct
    killing, starvation, torture, and forced death
    marches. The rest of the Armenian population fled into
    permanent exile. Thus an ancient civilization was
    expunged from its homeland of 2,500 years.‰

    Turkey has put forward a number of arguments in recent
    years, since admitting that something terrible did
    happen to many Armenians. Among the explanations
    offered by the government and its supporters are that
    many people died, but not as many as the scholars say;
    that Armenians share responsibility for a civil war in
    which civilians were killed on both sides; and that
    the chaos of World War I and not any specific action
    by government authorities led to the mass deaths and

    Beyond those arguments, many raise political arguments
    that don‚t attempt to deny that a genocide took place,
    but say that given Turkey‚s sensitivities it isn‚t
    wise to talk about it as such. This was essentially
    the argument given by some House members last week who
    voted against the resolution, saying that they didn‚t
    want to risk anything that could affect U.S. troops.
    Similarly, while Holocaust experts, many of them
    Jewish, have overwhelmingly backed the view that
    Armenians suffered a genocide, some supporters of
    Israel have not wanted to offend Turkey, a rare Middle
    Eastern nation to maintain decent relations with the
    Israel and a country that still has a significant
    Jewish population.

    Dissenters or Deniers?

    Probably the most prominent scholar in the United
    States to question that genocide took place is Bernard
    Lewis, an emeritus professor at Princeton University,
    whose work on the Middle East has made him a favorite
    of the Bush administration and neoconservative
    thinkers. In one of his early works, Lewis referred to
    the „terrible holocaust‰ that the Armenians faced in
    1915, but he stopped using that language and was
    quoted questioning the use of the term „genocide.‰
    Lewis did not respond to messages seeking comment for
    this article. The Armenian National Committee of
    America has called him „a known genocide denier‰ and
    an „academic mercenary.‰

    The two scholars who are most active on promoting the
    view that no genocide took place are Justin McCarthy,
    distinguished university scholar at the University of
    Louisville, and Guenter Lewy, a professor emeritus of
    political science at the University of Massachusetts
    at Amherst. Both of them are cited favorably by the
    Turkish embassy and McCarthy serves on the board of
    the Institute of Turkish Studies.

    McCarthy said in an interview that he is a historical
    demographer and that he came to his views through „the
    dull study of numbers.‰ He said that he was studying
    population trends in the Ottoman Empire during World
    War I and that while he believes that about 600,000
    Armenians lost their lives, far more Muslims died.
    „There‚s simply no question,‰ he said, that Armenians
    killed many of them.

    The term genocide may mean something when talking
    about Hitler, McCarthy said, „where you have something
    unique in human history.‰ But he said it was „pretty
    meaningless‰ to use about the Armenians. He said that
    he believes that between the Russians, the Turks and
    the Armenians, everyone was killing everyone, just as
    is the case in many wars. He said that to call what
    happened to the Armenians genocide would be the
    equivalent of calling what happened to the South
    during the U.S. Civil War genocide.

    So why do so many historians see what happened
    differently? McCarthy said the scholarship that has
    been produced to show genocide has been biased. „If
    you look at who these historians are, they are
    Armenians and they are advancing a national agenda,‰
    he said. Cuthell of the Institute for Turkish Studies
    said that it goes beyond that: Because the Armenians
    who were killed or exiled were Christians (as are many
    of their descendants now in the United States), and
    those accused of the genocide were Muslims, the United
    States is more sympathetic to the Armenians.

    Lewy said that before he started to study the issue,
    he too believed that a genocide had taken place. He
    said that intellectuals and journalist „simply echo
    the Armenian position,‰ which he said is wrong. He
    said that there is the „obvious fact‰ that large
    numbers of Armenians were killed and he blamed some of
    the skepticism of Turkey‚s view (and his) on the fact
    that Turkey for so long denied that anything had taken
    place, and so lost credibility.

    In 2005, the University of Utah Press published a book
    by Lewy that sums up his position, Armenian Massacres
    in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide. Lewy‚s
    argument, he said in an interview, „is that the key
    issue is intent‰ and that there is „no evidence‰ that
    the Young Turks sought the attacks on the Armenians.
    „In my view, there were mass killings, but no intent.‰
    Lewy‚s argument can also be found in this article in
    The Middle East Forum, as can letters to the editor
    taking issue with his scholarship.

    The Evidence for Genocide

    Many scholars who believe that there was a genocide
    say that Lewy ignored or dismissed massive amounts of
    evidence, not only in accounts from Armenians, but
    from foreign diplomats who observed what was going on
    ˜ evidence about the marshaling of resources and
    organizing of groups to attack the Armenians and kick
    them out of their homes, and the very fact of who was
    in control of the government at the time.

    Rouben Adalian, director of the Armenian National
    Institute, called the Lewy book part of an „insidious
    way to influence Western scholarship and to create
    confusion.‰ He said it was „pretty outrageous‰ that
    the Utah press published the book, which he called
    „one of the more poisonous products‰ to come from
    „those trying to dispute the genocide.‰

    John Herbert, director of the University of Utah
    Press, is new in his job there and said he wasn‚t
    familiar with the discussions that took place when
    Lewy submitted his book. But he said that „we want to
    encourage the debate and we‚ve done that.‰

    Notably, other presses passed on the book. Lewy said
    he was turned down 11 times, at least 4 of them from
    university presses, before he found Utah. While
    critics say that shows the flaws in the book, Lewy
    said it was evidence of bias. „The issue was clearly
    the substance of my position,‰ he said.

    Of course the problem with the „encouraging the
    debate‰ argument is that so many experts in the field
    say that the debate over genocide is settled, and that
    credible arguments against the idea of a genocide just
    don‚t much exist. The problem, many say, is that the
    evidence the Turks say doesn‚t exist does exist, so
    people have moved on.

    Andras Riedlmayer, a librarian of Ottoman history at
    Harvard University and co-editor of the H-TURK e-mail
    list about Turkish history, said that in the ‚80s, he
    could remember scholarly meetings „at which panels on
    this issue turned into shouting matches. One doesn‚t
    see that any more.‰ At this point, he said, the
    Turkish government‚s view „is very much the minority
    view‰ among scholars worldwide.

    What‚s happening now, he said, outside of those trying
    to deny what took place, „isn‚t that the discussion
    has diminished, but that the discussion is more
    mature.‰ He said that there is more research going on
    about how and why the killings took place, and the
    historical context of the time. He also said that he
    thought there would be more research in the works on
    one of „the great undiscussed issues of why successive
    Turkish governments over recent decades have found it
    worthwhile to invest so much political capital and
    energy into promoting that historical narrative,‰ in
    which it had been „fudging‰ what really happened.

    Among the scholars attracting the most attention for
    work on the genocide is Taner Akçam, a historian from
    Turkey who has been a professor at the University of
    Minnesota since 2001, when officials in Turkey stepped
    up criticism of his work. Akçam has faced death
    threats and has had legal charges brought against him
    in Turkey (since dropped) for his work, which directly
    focuses on the question of the culpability of Young
    Turk leaders in planning and executing the genocide.
    (Akçam‚s Web site has details about his research and
    the Turkish campaigns against him.) Opposition to his
    work from Turkey has been particularly intense since
    the publication last year of A Shameful Act: The
    Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish

    In an interview, Akçam said that his next book ˜
    planned for 2008 ˜ may be „a turning point‰ in
    research on the genocide. He is finishing a book on
    what took place in 1915 based only on documents he has
    reviewed in Ottoman archives ˜ no testimony from
    survivors, no documents from third parties. The
    documents, only some of which he has written about
    already, are so conclusive on the questions Turkey
    pretends are in dispute, he said, that the genocide
    should be impossible to deny.

    To those like Lewy who have written books saying that
    there is no evidence, „I laugh at them,‰ Akçam said,
    because the documents he has already released rebut
    them, and the new book will do so even more. „There is
    no scholarly debate on this topic,‰ he said.

    The difficulty, he said, is doing the scholarship. In
    the archives in Turkey, he said, the staff are
    extremely professional and helpful, even knowing his
    views and his work. But he said that he has received
    numerous death threats and does not feel safe in
    Turkey for more than a few days, and even then must
    keep a low profile. As to legal risks, he said that
    laws on the books that make it illegal to question the
    Turkish state on certain matters, are inconsistently
    enforced, so while he has faced legal harassment, he
    generally felt that everything would work out in the
    end. But Akçam is well known, has dual German-Turkish
    citizenship, and a job at an American university, and
    he said those are advantages others do not have.

    He plans to publish his next book first in Turkey, in
    Turkish, and then to translate it for an American

    Another scholar from Turkey working on the Armenian
    genocide is Fatma Müge Göçek, an associate professor
    of sociology at the University of Michigan. Until she
    came to Princeton to earn her Ph.D., Göçek said that
    she didn‚t know about the Armenian genocide. For that
    matter, she said she didn‚t know that Armenians lived
    in Turkey ˜ „and I had the best education Turkey has
    to offer.‰

    Learning the full history was painful, she said, and
    started for her when Armenians she met at Princeton
    talked to her about it and she was shocked and angry.
    Upon reading the sorts of materials she never saw in
    Turkey, the evidence was clear, she said.

    Göçek‚s books to date have been about the
    Westernization of the Ottoman Empire, but she said she
    came to the view that she needed to deal with the
    genocide in her next book. „I have worked on how the
    Ottoman Empire negotiated modernity,‰ she said, and
    the killings of 1915 are part of „the dark side of

    So the book she is writing now is a sociological
    analysis of how Turkish officials at the time
    justified to themselves what they were doing. She is
    basing her book on the writings these officials made
    themselves in which they frame the issue as one of
    „the survival of the Turks or of the Armenians‰ to
    justify their actions. While Göçek will be focusing on
    the self-justification, she said that the diaries and
    memoirs she is citing also show that the Turkish
    leaders knew exactly what they were doing, and that
    this wasn‚t just a case of chaos and civil war getting
    out of hand.

    Göçek said she was aware of the harassment faced by
    Akçam and others from Turkey who have stated in public
    that a genocide took place. But she said scholars must
    go where their research leads them. „That is why one
    decides to become an academic ˜ you want to search
    certain questions. If you do not want to, and you are
    not willing to, you should go do something else.‰

    ˜ Scott Jaschik

    Leave a comment:

  • Joseph
    started a topic More on the resolution

    More on the resolution

    Genocide: An inconvenient truth
    The Armenian genocide bill has been attacked by both the right and the left -- and it may make matters worse. But it's necessary.
    By Gary Kamiya
    Oct. 16, 2007 | It was the first holocaust, one of the worst crimes of the 20th century. In 1915, during World War I, the ruling political party under the Ottoman regime ordered the extermination of its Armenian subjects. At least 800,000 and as many as 1.5 million men, women and children were murdered or died of disease, starvation and exposure. The details of the genocide, as laid out in books like Robert Fisk's "The Great War for Civilization" <> and Peter Balakian's "The Burning Tigris," <> are harrowing. Lines of men, women and children were roped together by the edge of a river, so that shooting the first person caused all the rest to drown. Women were routinely raped, killed and genitally mutilated. Some were crucified. Children were taken on boats into rivers and thrown off.
    The genocide was not carried out by the Republic of Turkey, which did not exist yet, but by the ruling party in the final years of the collapsing Ottoman regime. To this day the Turkish government has never acknowledged that what transpired was a monstrous and intentional crime against humanity. Instead, it claims that the Armenians were simply unfortunate victims of a chaotic civil war, that only 300,000 to 600,000 died, that Turks actually died in greater numbers, and that the Armenians brought their fate on themselves by collaborating with the Russians.
    Most historians reject these arguments. The definitive case that what took place was a genocide has been made by Turkish historian Taner Akcam, who in the 1970s was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Turkey for producing a student journal that deviated from the official line. He sought asylum in Germany, and now is a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota. In his 2006 book, "A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility," <> Akcam offers overwhelming evidence that leaders of the ruling political party, the Committee of Union and Progress, planned the Armenian holocaust. There was no military justification for the genocide: Some Armenians did fight against the Ottomans, but relatively few. In fact, Akcam argues, the genocide was driven by the Ottoman thirst for revenge after devastating military defeats, the desire to end foreign interference by the great powers, and above all by the strategic purpose of emptying the Turkish heartland of Christians to ensure the survival of a Muslim-Turkish state. Akcam argues that had the Armenians not been exterminated, Anatolia, the heart of what is now Turkey, would probably have been partitioned after the war by the victorious (and rapacious) great powers. The modern state of Turkey was thus built in large part on the intentional destruction of an entire people -- a moral horror that combines elements of America's destruction of Indians and Germany's extermination of Jews.
    The International Association of Genocide Scholars, the leading body of genocide researchers, accepts that the destruction of the Armenians fits the definition of genocide and has called on Turkey <> to accept responsibility. Leading U.S. newspapers, including the New York Times, accept the genocide description. Twenty-three nations, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay, have also formally recognized that what transpired was genocide.
    For decades, Armenian-Americans and human rights advocates have tried to persuade the U.S. government to officially recognize that the mass killings constituted a genocide. But strategic and national security considerations have always stopped Washington from doing so. For decades, Turkey has been one of America's most important strategic allies -- first as a bulwark against the USSR during the Cold War, then as a key partner in George W. Bush's "war on terror." The only officially secular state in the Muslim world, it is the most politically moderate, economically advanced nation in the region. A NATO member, with close ties to Israel, home to a U.S. base through which most of the supplies to American forces in central Iraq are flown, it is an indispensable U.S. strategic asset.
    For these reasons, Washington has never wanted to offend Ankara -- and if there is one sure way to do that, it's by bringing up the Armenian genocide. Although there has been some progress in opening up the subject, it remains explosive in Turkey. Those who assert that the genocide took place can be arrested under a notorious law (still on the books) that makes "insulting Turkishness" a crime. (Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk was convicted of violating this law.) In January 2007, the leading Turkish-Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, <> was murdered because of his outspokenness on the issue, and state security officials were clearly involved. The genocide denial is not confined to official discourse: Most ordinary Turks, who have been taught a whitewashed official version of the slaughter, also deny it. Akcam and other historians say that because many of the Young Turks who founded the modern state were involved in the campaign, and the state was constructed on a mythical foundation of national unity and innocence, to bring up the Armenian horror is to threaten Turkey's very identity.
    No American administration has ever dared to cross Turkey on this subject. But that may finally change. Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, defying pleas from the Bush administration and a letter signed by all living secretaries of state, voted 27-21 <> for a resolution that would make it official U.S. policy to recognize that the slaughter of the Armenians was an act of genocide. The resolution is nonbinding, but after years of bitter lobbying, it is the closest the U.S. government has yet come to acknowledging the genocide. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that she will bring it to a vote before the House, which is expected to pass it; the bill's fate in the Senate is less certain.
    The mere fact that the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed it, however, was taken by the Turks as a gratuitous insult. As it has done every other time this subject has come up, Ankara -- and the country at large -- reacted with fury. Furious demonstrators took to the streets, shouting invective against the United States. Just-elected President Abdullah Gul said, "Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once more dismissed calls for common sense, and made an attempt to sacrifice big issues for minor domestic political games ... This unacceptable decision of the committee, like similar ones in the past, has no validity and is not worthy of the respect of the Turkish people." Turkey's ambassador to the United States warned that the resolution's passage would be a "very injurious move to the psyche of the Turkish people"; he was immediately recalled after the vote to show Ankara's extreme displeasure. Turkish officials warned that if the full House voted for the resolution, U.S.-Turkish relations would be gravely damaged, perhaps for decades. Considering that in a Pew global poll <;pnt=393&amp;nid=&amp;id=> taken in June, a staggering 83 percent of Turks said they had a negative view of America, and an even more staggering 77 percent said they viewed the American people unfavorably, any further deterioration in relations would indeed be grave. The head of Turkey's military warned <> that if the House passed the bill, "our military ties with the U.S. will never be the same again."
    There is no doubt that the controversy comes at a delicate time, because of both internal Turkish politics and the situation in Iraq. The vote could trigger a Turkish response that would be highly injurious to American interests, not just in Iraq but throughout the Middle East. Turkey could close Incirlik Air Base, through which 70 percent of air cargo for U.S. troops in Iraq passes, and refuse to cooperate with Washington on the war.
    But the most dangerous consequence would be a Turkish attack on northern Iraq. In a piece of exquisitely bad timing, the committee vote took place against the background of a mounting drumbeat of war talk from the Gul administration, which is under heavy domestic pressure to smash Kurdish militant group the PKK. Just days before the vote, Kurdish militants killed 13 Turkish soldiers <> near the Iraq border, one of Turkey's heaviest recent losses in the decades-long war. Turkish anger at the U.S. is largely based on Turks' correct belief that the U.S., desperate to preserve good ties with the Kurds, is unwilling to confront the Kurdish guerrillas. A major Turkish invasion of northern Iraq could destabilize the only calm part of the country, pit two U.S. allies against each other, threaten the American project in Iraq and destabilize the entire region. The U.S. has been leaning heavily on Ankara not to invade; the genocide vote could tip Gul over the edge.
    Given these geopolitical concerns, heightened by the fact that the U.S. is at war, it's not surprising that some Republicans have accused Democrats, who have taken the lead on the bill, of endangering national security. (Some right-wing bloggers have accused Democrats of using the bill as an underhanded way to sabotage the war.) But opposition to the bill has come not only from the right but from the left. Writing in the Nation, Nicholas von Hoffman mockingly asked, <> "What's next? A resolution condemning Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the slaughter visited on the Egyptians at the Battle of the Pyramids?" Von Hoffman attacked the bill's sponsors for self-righteous hypocrisy. British commentator Simon Tisdall made a similar charge <> in the Guardian, writing, "Imperial delusions die hard -- and once again the U.S. Congress is trying to legislate for the world."
    Most Turkish academics toe the official line on the horrific events of 1915. But even some of those who accept that a genocide took place believe that passing the bill now is a bad idea. Yektan Turkyilmaz, <> a graduate student at Duke University, has the distinction of having been arrested by the Armenian KGB because his research led them to assume he was a Turkish spy. In fact, he is part of a new generation of Turkish scholars who reject their country's propaganda about what happened to the Armenians. In a phone interview from Duke, Turkyilmaz said, "This bill strengthens the hand of the extremists in Turkey, the xenophobes, the extreme nationalists. Yes, Turkish society has to face its past, to prevent any sort of repetition in the future. If I believed that this bill would force the Turkish government to acknowledge the truth, I would support it. But it won't."
    For his part, "A Shameful Act" author Taner Akcam acknowledges the force of these pragmatic arguments -- but rejects them.
    "Look, we can make a list of reasons why this resolution will make matters worse," Akcam said in a phone interview from his office at the University of Minnesota. "First, it explicitly politicizes the problem. Second, it makes a historic problem a diplomatic fight between the United States and Turkey. Third, it increases the aggressive attacks of the Turkish government against those inside and outside the country. Fourth, it increases the animosity and hatred against Armenians generally in Turkey. Fifth, it can never solve the problem. It aggravates the problem.
    "OK, so we've made this list," Akcam went on. "But what is the answer? Whoever is against the resolution must show an alternative to the Armenian people. Unless you give an alternative policy, saying 'Shut up and stop' is not a policy. The Armenians don't have any options. As long Turkey criminalizes the past, as long as Turkey kills journalists, as long as Turkey drags its intellectuals from court to court, as long as Turkey punishes the people who use the G-word, as long as Turkey doesn't have any diplomatic relations with Armenia, as long as Turkey threatens everybody in the world who opens the topic of historical wrongdoing, it is the legitimate right of a victim group to make its voice heard."
    Akcam dismisses the argument that the time was not yet ripe for the resolution. "You can use the timing argument forever and ever. Who will decide when the timing is right?"
    But Akcam argues that a long-term solution requires much more than a U.S. resolution. He says two steps are necessary: Turkey and Armenia must establish normal relations, and Turks must learn that confronting their history does not threaten their Turkish identity, but strengthens it. This means that Turks should look at the conflict not as a zero-sum game in which any Armenian gain is a Turkish loss, but as a necessary part of the process of becoming a democratic nation. It's an approach to resolving bitter historical grievances called "transitional justice," <> and it has been effective in helping resolve historical grievances between Germany and the Czech Republic, within South Africa and in other places.
    The Armenians, too, need to rethink their approach, Akcam said. In the new paradigm, the Armenian diaspora would present its policy not as being totally against Turkey, but for a new democratic Turkey. "Until now this was a conventional war between Turkey and Armenian diaspora, and congressional resolutions were the effective weapon in this conventional war," Akcam said. "What I'm saying is we should stop thinking in these conventional ways."
    The U.S. could play an important role in helping both parties break the impasse, Akcam said, but it is hampered by its lack of credibility in the Middle East. He points to what he calls a "stupid distinction between national security and morality. If you follow the whole discussion in Congress, on the one side you have the moralists, who say that Turkey should face what it did. This doesn't convince most of the people in the Middle East because we know that these are the guys torturing the people in Iraq, these are the guys killing the Iraqi civilians there, these are the guys who haven't signed the International Criminal Court <> agreement.
    "On the other side are the realpolitikers," Akcam went on, referring to the Bush administration and the foreign-policy establishment, like the secretaries of state who signed the letter opposing the resolution. "They say the bill jeopardizes the national interests of the United States, Turkish-U.S. relations, interests of U.S. soldiers in Iraq."
    Akcam argues that both elements must be present to have an effective foreign policy. "The fact is that realpolitik, the U.S. national interest in the Middle East, necessitates making morality, facing history, a part of national security. The basic problem between Turks and Armenians is that they don't trust each other because of their history." Akcam's point is that unless the U.S. is willing to look unflinchingly at the region's history, and try to broker deals that address legitimate grievances, it will not be able to achieve its realpolitik goals.
    "If America really has a strong interest in its national security and the security of the region, it should stop following a national security concept that accepts human rights abusers," Akcam said. "It doesn't work, it makes things worse in the region. And it supports perpetrators who have committed crimes in the past and are committing crimes today."
    In the end, the debate over the Armenian genocide bill boils down to two questions: Is it justified, and is it wise? The answer to the first question is an unambiguous "yes." It is both justified and long overdue. The Armenian genocide is a clear-cut case of genocide, and the fact that the U.S. has avoided calling it by its rightful name for decades is shameful. Crimes against humanity must be acknowledged. Hitler infamously said, with reference to the Poles, "Who, after all, is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?" Historical memory must not be sold away for a few pieces of silver. No one would countenance allowing Germany to deny its guilt for killing 6 million Jews. Why should Turkey be let off the hook for a slightly earlier holocaust that took the lives of as many as 1.5 million Armenians?
    The second question is trickier. As opponents argue, and even supporters like Akcam acknowledge, the bill may backfire in the short run. That outcome could be acceptable, as long as it doesn't backfire in the long run. Which raises the central question: What policies should the U.S. adopt to prevent the resolution from having long-term negative consequences?
    It comes down to a question of moral credibility, something the U.S. is in notably short supply of in the Middle East. One of the stranger reversals wrought by Bush's neoconservative foreign policy has been the rejection by much of the left of a morality-based foreign policy. Angry at the failure of the neocons' grand, idealistic schemes, some on the left have embraced a realism that formerly was associated with the America-first right. But by throwing out morality in foreign policy because of the neocon debacle in Iraq, these leftists are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The problem with Bush's Middle East policy hasn't been that it's too moralistic -- it's that its morality has been flawed and incoherent.
    As Akcam argues, what is really needed are not just moral congressional proclamations, but actions that back them up. Of course the U.S. cannot and should not resolve all the problems of the world. But like it or not, we are the world's superpower, and we have the ability to use that power for good as well as ill. What is needed is active U.S. engagement to broker fair resolutions to the festering conflicts in the region -- between Turks and Armenians, Turks and Kurds, and Israelis and Palestinians. If the resolution was part of a new U.S. approach to the Middle East, one in which we acknowledged and acted to redress the historical injustices suffered by all the region's peoples, not just by our allies, the Armenian genocide bill could stand as an example not of American grandstanding but of American courage.

    -- By Gary Kamiya