By D. Parvaz
The modern world has a grim view of those who deny the Jewish Holocaust. They're vilified, and in Europe, they're even locked-up. I don't agree with the locking up part (free speech is free speech), but certainly denying one of the most horrific, well-documented chapters in history is like clinging to antiquated, nonsensical beliefs — the world is flat, the sun revolves around the Earth … that sort of thing.
The U.S. is among the nations that have a dim view of those who deny the Jewish Holocaust. We hold that killing a population based on ethnicity, race or religion ought to be remembered and mourned. Last week, Congress was considering a symbolic piece of legislation that would declare the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians starting in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire (today's Turkey) genocide. And according to The Associated Press, President Bush “strongly urged Congress … to veto the legislation,” because the Turkish government has warned us against doing so. There, even mentioning the Armenian massacres is verboten (it's an “insult to Turkishness”), and to report on it, as Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink did, could get a person killed. In Turkey, acknowledging the Armenian genocide is a crime, but in Europe, denying the Jewish genocide can get you a three-year prison sentence. But why is President Bush (like those before him) trying to pussyfoot around what is already a well-established fact? He's not fond of books, but hell, who needs dusty books and encyclopedias when we have the Internets?
Here it is, Georgie, the definition of “genocide” from www.britannica.com: “deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion or race.” It goes on for a bit, but … oh, here we are, “Twentieth-century events often cited as genocide include the 1915 Armenian massacre by the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire, the extermination of Jews, Roma (Gypsies) and other groups by Nazi Germany during World War II, and the killing of Tutsi by Hutu in Rwanda in the 1990s.” Yet Bush didn't use the word “genocide” in April, when he issued a presidential message honoring the murdered Armenians, opting for the softer, “mass killings” instead.
Last year, I visited the Armenian Vank Cathedral in Esfahan, Iran. The grounds of the 17th-century church include a museum where chilling evidence of the Armenian genocide is on display — photos, maps, documents — it's all there. So I wonder why Bush would want to remain silent on the historical record of the massacres, an injustice Theodore Roosevelt said was “the greatest crime of the war”? Because it turns out that doing so is inconvenient, something survivors of the Armenian genocide are sure to understand.
“Its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror,” said Bush of the resolution while addressing the House Foreign Affairs Committee. See, we need to send our military cargo through Turkey, so, yeah. Besides, Turkey has threatened to attack Kurds in Iraq, a weak bullying tactic to repress an established truth.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that acknowledging that Armenians suffered their own holocaust “would be very problematic for everything we are trying to do in the Middle East.” Right. Um, what, aside from privatizing Iraq's oil supply (such a noble cause), are we trying to do in the Middle East, exactly?
Ultimately, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the resolution, which seems only right. This isn't about demonizing Turkey — most countries and cultures have the blood of another on their hands. It's about reparations that start with recognition of what was done. It's also about coming to terms with our actions, not as individual nations, but as the whole of humanity, as one consciousness.
More than 1 million Armenians had their property confiscated, were rounded up and either starved or slaughtered, and we can't pretend it didn't happen. When making his case for annihilating Jews, Adolf Hitler reportedly said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Us. That's who.
D. Parvaz is an editorial writer and member of the P-I Editorial Board. E-mail: [email protected].
Source: “Seattle Post-Intelligencer”, 12 October 2007