Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Genocide that Bush Wants to Deny for the sake of NATO and the "war against terrorism."

There is a resolution in Congress to condemn the genocide carried out against the Armenian minority in the Ottoman Turkish Empire between 1915 and 1917. Twenty-one nations by my last reading have formally recognized this organized mass murder as genocide and scholars generally regard it as the second most studied genocide in modern history, after of course the genocide directed against the Jewish people of fascist occupied Europe by Nazi Germany and its fascist allies. That genocide, carried out with the railroad cars and gas chambers of what were industrial killing factories saw the murder of a minimum of six million people whom the Nazis considered Jewish according to their racist ideology, along with many millions of other civilians who were murdered either for racist reasons or because they were anti-fascists. The genocide carried out against the Armenian minority by Pan Turkish racists and militarists in control of the collapsing Ottoman empire saw the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Armenians, perhaps as many as one and a half million, although the fact that the perpetrators were largely forgotten after some fairly limited actions against a few of them after WWI and the events largely buried outside of the Armenian diaspora (along with a far less developed record keeping in the Ottoman empire than in Nazi Germany) makes it more difficult to say how many people perished.

But that there was a policy established in law of mass forced deportations of Armenians as a "threat to national security" in a war that the Ottomans were clearly losing, confiscation of Armenian property and special units acting as killing squads against Armenian civilians, and policies that led to mass starvation among the Armenians herded like animals in death marches, was big news in 1915. The allied powers condemned the act, the New York Times wrote that the murders were "systematic" and "organized by the government." Britain and France, the allied powers had good reason to condemn the mass murder. The German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, the Ottoman's wartime allies, of course, did not and kept silent. But some of the best documents historians have found that confirm the genocide are from German and Austrian sources, "allies "of the Ottoman regime who were on hand to witness what was going on as allied reporters were not.

One could go on and on, looking at the international denunciations, the humanitarian campaigns to save the Armenians, the Turkish government's denials, portraying the Armenians as subversive agents and tools of its Czarist Russian enemies, the reports at the time and subsequently.

But what is at stake here is the opportunism and the hypocrisy of the Bush administration, its playing crude politics with what was a genocide that prefigured the WWII genocide of the Jewish people of Europe (in that it sought to round up and exterminate through starvation, forced marches,forced labor battalions and murder detachments the scattered minority population of a large multinational empire stretching from Suez to the Balkans.

The Turkish government has for generations refused to acknowledge the genocide, sought to sponsor genocide denial scholarship, and use diplomatic and economic forms of retaliation against those nations which have formally condemned the genocide The official Turkish government positions minimizing both the number of Armenians killed and explaining the killings as a regrettable response to anti-Turkish Armenian rebellions in which Turks also died are not worthy of serious discussion (even though the Turkish government has bought scholars who do will make some version of those arguments).

But the Bush administration, in opposing the House resolution has in effect taken the Turkish government position. "We deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915," Bush said, "but this resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings and its passage would do great harm to a key ally in NATO and to the war on terror."

The Turkish government, which has praised Bush's position, has used its denials over the generations to in effect bolster and sustain deep racist prejudices against Armenian people, prejudices which are very similar to the historic prejudices that existed against Jewish minorities in European states, that is, members of a minority religion loyal to their own members, controlling the economy, the traditional scapegoats for the problems and failures of Muslims and Turks.

One could of course mention that the Bush administration, which has done so much to aid fundamentalist Christians and undermine the separation of Church and State in the U.S. has now counseled against the U.S. Congress joining other civilized nations in a formal condemnation of a genocide carried out against a Christian minority. One might also mention that Bush is by no means the first to do this--successive U.S. governments in effect winked at the Armenian genocide as part of a policy of supporting Turkey as a NAT0 state and military ally against the Soviet Union through the cold war era. The racist denial of language and other cultural rights to Turkey's Kurdish Muslim minority was also not a problem for these governments as for that matter Saddam Hussein's persecution of the Iraqi Kurdish minority was no problem for the Reagan administration when they supported his regime in the 1980s in its war against Iran(Iran of course had and has its own history of abuse against its Kurdish minority, but this has never been an issue in U.S. policy toward Iran and isn't today).

But the issue should be to support and pass this resolution and then have Bush speak to the world, if he would dare, in condemning it. How can Turkey become a state that is worthy of support if it continues to support and subsidize genocide denial internationally and take repressive actions against those Turkish citizens who acknowledge the Armenian genocide? How can Turkey be in the long run an ally against the ultra-right clerically based terrorist groups in the region if it sustains policies of separation and ethnic religious hatred that these groups feed upon?

Theodore Roosevelt, a former Republican president called the mass killings against Armenians "the greatest crime of the war." In reality, there was a much greater international outcry against the Armenian genocide during WWI by the Allied powers and neutral states than there was against the WWII genocide directed against the Jewish people of Europe and this may have played a role in limiting the extermination policy. But the existence of a post WWI Turkish state, in which nationalism and military elites have played a leading role, led to a situation where these real crimes against humanity can be denied or at least hidden by the government of the United States for its own geopolitical reasons. And that is not a small thing. In 1931, Adolf Hitler, two years before the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship said "we intend to introduce a great resettlement policy....remember the extermination of the Armenians." In 1939, in advocating a policy of mass killing in Poland to take the "Living Space" for Germans, he said privately to his officers, "who, after all speaks today, of the annihilation of the Armenians.?

Who does? Civilized people throughout the world for whom human rights isn't an empty slogan. But not the Bush administration, its State Department, and its policy planners who have gone from one disaster after another in the Middle East and everywhere else.

Norman Markowitz

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