There’s been quite a stir in the last few days about the House Foreign Relations Committee’s vote to condemn the Turkish genocide of Armenians. The history of the US government’s relationship with the Armenian genocide is a textbook lesson in the problematics of government, globalization and human rights. This began in 1918 when the United States decided not to prosecute Turkish leaders for war crimes. It was around the time that then Secretary of State Robert Lansing dropped a nugget of wisdom that sums up the entire history of politics quite nicely.
“The essence of Sovereignty [is] the absence of responsibility.”
I take this quote from Samantha Power’s seminal A Problem from Hell, which really should be required reading for everyone.
The current round of contention began a few days back when the House Foreign Relations comittee approved a bill to condemn the Armenian genocide. Most recently, Turkey responded by recalling it’s diplomatic envoy to the United States. This is not entirely surprising; Turkey has historically been extremely touchy about the genocide. In 2005 language was added to the Turkish penal code which stated, “A person who, being a Turk, explicitly insults the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months to three years.” It was under this law that 2006 Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk prosecuted for comments he made about the genocide in a Swiss magazine.
The current stir puts the Bush administration in an extremely difficult position. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino put it thusly:
One of the reasons we opposed the resolution in the House yesterday is that the president has expressed on behalf of the American people our horror at the tragedy of 1915…But at the same time, we have national security concerns, and many of our troops and supplies go through Turkey. They are a very important ally in the war on terror, and we are going to continue to try to work with them. And we hope that the House does not put forward a full vote.
On the one hand we have the obligation to acknowledge the historical reality of the genocide and on the other hand there are the cold hard facts of our delicate foreign relations situation with Turkey. The Bush administration has never had an extremely comfortable relationship with realpolitik, but in this case exceptions can be made.
One last thing, lest we think this is a partisan issue. The last president to make refrence to the genocide was Ronald Regan and the the last to quash congressional efforts to acknowledge it was Bill Clinton.
Follow up. Here’s the Daily Show’s take on the current kerfuffle.