by Jeff Fleischer(BuzzFlash, August 10, 2007)
The constant killing in Darfur is obviously the most critical genocide facing the world today, but it isn’t the only one causing controversy in Washington.
With Congress on the verge of finally recognizing the 1915 genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire for what it was, the massacres — and the resolution acknowledging them — have prompted another round of high-priced lobbying by influential deniers.
First, some background. What’s not in dispute is that, prior to World War I, more than 2 million Armenians lived under Ottoman rule and that a huge chunk of that number was murdered during the war years. Nearly the entire Armenian population was forcibly and systematically relocated to the Syrian desert, with many dying along the way. Estimates, taken from reports at the time and from later research, place the number of people killed anywhere from the high six figures to 1.5 million.
Today’s Turkish government argues that “only” 300,000 Armenians died during this period. It trots out the claim that fighting against the oppressive regime by Armenian resistance groups meant killings occurred on both sides. And it disputes the use of the term “genocide” by saying the government had no intention to wipe out all Armenians.
These tactics aren’t new and, as the saying goes, Turkey doth protest too much.
Holocaust deniers have long claimed (without evidence) that the numbers of Jewish dead were inflated, as if a smaller death toll would somehow negate the evil committed. In 1994 Rwanda, Hutu extremists justified their killing by spreading radio propaganda accusing Tutsis of “collaboration” with foreign enemies, just as Hitler accused Jews of secretly working for Germany’s World War I defeat. For the past few years, the Sudanese government of Omar al-Bashir and its Janjaweed have used resistance from rebel groups in Darfur as an excuse for mass killing, widespread rape, burning of villages, and poisoning of wells. As with Darfur, the Ottomans didn’t simply fight rebels; they used them as a pretext for committing larger crimes.
As to intent, the genocide began with the rounding up and executing of prominent Armenians, followed by a well-planned campaign to disarm and deport them. Turkish massacres of Armenians also occurred regularly in the two decades before the war, and continued until 1923. Several Ottoman leaders were later tried and convicted for their roles in the extermination.
These days, more than 20 countries have passed laws formally recognizing the genocide, and Armenian groups in the United States have been working since the 1970s to have the same happen here. As those efforts gained momentum, Turkey has done all it can to block them. So when the Democrats took over Congress this year, the Turkish government brought out the big guns.
According to The New Republic, the lobbying firm of former Rep. Bob Livingston — briefly Speaker-elect before resigning in disgrace in 1996 — has received about $13 million from Turkey since 2000, was instrumental in torpedoing a symbolic 2004 recognition measure, and is now meeting often with pro-resolution Republicans. Turkey now pays the firm of former Rep. Dick Gephardt — previously a resolution supporter — $100,000 a month to lobby on its behalf. Several members of Congress have recently pulled a 180 on their support for the resolution after meeting with high-paid lobbyists. Needless to say, the Armenians don’t have the same deep pockets.
More dangerously, Turkey has used its military relationship with the United States to bully for a whitewashing of its past. Having already closed its border with Armenia, the country has threatened to cut off U.S. access to its border with Iraq and its Incirlik air base, actions that would make supplying military personnel in Iraq far more difficult. Condi Rice and Robert Gates have therefore urged Congress not to pass a resolution, adding another level to the lobbying.
As of late June, genocide recognition had enough supporters in the House to pass a bill, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to bring the measure to a vote after the summer recess. Whether this resolution will change anything remains an open question, and obviously the genocide doesn’t become any more or less real based on a Congressional stamp of approval. But its passage would put the U.S. on the right side of history, and that’s better then the alternative.
When Adolf Hitler was on the verge of invading Poland, he had a succinct answer for those in his government who questioned whether he could kill or resettle local peoples at will: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
At least Congress is speaking about it. Whether it can withstand the deniers’ onslaught remains an open question.