Sunday, October 21, 2007

There's a word for it: genocide

First published: Sunday, October 21, 2007
Albany Times Union, NY
It is true that the voice of reason comes last. First, there was the decision by the Foreign House Subcommittee on the Armenian Genocide second, there was threat from Turkey and Erdogan's Oped, now there is the voice of conscience. Armenians are the forbearers of truth and nothing will detract them from their path.
From almost the very beginning, the United States has been clear about what happened to the Armenians living in Turkey during the First World War. But when Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, cabled the State Department in 1915 that "a campaign of race extermination" was being inflicted on the Armenian minority, there was no epitomizing word to describe the atrocity that was to take 1.5 million lives.


In an Op-Ed piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, accurately wrote that "Turkey and the U.S. have been friends, partners and allies for decades." Turkey today indeed is not the country it was under the Ottomans. It is the most democratic and moderate Muslim country, plays a stabilizing role in the volatile Middle East and is the supply lifeline for American troops in Iraq.

All that was being put at risk by the congressional action "that is acutely offensive and unjust to Turks," the prime minister wrote.

Even today, Turkey officially describes what happened in 1915 as a tragedy, but one that also took many Turkish lives. The documentation of the slaughter of the Armenians is voluminous, including some from Germany, Turkey's World War I ally. There is little if any support of the prime minister's invocation of Turkish suffering at the hands of a beleaguered Armenian community.


Perhaps even in failure the resolution might serve this purpose, helping the present rulers to better understand the burden their country's past exacts to this day. In contrast, contemporary Germany has confronted the horrors of its past, acknowledging the murder of 6 million Jews and others, and is the better for it today within its own borders and among the nations of the world.

There are elements in Turkey working to open their society up to modify the norms that continue to be a stumbling block in their country's efforts to join the European Union. As for the U.S., it has reciprocated the Turkish commitment to the alliance with encouragement and support, going to far as to block the congressional resolutions.

This controversy probably will simmer down as others like it have in days past. But it will reappear time and again, through the efforts of Armenians scattered around the world who can never forget what happened to their forbearers and who will find support among people of conscience.

The resolution stated that it "will help to prevent future genocides." Experience tells us that it will always take more than words, but that words can have inherent power and influence, as witness Lemkin's coinage.

Harry Rosenfeld is editor-at-large of the Times Union. He can be reached at 454-5450 or by e-mail at

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



Post a Comment

<< Home