Friday, November 15, 2019

The Politics of Armenian Genocide Recognition

By John Sanidopoulos

On October 29th the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide by the Turks, which it has strongly opposed for decades mainly because Turkey is a NATO ally. Why now? I believe it is purely for political reasons following the Turkish invasion of Kurdish-held northeastern Syria. Most people in the House could care less about the Armenian Genocide. I'm sure some voted in favor of the recognition purely because they felt it was the right thing to do, though it does show their ignorance. My own long-held personal thoughts about the issue is that it would be better if the international community did not officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. There is no point in doing so. Armenians think that by having international recognition, they could pressure Turkey into accepting it as a historical fact and thus gain reparations. But the Republic of Turkey didn't exist at the time. The 1915 Armenian Genocide took place under the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, nations should not be punished for a genocide, only individuals directly responsible. By having the international community recognize the Armenian Genocide on an official level, it only hinders more and more from the goal coming to fruition - which is for Turkey to officially recognize it. It ensures that Turkey will always be on a defensive mode against the accusations, because it believes it is being de-legitimized by nations who neither care about nor understand the problem. The fact that the United States Congress has now recognized the Armenian Genocide comes off as being another form of virtue signaling against the Trump administration, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, I'm absolutely sure this is true. I would rather the Armenian Genocide not be officially recognized, and let individuals have the freedom to make up their minds about the matter, then political partisans won't use it as a shameless political weapon.

In saying this, I do advocate for individuals to recognize the Armenian Genocide. And not only the Armenian Genocide, but also the Greek Genocide by the Turks, especially in the 1920's. My paternal grandfather was from Smyrna and my paternal grandmother was from Nicomedia. Both came to Greece during the population exchange of 1922. I don't know much about my grandfather's story, as he died before I was born, but my grandmother came to Greece only with her mother. Her father and her brothers and her male relatives were all captured by the Turks and shot to death in a church. Only one brother escaped through a literal miracle, and he lived a long life in Athens. My great grandmother came to Greece only knowing the Turkish language, and never really learned Greek. When I asked my grandmother if she ever wanted to go back to Turkey and visit the place she grew up, she would tell me how she didn't want to go back to her village in Turkey, because she hardly remembered it since she was very young when she came to Greece, and because she considered Greece her true home. She wanted to look forward, not dwell on the past. When I went to Turkey in 2001 I found the Turks to be very kind and hospitable. I would be asked where I was from, and when I would tell them I was Greek-American, I would get nervous to hear their reactions, but it was instead either enthusiastic because a Greek was visiting Turkey, or to Turks in places like remote Cappadocia they had no idea what the word "Greek" meant because to them we were still "Romans", and I had to confirm that I was indeed a Roman. I see no reason to pick at dried up scab wounds by having them to debate the Greek Genocide, because when you pick at a scab you never heal. It would probably just cause the Turks to hate the Greeks for trying to blame them for something people who are now long dead did in another time and in another context. Turkey would be wise to recognize the Armenian Genocide, even if they blamed it on the Ottomans and exonerated the modern Turks, but the way it is being handled, it probably won't be recognized by them any time soon, and I don't blame them. No one likes to be bullied into accepting an opposing version of a story.

Then you had Congresswoman Ilhan Omar voting to not recognize the Armenian Genocide for two reasons, one good and one bad. In a statement she explained her stance, suggesting that votes to acknowledge historic human rights abuses should not be a political weapon, used as a stick against America's opponents. Omar said that while she believes that accountability for human rights abuses is "paramount," she also believes that "accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as a cudgel in a political fight. It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics." I agree with this 100%. You probably won't find me agreeing with her on much of anything, but this is spot on. Where she goes too far, as is usual with her, is when in the same statement she says we must look closer to home first and recognize "earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and the Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of people in this country." First of all, the United States has recognized the evils of the slave trade (which took place before the establishment of the United States) and slavery in general, so I'm not sure what she is talking about there, and as far as the Native American "Genocide", she needs to get her facts straight. There were battles and wars with Native Americans, and mutual slaughters (most of which took place before the establishment of the United States), but most Native Americans died from European diseases such as smallpox, measles and cholera, and I certainly would not consider this a genocide. What happened to the Native Americans is unfortunate, but it is highly debatable to label it a genocide.

A few days ago Senator Lindsey Graham made a courageous and praise-worthy move when he blocked the Armenian Genocide resolution after he and President Trump met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He was heavily criticized for this move, but I personally agree with it. It's pretty clear that the U.S. resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide at this time was done out of political motives to undermine the actions of the Trump administration, particularly its wise yet controversial move to pull out of northeastern Syria before the Turkish invasion, and by doing so the U.S. Congress is doing nothing more than bullying an ally to accept its version of history over their own, without debate or discussion. In reality, this is an issue between Turkey and Armenia and they need to find a solution to this issue on their own, as Senator Graham stated, if one can be found. And Armenians (along with Greeks and every decent person) should feel insulted for having the horrible tragedy of the Armenian Genocide used as a political weapon.