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Amidst a heated political debate pitting pragmatism against principle, House Democratic leaders seem to be backing off their previous commitment to vote on a resolution officially classifying the killings of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide.

The bill, which addresses the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) between 1915-1923, passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by a 27-21 vote on October 10. Although the bill has 218 cosponsors (over half the House), Pelosi now says it "remains to be seen" whether the bill will come to a vote before the November recess, noting that "other matters on the agenda that have to be dealt with first".

Despite the consensus among historians that the slaughter of Armenians constitutes genocide, the Turkish government adamantly denies the genocide label. Though it admits that many Armenians died around the time of World War I, Turkey contends that the casualty figures are inflated, and that the Armenians were victims of civil war and unrest which killed many Turks as well. The century-old event remains a volatile political issue in Turkey, where a law requires that schools deny the massacre, and journalists and historians have been jailed or killed in recent years for publicizing the event. The Turkish government even spent $300,000 a month lobbying against the resolution.

The resolution has provoked strong opposition from the Bush administration, which has carefully avoided the ‘G’ word in recent weeks, instead referring to the “mass killings”, “forced deportations”, “atrocities”, and “horrendous suffering” of the Armenian people.

As if we needed further proof that we are selling our soul for ‘victory’ in Iraq, the administration refuses to condemn a clear act of genocide because it fears provoking a backlash from a key ally, whose airspace is used to transport 70 percent of the air cargo intended for U.S. forces in Iraq and 30 percent of the fuel consumed by those forces.

While I understand the need to maintain good relations with an Islamic democracy, NATO member, and strategic ally, we cannot play along with Turkey’s policy of whitewashing history and suppressing dissent. The United States cannot be a moral leader in the world if we only stand up for human rights issues when economic and strategic interests aren’t at stake.As the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-29) asks:

“How can we take effective action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?"


Anonymous said...

Wow...wonderful article.

Will said...

The Democrats need to stand up and stick by this resolution. Rahm Emmanuel's defecting, and that just proves he's the kind of mercenary politician the party doesn't need.

I was writing a story for the Voice about an Armenian Orthodox patriarch coming to speak on campus, and the PR person for the Woodstock Center wouldn't say whether he thought there was an Armenian genocide. Too bad.