All Writings
October 17, 2007

Lacking Moral Tenet to Right the Wrong

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs which adopted a resolution calling the Armenian mass killing by Ottoman Turks genocide, has basically sat in judgment on an event that occurred 92 years ago. The question here is whether the mass killing of Armenians during the World War I era was genocide committed by the Ottoman's military, as many contend — or was it the result of world war during which millions were killed on all sides, including the Armenians, as the Turkish government insists.

I believe the resolution is misguided not because there is any doubt about the hundreds of thousands of Armenians that were killed, but because of the inclination to dismiss this most abhorrent act by labeling it as genocide, call it a day, and expect to resume normal relations with Turkey as if nothing happened. Why have so many congressional leaders been taken aback by Turkey's swift admonishment of the United States over the committee's vote? Is it because they miss-assessed the Turkish government's sensitivity or because they have really never given this important matter the serious consideration it deserves. Either way, the committee members have failed in discharging their due diligence and will fail again, even more acutely, if they support the resolution should it come to the House floor. They must first examine their own motivation and the dire implications, both moral and practical, of its passage.

Sadly, this resolution was politicized at the outset, thereby diminishing much of its moral tenet, although not its repercussions. It was sponsored by many members of Congress, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Representatives from New Jersey and Michigan, who have especially large Armenian constituencies. However large the political benefit these members may gain by pushing this resolution, it will quickly fade in the face of the moral erosion the House will suffer by acknowledging the damage they will inflict on Turkish-U.S. relations. As was once observed by Nehru: "Political surrender leads almost inevitably to moral surrender also." Such a serious resolution requires the application of the highest moral review and conduct, not a politically convenient act which is considered an insult to Turkish identity. If genocide was in fact committed, it should be left to an international investigative tribunal, not politicians who need to be reelected every two years.

Turkey has been a loyal friend of the United States for more than a half century. It is a modern secular state, and has made great strides in remaining democratic and progressive. Should the United States Congress hold the great grandchildren of the Ottomans responsible for sins of their Fathers which might have been perpetrated 92 years ago? Since Turkey vehemently rejects the term genocide, what judgment should then be passed, and by whom, that will not tarnish the present generation of Turks? A generation that had nothing to do with past events and, in fact, condemns the atrocities committed during that heinous war, regardless of who the perpetrators were. As one high Turkish official dismayed by what is happening told me: "The importance of the issue requires more than a cursory review by some member of the House?" By way of example he said, "It was not enough to accuse the Germans of the Third Reich with genocide. The Nuremberg Trials were set up to prosecute the executers of Hitler's madness, but also established beyond a shadow of a doubt Germany's acts of genocide." "There was never a review by an international judiciary of the alleged Turkish genocide and no such determination was ever made."

Regardless of the importance of the U.S.-Turkish strategic partnership, it would be a mistake to try to persuade members of the House to reject the resolution, as many have withdrawn their support, solely on the ground that it would seriously undermine such relations or the United States efforts in the Middle East. The argument against the resolution by the full House should be based on moral grounds and the members must not act as judges and jurors. Before the House establishes, for the record, an official U.S. version of what actually happened, a thorough and exhaustive investigation of the events by an international judiciary must first take place.

Yes, America must speak out against genocide. But at a time when America suffers from a sagging global image and a loss of much of its moral authority due to the events in Iraq, the United States Congress must redouble its efforts to build its case on a strong moral tenet. Turkey deserves the judgment of an independent and impartial international tribunal and the Armenians deserve justice and not political favors.