Memo to Congress: Leave the Turks and Armenians alone to bury old enmities

Old hatreds die hard. Many Serbs still burn with hate for Muslims over the lost battle of Blackbird’s Field in Kosovo on June 15, 1389. In Great Britain there remains mutual hatred between Catholics and Protestants dating from atrocities of the 17th century. And many Armenian Americans still burn over the massacres and other deaths of 1,500,000 Armenians by the forces of the collapsing Ottoman Empire—the predecessor to modern Turkey in 1915. Turks dispute the number, claiming that 300,000 Armenians were killed and at least as many Turks as the empire descended into chaos and war.

It seems that civilization depends on our ability to put such horrors aside, to consign them to the ash heap of history. That ability is what allows black and white Americans to coexist—even love each other—a mere 140 years after the end of brutal slavery in the U.S. It allows many Jews and Muslims, Japanese and Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis to live and let live. Even Turkey and Armenia are on the verge of normal relations and an open border, with their presidents even attending football (soccer) games between the respective national teams in each other’s country.

Enter the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, which just passed, 23-22, a non-binding resolution calling on US policy and President Barack Obama to refer formally refer to the World War I mass killings as a “genocide.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi must now decide whether the bill passed by the committee will be sent to a floor vote in the House.

All the members knew that this was a matter of national pride for Turkey, an issue that could blow up relations between the US and our close ally. It has. Turkey—the Muslim world’s oldest democracy—has just withdrawn its ambassador from Washington in protest.

“We condemn this resolution accusing Turkey of a crime that it had not committed,” the Turkish Prime Minister’s office said in a written statement. “Our Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan was recalled tonight to Ankara for consultations after the development,” the statement said.

The mind boggles at the House action. Several questions worry an ethicist:

1) Was it genocide? This Fourth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary defines genocide as “the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.” Armenian-Americans say yes, passionately. Some Turks agree, although the Turkish government’s position rejects just about every word of the definition: not systematic, not planned, not extermination, and not entire.

2) Is the US doing good or harm by raising the issue? Armenian-Americans are pleased, although Armenians are likely to be big losers if the budding normalization with their Turkish neighbors is wrecked.

3) Who are we to cast a stone at the Turks. Perhaps we should first come to terms with the sins of our own forebears before we accuse others of –what? Descent from sinners? Aren’t we all?


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8 Responses to “Memo to Congress: Leave the Turks and Armenians alone to bury old enmities”

  1. H Serhan Cengiz Says:

    Dear Bob,
    The Armenian diaspora is happy with yesterday’s achievement and will be happier if it is brought to the House for floor vote. But then it will be point of no return for Armenians living in Armenia to establish a good relationship with Turkey. It will take decades, maybe more, to cure the wound. Believe US diplomacy is not willing to support the peace in the region..

  2. Hasan Semerci Says:

    I couldn’t agree more Bob, bravo! We all need to see common sense prevail in this stupd world. And your piece of writing is full of common sense.
    I am sure the Armenian diaspora do not have a clue about the fifty thousand illegal Armenian workers in Turkey today. They should leave Turkey and Armenia alone so we can work on solutions. People need jobs, they need to work together towards prosperity. Armenia and Turkey need to open the borders for jobs and better conditions of life.
    Best regards,
    Hasan Semerci

  3. Ethics Bob Says:

    Here’s another comment I received from my friend Can, a university professor in Ankara:
    Dear Bob,

    This resolution comes to the congress every year for the last I don’t know how many years. It is bound to pass sooner or later under these conditions. It means nothing really.

    I would also like to add that the actions of the past and present Turkish governments contribute to keeping the issue alive. Such as, saying leave it to historians but keeping some archives closed and not promoting a free and open discussion.



  4. Ethics Bob Says:

    About the map: It’s a photo I took in the Ataturk memorial in Ankara. It was prepared by the allied powers showing their plan to carve up Turkey, with portions going to Greece, Great Britain, Armenia, and Italy. To me it shows what Turks were facing when the Armenian tragedy occurred.

  5. a. oscar Says:

    Turkish Ambassador points to the fact that even the ” voting rules” for the committee were warped, for the occasion.. Like waiting and waiting after the allowed time allotment for someone to app rear to cast a vote.
    So, for all I can say this may not even be legitimate vote.
    Somebody should challenge the legitimacy of this kind’a voting..

    • Ethics Bob Says:

      The vote is only symbolic so far. It would have no power until it passed both houses of Congress. So far it’s just passed one committee, and the full House is likely never to vote on it.

  6. a. oscar Says:

    symbolic or otherwise; it should never have happened.
    ANCA is already passing around ugly propaganda and pictures — like the ‘statue of liberty ‘ with a gag over her mouth..

  7. Arzu Tutuk Says:

    The G word is a very important part of the Armenian Diaspora’s identity . It is also one of the reasons of Armenia’s existence as a state. It’s the state’s duty to promote and make sure that the G word is known and acknowledged by the world. So of course they work hard every year and lobby so that their existence is justified.

    Turkey on the other hand is officially holding its status quo as: deny the Genocide, make sure that no one acknowledges the Genocide. Do not move an inch from this. Case over. We have done no such thing.

    Politicians from both sides have made the G word “national honor” for both of the countries. So I believe neither Turkey nor Armenia will move their feet in the near future with or without the votings in other countries anyway.
    The diaspora and the Turkish state will never make peace on this.

    What about the Armenian state and Turkey? There might be some hope here.

    What if we could leave the G word aside for a while and set some better relations between two countries politically, economically, diplomatically, culturally? And work on to see what happens if people from both sides start working and talking? Like students, social groups, universities, young people looking for jobs, poets, artists…What happens when these people start communicating? How can they make a contribution to the “Gordion’s knot”?

    The current leading party in Turkey ( AKP) has started a “normalization “ process with Armenia ( soccer, visits etc…) but I sincerely believe they are so much in deep trouble with our internal problems ( coups, soldiers…) they put this aside…I am afraid they will use the voting as an excuse to halt this process.

    I do also believe that Obama wanted the normalization process to work and this is why he did not put a huge pressure on the voting…

    If we could move this fragile relationship with Armenia to a more solid place, ( it’s like glass under both side’s feet) it might then be easier to start talking openly about the G word.

    We could get some help from our American friends about how to generate trust between two countries, how to make these normalization protocols work, maybe they can put pressure on this instead of the lobbyists’ hardwork….maybe then Turkey will stop acting like a child and try to face some of the truth and Armenia will remember that we have been neighbors for so long, not enemies.
    This is the only closed border in Europe and I think it is time to admit both Turkey and Armenia will do fine with some help from the US and the EU.

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