Double Edged Word: U.S. again faces choice between conscience and convenience with “Armenian Genocide” resolution

The United States government is again being asked to endorse a phrase that might heal an ally: “Armenian Genocide”.

It isn’t likely to happen. Surely not while Armenia and Turkey are at least making overtures of neighborliness.

Still, the American position confounds the soul.

Armenia, landlocked, crippled by Post-Soviet-Syndrome, and with a national debt threatening insolvency, offers nothing -- except a share in the just side of moral judgment.

Turkey, with a presence in Middle East affairs, offers the U.S. strategic advantage – a chance to create holy havoc in the holy wars in which America is the anti-Allah.

The U.S. Congress has opportunity to put conscience above political expedience starting March 4 when the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on House Resolution 252, calling the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks “genocide”.

Should the resolution reach President Barack Obama, his integrity and America’s values will be tested.

Campaigning in January 2008, Obama made comments that won him votes some Armenian-Americans now regret.

“The Armenian Genocide is a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence,” Obama said. “As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Last April in Ankara, however, he avoided the g-word. Rather, Obama said: “I want to focus not on my views right now, but on the views of the Turkish and Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage that.”

“Davatchan” (meaning “traitor”), responded some Armenians. The same disparagement was attached to their own President Serzh Sargsyan when he revealed last fall foreign policy “protocols” meant to open understanding and open borders between Armenia and Turkey. The protocols portended what Obama had encouraged – to “move forward”.

Forward led to a place a lot like nowhere for Armenia.

Turkey (who closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Muslim cousin Azerbaijan in its war over historically-Armenian Nagorno Karabakh) effectively shut down the “normalization” process by insisting that rapprochement cannot carry on unless Armenia returns land it reclaimed from Azerbaijan.

Turkey-Azerbaijan solidarity is understood. But Turkey’s insistence on bringing Karabakh into the discussion questions whether protocol negotiators, literally, were on the same page. The drafted, debated, signed-and-sent-to-parliaments document makes no reference to the Karabakh Issue. Turkey introducing it into the protocol talks (after they were signed) is seen as unacceptable by the Armenian side.

Further, Turkey’s foreign minister has called the House resolution “blackmail” that affects the process.

Turkey has stepped on toes on this kiss and make up date, but Armenia comes to the dance hobbled by her own missteps.

Armenia’s current leadership lugs the burden of suspicion incumbent a presidency that came to power through confirmed fraud, mass disorder, deaths of 10 citizens, hundreds of injuries, and arrests of dozens whose crime was opposition.

Absent trustworthiness from Turkey and legitimacy from Armenia, failure to resolve these neighbors’ “difficult and tragic history” has deadly potential for a difficult and tragic future.

A large segment of Armenian Diaspora rejected the protocols from the start. (Significant Diaspora institutions endorsed the document, but their support was muted compared to contrary outcry.)

Naysayers contested a clause that calls for a “historical commission” to explore claims and counterclaims of what happened 1915-23. They reasoned that such a commission would cast doubt on (as candidate Obama called it) the “overwhelming body of historical evidence”, and in doing so would betray lost souls to whom nearly every Armenian can trace a link.

Diaspora is unhappy. Natives are uncertain. Turkey is stonewalling. Azerbaijan is threatening war.

The State Department, believed to have had a hand in drafting the protocols, has too much at stake to risk annoying the stronger side. But that isn’t to say the resolution won’t be used as leverage, blackmail’s better-dressed twin.

The least to offer with the most to gain, Armenia is practically a spectator.

Fallout over the protocols has left Armenia herself split on nearly every philosophical or political seam except one most tightly binding generations – genocide recognition.

Open borders would not save Armenia from her own flaws. Nor would confirming history guarantee a peaceful future. “Yea” or “nay” on the resolution, then, is as much about U.S. character, as Armenian necessity.

Whatever is Armenian about this diminished and divided Armenia is tied most identifiably to a people who are cut from rock. They are hard and invincible survivors, vulnerable, but not destructible by the harm of words – except perhaps one not spoken.