HR252 Fallout: US acquiescence to Turkish tantrum encourages more of same

In the predictable fallout over the House Foreign Affairs Committee passage of HR252, the “Armenian Genocide Resolution”, last week, contrary rhetoric has retorted itself into an irritant popularly expressed but shallow in concept.

Specifically: whenever the United States is called upon to condemn behavior of others, the mirror is turned, and the mighty but flawed nation is called upon to condemn itself.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of material at hand to prove why this is a legitimate and damning tool chosen by those who would swat a fly with a sledge hammer.

Slaughter, displacement, mistreatment, betrayal to Native Americans? Guilty. Admitted. Recognized.

Oppression, apartheid, inhumanity toward generations of African Americans? Guilty. Admitted Recognized.

Killing of foreign innocents in the cause of self interests? Guilty. Regrettably continuing.

(One of last Thursday’s remarkable moments was listening to the statement of Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Ellison is the first Muslim to hold a seat in Congress. He voted in favor of HR252, but before doing so, announced that his office is working on a resolution that would ask the Congress to condemn its predecessors for historical mistreatment of ethnic minorities.)

When critics use the above to express their outrage at the impudence of the US, they are not off the mark. But they do miss the point as it uniquely applies to Turkey-Armenia-America dynamics.

What gets lost in the rhetoric is a fact to be considered: Have Native Americans lobbied the Grand National Assembly of Turkey for a resolution decrying death, deportation and the forceful takeover of land? Have African Americans called on Turkey for sympathy and recognition of crimes against humanity?

Don’t think so. And until they do, simply denouncing the United States for behavior that its leadership, by the way, has for generations admitted remorse, is a lame argument.

Other nations seek comfort in US endorsement surely because of influence, but also because it is a country taking measures to overcome its history rather than deny it.

Comments from the Committee hearing compared with reaction from Turkey’s authorities are insightful.

Many who spoke against HR252 expressed believable regret that their vote was driven by political necessity rather than by conscience. Some were fervently apologetic. As representatives of a nation of human rights values (still in progress), they are bound to be conflicted.

What do you think would be the future of a parliament deputy in Turkey who expressed regret while supporting Ankara policy?

Unfortunately, an example may be found in what happened to former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans who crossed his bosses; a reminder that the morality of the genocide debate – even for those on the side of truth is far simpler than the political conundrum it has spawned.

While some may find gray area in this debate, one aspect is black and white: There is no perfect forum in which to legislate the definition of evil.

Nonetheless: Were the Turks driven by the same moral obligation as expressed in the resolution hearings, we might at least have expected an attempt at respectful disagreement from Turkish leadership.

If Turkish President Abdullah Gul were as mindful of “progress in Turkish-Armenian relations” as members of the committee would lead the international community to believe, we could have expected the president to react to the vote something like this:

“While the Republic of Turkey regrets any loss of life, including those of Armenians who were part of this empire nearly a century ago, we also regret the decision reached by the Congressional Committee . . .”

Instead the president’s reply began this way and didn’t get any more respectful:

“I regret this decision which I find to be devoid of all reason.”

Those who believe they are right should not fear dissent. And even in indignation the morally-upright are restrained by prudence.

The Prime Minister of Turkey, rather, called a document referencing the deaths of 1.5 million souls “a comedy”.

Instead of denouncing such insolence and arrogance the Obama administration – like others before it – panics at Turkish hysteria.

In doing so, the US, with a chance to lead, is itself led in a direction that diverges from its own commendable journey to overcome a tarnished history.