a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Despicable Washington Post editorial against Armenian Genocide Resolution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 10th, 2007

With its opening paragraph and chosen title of “Worse than Irrelevant,” The Washington Post’s editorial board leaves little doubt where it stands on H.Res.106, the Armenian Genocide resolution:

IT’S EASY to dismiss a nonbinding congressional resolution accusing Turkey of “genocide” against Armenians during World War I as frivolous. Though the subject is a serious one — more than 1 million Armenians may have died at the hands of the Young Turk regime between 1915 and the early 1920s — House Democrats pushing for a declaration on the subject have petty and parochial interests.

Beyond the despicable slap of putting the word “genocide” in quotes, the belittling “may have,” the dismissal of representatives as “petty and parochial,” and the concern as “irrelevant,” the editorial mistakenly implies only Democrats support the bill, calls the findings of H.Res.106 “one sided” — and concludes that “frivolous” doesn’t go far enough. Given alleged glacial progress in Turkish-Armenian relations, but far more importantly the possible negative effect on Turkish cooperation with U.S. in Iraq, “its passage would be dangerous and grossly irresponsible.”

Wow. That’s one powerful nonbinding resolution. It gets the Washington Post to oppose the democratic sense of the American people — a majority of the House of Representatives has co-sponsored the bill — on behalf of a foreign country still ruled in large part by its generals. It gets the Washington Post to defend and promulgate genocide revisionism, on behalf of unreconstructed apologists for the opening act in the 20th century’s parade of horrors. It gets the Washington Post to marginalize one group of “hyphenated Americans” in a way it wouldn’t dare for any other: imagine similar invective against the Holocaust Museum, or a resolution condemning slavery. It gets the Post to make sloppy claims — there is no “large Armenian population” in Pelosi’s district that accounts for her support.

What’s at stake for the Post? “Charitably,” it’s the conduct of their precious war in Iraq. Angering Turkey might cost the US the use of air bases and complicate efforts to keep a lid on the ever-present Turkish-Kurdish conflict. But it’s hard to believe a nonbinding resolution will cause hard-headed Turkish generals and politicians to do anything other than what they believe is in their own interests anyway.

So perhaps we should be less charitable and look elsewhere. At the end of the related news story “White House, Turkey fight bill on Armenia” — on page A1! — Glenn Kessler writes, “The Turkish Embassy is paying $100,000 a month to lobbying firm DLA Piper and $105,000 a month to the Livingston Group, and it recently added communications specialists Fleishman-Hillard for nearly $114,000 a month, according to records filed with the Justice Department.” Looks like they got their money’s worth today — at least from the Washington Post.

The House Foreign Affairs committee has scheduled a vote on H.Res.106 for today, with the hearing beginning at 1:30pm; live video of the proceedings can be accessed at the committee’s web site. I hope Rep. Schiff and multitudes of Armenian-Americans are on hand — with middle finger salutes to the Washington Post.

SELECTED PRIOR POSTS on H.Res 106 and the Armenian Genocide:
2007/03/07: pander n.: “When [Rep. Schiff] proposes a legitimate goal of people in his district to the Congress of the United States, then in our “democracy” that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.”
2007/03/05: Re Jackson Diehl’s “The House’s Ottoman Agenda”
2005/04/24: 90 years ago: Armenian genocide begins

UPDATE, 10/11: Huzza! -the resolution was passed in committee by 27-21, and thus advances to the full House for consideration. A roll call and video of the debate can be found at the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) web site press release.

11 Responses to “Despicable Washington Post editorial against Armenian Genocide Resolution”

  1. eRobin Says:

    You’re right – it’s probably one of those phony editorials written by the lobbyists retained by Turkey. Sure reads like it.

  2. Bruce Says:

    I do not claim to know the history of the events discussed. I understand that it is illegal in Turkey to claim that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians in that region in that time period. I lack sufficient grounding to state on knowledge whether the word genocide applies.
    As a non-historian, I am aware of the work of many historians of the genocide against European Jews and the crimes against humanity against other groups committed by the Third Reich. I know Shirer, Dawidowicz, Hilberg, have visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, read incriminating documents in German and English, seen the tapes where the war criminals slowly and calmly bragged to interrogators of their genocidal acts, one calm cigarette at a time. Analogous materials regarding this historical period would help make the case.
    Let me give you an over-simple counter example. The Nazis clearly inflicted genocide on European Jews. They also imprisoned and killed trade unionists and Communists, but did not commit genocide against them. The killed millions of peoples throughout Europe, but probably would not be said to have committed or attempted genocide against many of them other than against the Jewish population. They persecuted Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men and lesbians, but genocide is not the term for these crimes against humanity.
    Another heavily linked post compiling the evidence for the term genocide applying to this situation would be helpful, as you are clearly both knowledgeable and interested in the topic. A cross-post to FSP likewise would be helpful if you are game for it. Much of the material is, I suspect, in Turkish and Armenian – languages inaccessible to most Americans amateurs like myself.
    I understand that there are very substantial Armenian-American communities in northern and central California. My friend, Armenian-American by both parents, grew up 50 miles north of San Francisco. Fresno is said, I believe, to have a large Armenian-American community with well-developed community institutions.

  3. Cricket Says:

    It would be hard to effectively respond to all your points in this small space, but let me wade in with a few of my own.
    First: You question whether the term “genocide” can be used to refer to the destruction of the Armenian community in Turkey. (Even the opponents of HR 106, including the White House and the Washington Post, uniformly state that they believe that this destruction took place, although they claim it was not necessarily genocide.) As you know, dozens of scholars have written about how genocide should be defined — and working through those arguments would certainly be edifying, but there are some relatively simple, clear-cut, and indisputable facts that, for most people, are enough to justify the claim of genocide. I’ll throw out just two of them here. First, in their persecution of the Armenians, the Young Turks did not simply go after the small nationalist bands fighting the government, or limit themselves to terrorizing and suppressing Armenians in regions of the country close to Russia (where Armenians could theoretically act as a “fifth column” to support Russian invaders). If you look at maps (available on the Internet) showing the extent of the killings, the Turkish government destroyed Armenians in every part of the country, in cities, towns, and villages far, far west of where most Armenians lived, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the Russian border. In short, nearly *all* Armenian communities were targeted for destruction (with certain exceptions in major cities, where foreign embassies could witness the brutality) — whether or not they posed any kind of military or security threat, real or imagined. Second, after Armenian males were rounded up (as was the pattern in the interior) and slaughtered en masse, the Turkish military did not rest — it then brutally deported to the desert, and in many cases simply murdered, the women, children, and elderly Armenians who were left. In short, *any* Armenian — no matter whether he or she posed any kind of threat — was slated for death.
    Can we agree that this uniformity of purpose — destroy all Armenians, even if they pose no threat — indicates the intention to commit genocide?
    Another discussion for which we do not have room here is whether the decision to destroy Armenians in Turkey was a centralized one, coming from the topmost levels of government, or whether the killings represented random acts of violence throughout Turkey. This point is considered critical in deciding whether the term “genocide” might apply to this or any other case. Any review of the literature will show that there is abundant evidence that the orders came from the top — and this doesn’t include evidence from Turkish archives that have remained closed to public and academic scrutiny. I can’t spell them all out here, Bruce — if you really care enough to learn the truth, you can look up these references yourself. (Since you spent all that time writing a long comment, I assume that you do care.) An important body of evidence that is readily available is the testimonies of Kemal Ataturk and other Turkish leaders condemning the genocidal policies and acts of their predecessors and the annihilation of Armenians in Turkey. Ataturk — the George Washington of modern Turkey — clearly had no trouble identifying what had happened as genocide (although I don’t know what term he used in Turkish).
    Le me move on to another comment space — this one is getting to be too long!

  4. Cricket Says:

    Just one more thing, hardly a pivotal point but very annoying, that I’ve found both in your comment above and elsewhere….
    The Washington Post has repeated the incorrect claim that Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district in the San Francisco area has lots of Armenian-Americans, which is supposed to explain in part why she supports HR 106. (An op-ed by Post writer Jackson Diehl went further, calling her Armenian-American constituents uniformly “affluent,” with the implication that this supposedly huge, wealthy, and influential community simply steamrolls over her.) Well, I’ve lived in the Bay Area, and while there are Armenian-Americans there, it’s actually a relatively small community, probably no larger than the small one in Washington, DC, where I live now. The Post, eager to lick Turkey’s boots, certainly wouldn’t characterize other American ethnic or minority groups this way (imagine if you tried to link American Jews and their “affluence” with the strong pro-Israel lobby — you’d be creamed, instantly. Or if you dared to make the point that American Jewish communities have “well-developed community institutions” — I’m repeating your words — as if that is the somehow shameful explanation for their political strengths. Of course they do, and well should they — and why shouldn’t Armenian-Americans?)
    Fresno and LA have plenty of Armenians, for sure — but those cities are far from Nancy Pelosi’s district. Whatever other complaints I may have about her, I do recognize that she has a long history of standing up for human rights, and I credit her courage here in supporting this resolution.

  5. Thomas Nephew Says:

    They persecuted Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men and lesbians, but genocide is not the term for these crimes against humanity.
    Actually, under the UN definition, the term “genocide” can be used for Jehovah’s Witnesses: “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group:…”. And whether it can be shoehorned into the UN definition or not, I think acts of extermination of gays and lesbians would qualify as acts of genocide in my book. However, I don’t know whether the Nazis went to the same systematic, horrible lengths with gays and lesbians that they did with Jews and Roma (gypsies).
    Another heavily linked post compiling the evidence for the term genocide applying to this situation would be helpful, as you are clearly both knowledgeable and interested in the topic. A cross-post to FSP likewise would be helpful if you are game for it.
    I’ll consider your invitation to post something at Free State Politics about it. I’d likely base it on the “90 years ago: Armenian Genocide begins” item I reference in this post. However: I’m no more fluent in Turkish or Armenian than you are, I take it. If speaking the language of the perpetrators or victims is your standard of credibility, you probably (and most Americans certainly) have no basis for any opinion on the Holocaust, either.
    [return to “Despicable Washington Post editorial against Armenian Genocide resolution“]

  6. Nell Says:

    This is rich, from Rep. Harman’s LA Times op ed on why she reversed herself and voted against the resolution that she originally cosponsored:

    Timing matters. I asked a leader in California’s Armenian American community just days ago why the resolution was being pushed now. “They didn’t ask me,” he said. It wasn’t his call, and he probably would not have pushed it.

    If this fellow is real and not just a Jane Harman version of Tom Friedman’s convenient taxi driver, it’s also clear why he isn’t in the leadership of Armenian-American advocacy organizations.
    That said, I do truly believe that the timing on this is Nancy Pelosi’s, and it’s an effort to do something Bush-defying while refusing to consider impeachment. While, in fact, giving interviews in which she says things like, “I don’t see the connection between torture and impeachment.” (She apparently said that on Ed Schultz’s radio show; I wonder if he did anything to help her see the connection.)
    The bill sat motionless from January until this week, without ever going through a subcommittee hearing. The only attention was floor speeches on its behalf in April (which would have been the natural time for it to move to a subcommittee). So this is Pelosi working through Lantos (whose speech to the subcommittee seems to me to be saying: “Vote however you want. This will die in the Senate or be vetoed by Bush.”)

  7. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Yes, I saw Lantos’ opening statement — “vote of conscience,” which seemed fair. By the time he was done, I figured he was going to vote against it, actually, so I suppose he was just trying to give an overview of the points that were made later on.
    You may be right about Pelosi, I don’t know. “Why now exactly?” is an interesting question for political scientists, and maybe I got after publius too much about it, I was still hopping mad after that Post editorial. “Why not twenty years ago?” is the question for survivors, Armenian Americans, and the rest of us.

  8. Nell Says:

    I’d be interested to know on whose dime Rep. Harman traveled to Turkey to have those meetings.
    It just seems to me Lantos doesn’t do this kind of thing on his own. And two or three years ago would have been a vastly less touchy time to pass it, because the PKK attacks from Kurdistan weren’t so intense. Turkey’d always be upset, and the supply lines thing would still be there, but it wouldn’t have been so explosive.
    And, not to be cynical or anything, but I think Pelosi (and Lantos) understood the dynamics of the moment very well, and realized it would be a “safe” time to bring the vote because of no chance of passage (or, if it came to that, signing).
    It still advances the issue; I was flat amazed at the level of ignorance on display in comment sections where you’d expect better.

  9. Thomas Nephew Says:

    (or, if it came to that, signing).
    As a nonbinding resolution, it doesn’t require Bush’s signature, I think.
    flat amazed
    Me too. Some of the stuff at “Obsidian Wings” was somewhat disappointing. I remind myself I’ve been somewhat disappointing on occasion, too.

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