a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Two little countries, one little prize

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2009

I guess it’s good to see that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can really get busy when America’s values and interests are on the line.  Mark Landler and Sebnem Arsu of the New York Times report from Zurich (“Turkey and Armenia, After Hitch, Normalize Ties“):

Sitting in the back of a black BMW sedan at a hilltop hotel here, aides thrusting papers at her, Mrs. Clinton worked two cellphones at once as she tried to resolve differences between the Armenian foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Too bad all that drama was on behalf of a deeply flawed pact between Turkey and Armenia.  While it’s hailed as a breakthrough, it seems to me the reality is that an exhausted Armenia surrendered too much in return for normalized relations between the two countries.  The difficulty, as ever, was in Turkey’s ongoing campaign to obfuscate and deny its responsibility for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-18.

It’s not a great sign that the difficulty Clinton solved rested on Armenian objections to Turkish post-signing statements, nor that the solution she brokered was for the Turkish delegation not to say anything.  The text of the protocols includes language bitterly denounced by many (but not all) Armenian diaspora organizations — specifically, text appearing to pledge Armenia to not taking an active role in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and text calling for the two countries to

Implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial and scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations…

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has posted an annotated copy of the protocol, and comments that this

…secure[s] Armenia’s tacit support for [Turkey’s] longstanding aim of downgrading the Armenian Genocide from a matter of settled history […] At the same time that Turkey is seeking to gain credit internationally by appearing open to dialogue, its government is enforcing Article 301 and other laws criminalizing even the discussion of the genocide.

Turkey is reportedly open to ‘accepting the verdict’ of such a historical commission — but my guess is that commission will deadlock, with Armenian and many outside historians saying one thing, Turkish ones (though there are honorable exceptions) saying another, and Turkish politicians saying “see? No one can agree.”

The Washington Post reports that Secretary Clinton was in “frequent contact with the two sides in recent weeks“, and President Obama called Armenian president Sarkissian to salute him in advance for his “leadership” in accepting the deal.  While some news reports point to regional and U.S. interest in building an anti-Russian alliance in the Caucasus, others cite simpler, more profitable reasons.  The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall:

International pressure on Turkey and Armenia not to let the chance of a rapprochement slip is intense. Both are vital links in the chain of actual or planned western oil and gas pipelines stretching from central Asia to Europe.

Set that against a mere 1.5 million dead in the first modern genocide, and I suppose it was always clear what Clinton’s BMW drama and Obama’s Oval Office phone calls were going to be about — never mind Obama’s own campaign promise to have the U.S. call the Armenian Genocide by name.

The Obama administration has been displaying no such sense of urgency in Latin America’s first coup in years — Roberto Micheletti and his clique’s ousting of rightful Honduran president Manuel Zelaya.  As is well known, Zelaya recently ‘infiltrated’ his own country after his forcible exile, seeking asylum and support in the Brazilian embassy.

Despite strong support from the OAS (Organization of American States) for Zelaya, and even official acknowledgment by the U.S. State Department  that a coup took place, the Obama administration has not taken further concrete steps to put pressure on the Micheletti coup regime — including, at minimum, Secretary of State Clinton’s active efforts to restore an elected leader of an OAS member country to power.

Meanwhile, in Honduras, the coup leaders continue to repress their opposition (often lethally),  have set and lifted curfews, and have claimed the right to curtail freedom of speech to secure their hold on power, and carried out or condoned attacks on independent radio stations.  Now, the standoff at the Brazilian embassy is getting more tense.  Adrienne Pine, who has been monitoring the Honduran media, reports:

Platforms with highly armed sharpshooters installed outside the embassy, using telescopic and infrared targeting systems, just meters away from the windows of the building where the president, his family, and many others are held hostage by the regime.

(Photos are at the link.)  You’d think that would be worth a flurry of cell phone calls.

A Nobel foreign policy?
After the same initial “for what?” reaction everyone else had, I figured that despite my many reservations about Obama, awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize was a decent strategic choice by the Nobel committee.  As the Nobel committee’s press release put it,

The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

I can agree about the nuclear weapons efforts, where Obama has restored nuclear nonproliferation and arms reduction to prominence in U.S. and world foreign policy. That’s important enough that giving him a prize in advance may actually make some sense — maybe this way he’ll stick with this issue the way he sometimes doesn’t with others.  (For more on this, see especially nonproliferation experts Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares, and William Hartung of the New America Foundation.)

Much of the rest of the statement rings hollow, though — especially that last sentence.  But I can fix it with just two words: “when convenient.”

UPDATE, 10/10: ANCA is running a “Tell the President: Genocide Shouldn’t Pay” email protest campaign against US support for the Turkey-Armenia protocol.  From the message:

The United States should address genocide as a moral imperative, not as a geo-political commodity to be traded or sold to the highest bidder. Sadly, however, that is exactly what has happened. Turkey enlisted the powerful, sustained, and very likely decisive support of our government in its shameless but nonetheless successful effort to compel Armenia into acceptance of a set of humiliating and dangerous concessions.

UPDATE, 10/11: See also “Stop The Protocols” website, created by Armenian American student groups.
UPDATE, 10/14: Naturally, the Washington Post editorializes in favor of the protocols.  Nice line: “The genocide issue — and the refusal of some in the American Armenian community to compromise on it — still threatens to undo the deal.” How unreasonable of “some” in the American Armenian community! One hopes the Post would never urge Jewish groups to compromise on recognition of the Holocaust, even if some groups had the so-called “common sense” to acquiesce to a process even the Post acknowledged could “filibuster” the issue.

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Because I just can’t let it go

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd October 2007

I’ll turn to other subjects sometime, I promise. But comments about the Armenian Genocide Resolution by people I think highly of have been among the sharpest disappointments of the past week. Two cases in point:

In his Atlantic Monthly blog, James Fallows (“Just curious (re the Armenian Genocide vote)”) asks whether American leadership is “insane,” calls the resolution “self-righteous,” and constructs a variety of straw men followups to this alleged political malpractice, e.g., condemning China’s Great Leap Forward. He finally gets around to stating his premises at the end of the piece:

The Armenian genocide was real; many Turks pretend it wasn’t. They are wrong, and we should stand for what’s right. But it’s hard to think of a more willfully self-indulgent step than lecturing Turkey’s current government and people 90 years late.

It’s not just “many Turks” who pretend it wasn’t a genocide — it’s the Turkish state, one that has more in common with its genocidal forebear than was convenient to admit, either then or now. I think if Fallows walked even a couple of yards in Armenian American shoes, he’d find it more difficult to dismiss their decades-long quest for some acknowledgment of what happened to them — and what therefore continues to happen to them. Instead it’s more or less ‘get over it, you bunch of dangers to the republic.’ (That said, he shouldn’t have been misquoted, that was of course deeply wrong, and clearly much worse than denigrating a genocide resolution.)

Elsewhere, Jimmy Carter, interviewed on CNN, said he wouldn’t vote for the bill were he in Congress. His reason:

I think the world generally recognizes that many of the Armenians were killed because they were Armenians by leaders of Turkey at that time. But to resurrect that issue and brand now Turkey and the Turkish people as perpetrators of genocide, I think, exacerbates a wound that may very well hurt the relationship with Turkey which is very valuable.

This is a fairly smooth combination of “diplomatese” — “generally,” “many … were killed because they were Armenians” — and “healing talk”: “exacerbates a wound.” The latter always drives me up a wall, but here it isn’t merely empty, pointless jabber, it’s actively deceptive jabber. For when there is a victim and a perpetrator who denies what he’s done, exactly which one is the wounded party?

The basics came at the end: the relationship with Turkey is very valuable. Well, so are lots of relationships with countries Carter is more willing to criticize, generally from atop a very high horse. I’m with him then, despite the high horse; but he shouldn’t come with “valuable” all of a sudden when that’s the best he can do. I wonder what he really thinks the difference is.

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The week that was

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd October 2007

Well, I’m back. Weeks like the last one make me appreciate the value and maybe even wisdom of not following the news so closely or at all.

The Post kept up its full court press about and generally against H.R.106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution, with op-eds by Charles Krauthammer (naturally) and Richard Cohen. The latter started off well — the title was “Turkey’s War on the Truth” — and ends well: “but there is only one thing to call Turkey’s insistence that it and its power will determine the truth: unacceptable.” But Cohen both buys into the idea that now is not the right time — when is it ever? — and undercuts his own “truth” premise by finding ways to doubt that the genocide was in fact a genocide:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word “genocide,” a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews. If that is the standard — and it need not be — then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire was something short of genocide. It was plenty bad — maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered — but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna, and Aleppo were largely spared.*

The fact that some communities were spared is (a) immaterial and (b) doesn’t mean what Cohen thinks it means. Those cities were where major Western consulates were; the Turkish leadership wanted to minimize and blunt criticism by having a few unharmed Armenians to point to. It’s still working.

Cohen uses “and it need not be” as a rhetorical fire escape while essentially arguing otherwise. To complete the thought he doesn’t, the concept of “genocide”is a genus, not a species — an overarching concept capturing a variety of crimes against humanity, not just one (monstrous) example of it. What happened in Rwanda was not precisely like the Holocaust, what happened in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was not precisely like either one, or what like what happened in Turkey beginning in 1915. But they all have something in common: large scale, centrally directed killings of noncombatants because of their race or ethnicity. They are all examples of genocide. Efforts to establish some kind of “Holocaust threshold” (let alone essentially elevate the Holocaust to the only possible example of genocide) are arguably even more dangerous than this administration’s tortured parsing of the word “torture.”**

Krauthammer’s article — “Pelosi’s Armenian Gambit” — is more straightforwardly predatory. Unlike Cohen, Krauthammer concedes on the one hand that what happened was “unambiguously” a genocide, but that Turkey’s arm-twisting bothers him not a bit — it’s also “unambiguously” the wrong time to raise the issue. As was the case with John Murtha last week, the main issue for Krauthammer is the inconvenience of the issue for our all-important war in Iraq. But (as may be the case for Murtha as well?) the real issue for Krauthammer is a chance to get a dig in at Pelosi, with the most withering words available to the Washington not-so-intelligentsia: “she is deeply unserious about foreign policy.”

But who’s really “unserious” about foreign policy here? If we can’t call a spade a nonbinding spade in our own House of Representatives because of the effect it may have on a war Americans clearly don’t want, does that make the proponents of the nonbinding resolution unserious — or those of the war? More on that another time.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party continues to find interesting new ways to sell out its electorate, by drafting a FISA revision bill that lets telephone companies off the hook for supporting Bush’s illegal warrantless domestic spying activities. The October Quisling Of the Month award goes to Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), previously famous for locking away his tepid qualms about the “program” in a safe until the New York Times — belatedly — broke the underlying story and made it safe for him to reveal them.

Thus, the latest definition of “Congressional oversight” is apparently to retroactively condone lawbreaking in return for the right to establish that laws were broken.

I join those saluting Senator Chris Dodd for fighting this, and may join those contributing to his campaign as well.

* Constantinople? Cohen’s right: the official name change to Istanbul happened in 1923, though the name was already in use. Official Turkey referred to Konstantiniyye before then.
** As most recently demonstrated in Saint Mukasey’s confirmation hearings. Department of I told you so: The Gonzales resignation: a strategic retreat.

POSTSCRIPT: Oh, I remember what else I was bummed about — a perfectly sensible health care measure benefiting children of uninsured families couldn’t get past a Bush veto and a Republican minority. Many lies were told, perhaps the liars will eventually be punished for them. Thanks to those like eRobin (“fact-esque”) who fought and continue to fight the good fight on this.

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Another day, another Turkish New Lira for the Washington Post

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th October 2007

Both despite and because of the efforts of the Washington Post, the Armenian Genocide continues to be a hot topic in the media and in Congress. It’s despite their efforts, because the Post editorial board clearly wishes no one cared quite this much about a little old genocide years and years ago someplace far away. Ironically, it’s also because of those selfsame efforts, because a lot of good Americans are probably learning about that same little old genocide for the first time ever over their eggs and coffee — and thinking “huh? wait a minute, that’s not right” about the systematic, Washington establishment-assisted efforts to deny it.

The Post kicked things off last week with possibly the most despicable editorial in their recent history, a veritable barrage of genocide (make that “genocide”) denial, belittlement of those who refuse to forget, and slander of those working on their behalf that would make a David Irving flush with shame.

Sunday’s installment in the Post’s full court press came courtesy of David Ignatius. As someone with Armenian American roots of his own, he crafted a rather remarkable document that ends with this pearl of wisdom: But if foreign governments try to make people do the right thing, it won’t work. They have to do it for themselves.”

Call me crazy, but that seems a lot more applicable to a certain quagmire Ignatius and his buddies thought was such a great idea. The distinction between a nonbinding resolution and what Ignatius is babbling about is so obvious even the Post editorial page should be able to grasp it, but I’ll spell it out anyway: if you make someone do something at gunpoint, it may not be the right thing in the first place — and if it’s not at gunpoint, you’re not really making them do anything.

Next, on Monday Fred Hiatt wept big, salty crocodile tears for Armenia:

Imagine what the Armenian diaspora might have accomplished had it worked as hard for democracy in Armenia as it did for congressional recognition of the genocide Armenians suffered nearly a century ago. […] It’s hard not to think that 3 million Armenians might be less poor and more free than they are today.

One way 3 million Armenians would be less poor if their landlocked country weren’t blockaded by Turkey (population 71 million). I’m doing my best here to imagine what the Armenian diaspora can do about that — maybe advocate some kind of deal with a country… that… denies a million and a half Armenians died at its own ancestors’ hands. Just from a business standpoint, you’d always have to be wondering what other inconvenient facts they’d “forget.”

Hiatt has a point about one thing, though. Armenia — it may be freely stipulated — is not the very model of a major Western democracy: no military industrial complex to speak of, no “up is down, torture is OK when the president says it is” Office of Legal Counsel Mumbo Jumbo, no up is down, “genocide by our pals is fine, genocide by those sitting on a lot of oil we want isn’t” major news media firms. To be sure, Armenia has apparently mucked up a few elections lately, and we can only hope it will rise to Florida 2000 or Ohio 2004 levels with dedicated hard work.

As noted last week, the Turkish government is currently ingratiating itself with the power circles of Washington to the tune of $329,000 a month in lobbyist fees. Set against that, what do the Armenian Americans have? A brigade of little old ladies in wheel chairs, the last survivors of a genocide — and as such a suitable backdrop, of course, for Dana Milbank’s signature vapid, supercilious brand of drivel last Thursday.

No matter. Those little old ladies are going to win — at least well they should. Thanks to everything from Schindler’s List to Hotel Rwanda to The Pianist, even the dullest American theatergoer or TV viewer is reasonably sure who he’s supposed to root for when it comes to genocide and efforts to cover it up or baldly deny it. Paradoxically, the harder the Post and the Republic of Turkey try to flush the Armenian Genocide down the memory hole, the less they’ll be able to do it.

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Despicable Washington Post editorial against Armenian Genocide Resolution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 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.

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Department of followups

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th July 2007

…an occasional review of further developments in issues, news, or other items I’ve written about before.

Re Jackson Diehl’s “The House’s Ottoman Agenda”, 03/05/07; 90 years ago: Armenian genocide begins, 04/25/05 — Back in March, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl wrote an exceptionally snotty op-ed deriding the value and wisdom of H.Res. 106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution, saying it em>”pandered” to Armenian Americans and was “almost comically heavy handed.” Rubbish; see for yourself, and ask yourself what you would write if the murder of 1.5 million countrymen went unacknowledged for 90 years. Now the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) reports Majority of US House Members support Armenian Genocide Resolution (link added):

In gaining 218 cosponsors, we have demonstrated that a majority of the House strongly supports recognizing the facts of the Armenian Genocide,” said lead sponsor, Congressman Adam Schiff. “While there are still survivors left, we feel a great sense of urgency in calling attention to the attempted murder of an entire people. Our failure to acknowledge these dark chapters of history prevents us from taking more effective action against ongoing genocides, like Darfur.”

Bravo to Congressman Schiff and his 217 cosponsors, including Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) who, in an e-mailed response to my support of H.Res. 106, noted that he sponsored a similar measure in the Maryland legislature before coming to Congress. Meanwhile: House 218, Diehl 0.

Support the Employee Free Choice Act, 06/20/07 — As is well known, the Employee Free Choice Act was defeated when Senate failed by 9 votes (51-48) to reach the 60 needed to end debate on the measure. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t thank the representatives and senators who supported it. Locally, it was a clean sweep: Representative Chris Van Hollen and Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin all voted for the bill. At “Free State Politics,” Isaac Smith provides a video clip of Senator Cardin’s floor speech, in which Cardin rebutted the canard that the Act prohibited secret ballot elections. From the official transcript of Cardin’s remarks:

“I listened again to what the Republican leader said about secret ballots, and I know there is a disconnect here, because, again, this legislation doesn’t get rid of that. What this legislation tries to say is we want workers rights to be adhered to. If the majority wants to have a union, they should be able to have a union without intimidation from the employer. And if the majority does not want to have a union, they should be able to do that without intimidation from the union.”

Earlier in his remarks, Cardin was also very good at spelling out what the stakes were for the country as a whole — union and non-union:

Real wages for U.S. workers are lower today than they were in 1973, even though productivity has increased by 80 percent. We do pride ourselves that each generation of Americans will live a more prosperous life than in previous generations. That will not be true for a large number of Americans. Today, wages are not keeping up with productivity. There is a problem in the workforce, and it affects all of us in this country. We need to do something about it.

Real median household income in my own State of Maryland has declined by 2.1 percent from 2000 to 2005. We find a widening of the income gap in America, a widening of the wealth gap in America. We should be moving to narrow that gap, not to see it continue to increase. We have a problem we need to deal with, and this legislation, H.R. 800, gives us an opportunity to debate these issues and determine whether the decline of unionization is one of the factors in contributing to these difficult economic trends.

CEOs are now paid 411 times what workers are paid in America–411 times. In 1990, it was bad enough at 107 times–once again, a widening of the gap. I remember when I was in college talking about the strength of America. The strength of America was that in all the western economic powers we had the narrowest gap between wealth and income. Now we have the widest. We need to do something about it. Unionization helps bridge that gap.

What has happened to unionization? In 1973, 24 percent of Maryland workers worked in a company that offered union representation. In 2006, that number dropped to 13 percent.

Pay attention to the Smithfield Tar Heel walk-out, 11/17/2006; New ICE age for labor?, 02/02/2007 — The Smithfield Tar Heel meat packing plant in North Carolina has been the scene of repeated walkouts and labor strife; the conflict has turned even uglier with Smithfield’s apparent reliance on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to pressure immigrant workers in the midst of a labor dispute.* But what Smithfield, other employers, and their misguided Republican allies in Congress and the White House are likely to find out is that if you stonewall, punish, and harass your workers for trying to improve their appalling working conditions (according to a Human Rights Watch report), those workers just going to have to up the ante.

To wit, Justice at Smithfield and the Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) are now calling for a kind of surgical boycott of Smithfield Tar Heel products. Consumers are urged to take a close look at Smithfield products, and if they’re from the Tar Heel plant, contact the store manager and urge those products to be withdrawn. How can you tell it’s a Smithfield Tar Heel product? Except for a “Queenella” brand, all carry the Smithfield label — and all have a particular identification code. Justice at Smithfield:

You can identify the Tar Heel plant products with these codes:
EST 79C on bacon and EST 18079 on all other pork products.

(Red added to make you look.) The codes are part of the “use by” information and/or USDA inspection information on the meat packaging; see J-at-S’s “Find the Meat” document for examples.

* ICE guidelines supposedly preclude raids on workplaces in the midst of a labor dispute. That’s sensible, since otherwise they’d be essentially encouraging employers to hire illegal workers, only to have ICE be their company cops once a strike is looming. But a recent study shows ICE’s real attitude is “guidelines, shmidelines”: fully 54% of ICE workplace raids take place at workplaces with active labor disputes.
EDIT, UPDATE, 3/10/08: 51-48 vote link added. Worth noting — Obama and Clinton both voted to end debate on the bill, McCain did not.

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pander n.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th March 2007

    1. a go-between in a sexual intrigue; esp., a procurer; pimp.
    2. a person who provides the means of helping to satisfy the ignoble ambitions or desires, vices, etc. of another


— Webster’s New World Dictionary

I return to Jackson Diehl’s Monday opinion editorial in the Washington Post, “The House’s Ottoman Agenda,” and specifically to his charge that H.R. 106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution was an example of “constituent pandering.”

“Start with the pandering,” begins Diehl, continuing that the resolution’s sponsor, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA-29), “cheerfully concedes that there are 70,000 to 80,000 ethnic Armenians in his district, for whom the slaughter of Armenians by the Young Turk regime during World War I is ‘anything but ancient history.'” ” Concedes?” What’s to concede? Mr. Schiff is a “representative,” which suggests he will “represent” the people of his district. When he 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.

Diehl’s sloppy, deeply stupid opinion may well have meant to use the word “pander” in the same sloppy, stupid way it has come to be used generally: something done purely for local, short term political advantage that will benefit a few but cost more to others. But the word’s original meaning reveals that at its core, “pandering” doesn’t mean favoring the few over the many, it means catering to ignoble aims or vices.

It ought to be needless to say that remembering the wholesale slaughter of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 and 1916, and holding its perpetrators to account, is neither ignoble nor a vice. Mr. Diehl’s choice of words is a libel against Representative Schiff, but it is a far worse libel against his constituents.

Imagine if the Washington Post chose to call the United States January UN resolution against Holocaust denial “pandering” to anyone at all. There’s simply no such thing when it comes to opposing lies about that monstrous crime against humanity — especially when those lies are given the official blessing of a country’s government. Or consider Congress — in the 105th Congress of 1997-1998 alone, there were three binding and two nonbinding resolutions related to the Holocaust, including ones about establishing presidential commissions to investigate the disposition of Holocaust-era assets, identifying such assets for the purpose of restitution, setting aside $25 million to assist with that, and expressing the sense of Congress that Germany should do more to simplify and expand reparations. “Pandering”? Not at all. Helping see justice done? Of course.

I’d rather not speculate why some crimes against humanity seem to merit more attention than others, or why attempts to recognize them get more respect by the media than others — or at least aren’t subjected to disdain and mockery. I’ll simply restate what I said below: Diehl’s arrogant op-ed was a disgrace, marred by words like “pander,” “frivolity,” “shrug,” and “comical” in connection with one of the worst crimes against humanity that ever happened. He and the Washington Post should be profoundly ashamed, and everyone concerned — from Diehl to the publisher to the op-ed page editor — should reflect and then apologize for their contemptuous treatment of a genocide and its victims.

ADDENDUM: While I’m on the subject, it’s extremely disappointing to note that Matthew Yglesias has also — and once again — put his name to a supercilious, apathetic statement about genocide and responses to it. I realize it’s just a bunch of people with “ian” at the end of their names, but there’s simply nothing that’s “pretty funny” about the Armenian Genocide or about Diehl’s hatchet job on HR106. Deniers of the Holocaust are rightly derided and despised these days — yet surely not because of statements like Mr. Yglesias’s, but rather despite them. (Via Robert Farley at TAPPED.)

EDIT, 3/7: Nevertheless, “statements like Mr. Yglesias’s” etc. is more supportable than “people like Mr. Yglesias” etc.
UPDATE, 3/9: My comment to Yglesias’ post has not appeared; I got a comment pending message. My comment in full: I disagree: not funny. Not funny at all.” Maybe the two links got caught on some spam filter, maybe the coComment thingie I use has bollixed things up somehow. Or maybe the comment hasn’t been and won’t be approved.
2D UPDATE, 3/9: Looks like it was the links; my somewhat longer comment without any external links has posted.
UPDATE, 3/13: WorldWideWeber (“Notes from The Basement”) points out a decent editorial, “Turkey’s Chutzpah,” in The Jewish Press, saying that Turkey shouldn’t play the uniqueness-of-the-Holocaust card with American Jews. It also simply “acknowledg[es] as genocide the systematic murder of a million and a half [Armenians].” See? That wasn’t so hard.

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Re Jackson Diehl’s "The House’s Ottoman Agenda"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th March 2007

Jackson Diehl has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post (“The House’s Ottoman Agenda“) about the possibility that the House may pass a non-binding resolution (H. Res 106) recognizing the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Below is my response to his article, as submitted to the Post:

Mr. Diehl dismisses as “comical” the quest of Armenians to have their ordeal in 1915 recognized for what it was: genocide — without the scare quotes he puts around the word. He dismisses Representatives pushing for the vote as “pandering.” He recommends Turkey dismiss the bill’s passage with a “shrug.”

He wouldn’t feel that way if his ancestors had been murdered by the tens and hundreds of thousands — and then faced a constant propaganda campaign by the perpetrators that nothing really happened. And op-eds in the nation’s premier newspaper that the whole thing is some kind of minor joke.

This is possibly the most callous, offensive op-ed I’ve ever had the misfortune to read in the pages of the Washington Post. Diehl should reconsider the entire article, retract it, and print an apology to the decent Armenian Americans of this country who have worked so long to see not justice, but a simple acknowledgement of the crime against their people see the light of day.

If you know little or nothing about the Armenian Genocide, you’re (a) not alone, and (b) you should; whether Diehl thinks it’s far-fetched or not, Hitler is quoted as saying “Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” I wrote about it in April, 2005 — “90 years ago today: Armenian genocide begins” — and there are links to more substantive resources there if you care to learn about it. Hundreds of thousands — the consensus is actually around 1.5 million — were either massacred outright, succumbed to disease and starvation, or perished in forced death marches into the deserts of Turkey and present-day Syria. For such grief and horror to receive such a brush-off from the Post is nothing short of reprehensible.

Diehl notes that the Turkish ambassador has been lobbying against the bill’s passage, warning that “a nationalist tidal wave could sweep Turkey and force the government to downgrade its cooperation with the United States, which needs Turkey’s help this year to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran.” These are not exactly weighty cudgels to swing at those of us who want the U.S. out of Iraq and dialing down a confrontation with Iran, but even a realistic appraisal of Turkish politics may not support the ambassador’s or Diehl’s alleged forebodings.

As Diehl noted, an ultranationalist teenager recently assassinated an Armenian Turkish journalist in Istanbul. But far from revealing the strength of anti-Armenian sentiment in Turkey, Hrant Dink’s murder appears to have galvanized the opposite among both the people and the media of Turkey. Tens of thousands of Turks took to the streets with signs saying “We are all Armenians” to protest what happened; the media widely condemned what it called a “lynch culture.” A great number of people in Turkey may be ahead of their ruling classes on this issue — rather than behind them. Meanwhile, the one thing Turkish elites really want these days — EU membership — is hardly going to be advanced if they whip up nationalist resentments about a US genocide resolution.

Mr. Diehl is also clever, but deeply misleading to imply H.R. 106 is some kind of Democratic ploy (sponsor Schiff is “pandering” with it, Speaker Pelosi supports it, “even” some Democrats oppose it). A look at the bill’s co-sponsors shows plenty of Republicans — the Diaz-Balarts, Wamp, Sensenbrenner, Rohrabacher, and Musgrave, to name a few, are hardly pushovers for partisan Democratic skulduggery. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole always supported the Armenian genocide resolution during his tenure in the Senate.

Diehl makes much of the non-binding nature of the resolution; why all the fuss, he implies, for something that doesn’t matter? The question answers itself when you see how a Turkish full court press has apparently taken in the Washington Post. Why is the Turkish government bothering? Why do they want to keep a 90 year old crime against humanity covered up for another year? And why should the Post aid and abet them in that?

A final note: I’d like to think I’d support H.R. 106 one way or the other. But I don’t doubt I’m more aware of the issue because my wife is part Armenian. If you’ve stuck with this post, I’ve passed on a little bit of that awareness; if you’d like your Congressman or -woman to support the bill, send them a fax via the Armenian National Committee of America.

UPDATE, 3/6: As of today, ANCA shows that 47 Republicans are among the 178 Representatives “pandering” by cosponsoring HR106 and speaking out about a genocide that has gone unacknowledged by its perpetrators for more than 90 years.

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Turkish author under attack for remembering genocide

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd May 2005

Last week, I posted a small commemoration of a terrible event: the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, 90 years ago. I wrote that “What happened was genocide, and Turkey needs to face both that and its coverup to earn a place in civilized society. It appears that will not happen any time soon.”

But not everyone in Turkey denies what happened. A friend has pointed out a Guardian article by Nouritza Matossian, about the celebrated Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (My Name is Red, Snow, Istanbul: Memories of a City), who has got himself into some hot water in his home country with some forthright statements about the genocide:

His crime was one sentence in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger this month. ‘Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in Turkey. Almost no one dares speak but me, and the nationalists hate me for that.’ All hell broke loose. The press attacked him for dishonouring the Turkish state and incitement to racial violence. He has been called a liar, ‘a miserable creature’ and a ‘black writer’ in the daily Hurriyet. Professor Hikmet Ozdemir, head of the Armenian studies department at the Turkish Union of Historians, rejected his statement as a ‘great lie’. […]

Mehmet Ucok, an attorney, filed charges at the Kayseri public prosecutor’s office. Another charge was filed by Kayseri Bar Association attorney Orhan Pekmezci: ‘Pamuk has made groundless claims against the Turkish identity, the Turkish military and Turkey as a whole. He should be punished for violating Articles 159 and 312 of the Turkish penal code. He made a statement provoking the people to hatred and animosity through the media, which is defined as a crime in Article 312.’

The administrator of the Turkish town of Sutculer went so far as to have Pamuk’s books removed from the town library stacks and burned;’s Omer Erzeren reports that this, at least, seems to be going too far:

The Ministry of the Interior instituted preliminary proceedings against the overzealous administrator, and even the nationalists who had thoroughly condemned Orhan Pamuk were reluctant to be lumped together with book burners.

Erzeren sees Pamuk’s vilification as part of a wider pattern of backlash by Turkish nationalists, who are irked by recent Kurdish demonstrations and the country’s efforts to join the European Union. But unlike Matossian, he prefers to argue that the recent Pamuk controversy shows the Turkish glass is half full:

In the 1890s, when the famous novelist Yasar Kemal denounced the practices of the Turkish state in its fight against the Kurdish guerillas, he was fighting for a lost cause. His accusations appeared in foreign newspapers and journals.

He was deprived of the chance to express his views in his own country. Orhan Pamuk fared better in recent months. The educated middle class publicly supported him, and the administrator was branded a “book burner”.

The country’s highest-circulation newspaper, Hürriyet, published a several-day series on the events of 1915, including statements by Turkish and Armenian historians who described the massacre as genocide. Just a few years ago, this kind of debate would have been unthinkable.

Erzeren is clearly strongly pro-E.U., so his descriptions of somewhat marginalized Turkish nationalists, some people rallying to Pamuk’s defense, and some openness in Turkish media about the Armenian genocide may just be his attempt to put the best face on the situation. But for all I know he’s describing the beginning of significant change in Turkey; I certainly hope so. The pressure is hopefully on: in her article, Matossian writes, “Recent discussions of Turkey’s possible entry into the EU were dominated by France and other countries demanding that Turkey first admit the Armenian genocide.”

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90 years ago: Armenian genocide begins

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th April 2005

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) remembers:

During the night of April 23-24, 1915, Armenian political, religious, educational, and intellectual leaders in Istanbul were arrested, deported to the interior, and mercilessly put to death. Next, the Turkish government ordered the deportation of the Armenian people to “relocation centers” – actually to the barren deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. The Armenians were driven out brutally from the length and breadth of the empire. Secrecy, surprise, deception, torture, dehumanization, rape and pillage were all a part of the process. The whole of Asia Minor was put in motion.

The greatest torment was reserved for the women and children, who were driven for months over mountains and deserts [see map], often dehumanized by being stripped naked and repeatedly preyed upon and abused. Intentionally deprived of food and water, they fell by the hundreds of thousands along the routes to the desert.

Historians estimate one and a half million people died.

No doubt this seems long ago and far away. But if you’re tempted to think you don’t “have a dog in this fight,” one of the interesting — in a bad way — things about this is how one element of this genocide lives on and on.

That element is denial. The Turkish government continues to fight any characterization of what happened in 1915-16 as a genocide. Think what your opinion would be of Germany if its leadership denied the Holocaust had ever happened, or that it was genocidal in intent and execution. In my opinion, that’s thankfully not the case; as a whole, German society and its state continue to acknowledge and wrestle with this dark past, rather than deny it or cover it up.

That’s pretty much the opposite of what the Turkish government is doing; sadly, denying the Armenian genocide seems to be one of the unifying principles of its political leadership, no matter whether Muslim or secular parties are in power.

A recent case in point: the German Bundestag debate this week about a resolution remembering the events of 1915-1916. The statement, introduced by CDU opposition member Christoph Bergner, was phrased and debated in exceedingly mild terms. It acknowledged German wartime official neglect of the horrors,* and even avoided the words “genocide” or its German equivalent Voelkermord — perhaps to avoid coloring the debate about Turkey’s application for European Union membership. But even this met with vehement Turkish opposition. As German newsweekly SPIEGEL’s Severin Weiland reported:

One day before the Bundestag debate, Turkish ambassador Mehmet Ali Irtemçelik commented again about the Armenia debate in the mass periodical “Hürriyet.” He repeated the Turkish position that it was not the job of parliaments to make judgements about historical events. Should the sponsors of the Bundestag resolution “and the organizations behind it succeed in attaining their goal, it will be unavoidable that Turkey and the nearly three million Turks living here will draw the consequences of this position.”

The ambassador continued that he feared that if “this resolution or one like it is adopted, despite official efforts to prevent it, the damage to [Turkish-German] relations will be of a scope and dimension that can not be foreseen at this time.”

The Turkish position is that Armenians constituted a fifth column for the Allies inside the Turkish Empire, and that the entire population therefore had to be relocated from near the Russian front, with most arriving safely at their destinations in present-day Syria.

This is untrue. There were isolated anti-Turkish Armenian groups and actions, but none justifying the scale of slaughter that Turkish government and local tribesmen committed during 1915-1916. The sheer scale of the exodus gives the lie to military necessity at the Turkish northeastern front.** Whole towns like Musa Dagh — where Armenians waged a heroic resistance immortalized by Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh — were besieged by the Turkish military and their inhabitants massacred. Refugee columns from elsewhere in eastern and central Turkey were effectively defenseless, by design, and were attacked mercilessly by soldiers and locals alike, by design. Turkish leader Talaat Pasha launched the genocide with an unambiguous command:

Kill every Armenian woman, child, and man, without concern for anything.

Despite being on the losing side of World War I, Turkey avoided facing any consequences for what happened. One world leader took note — Adolf Hitler. In 1939, he remarked:

Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?

What happened was genocide, and Turkey needs to face both that and its coverup to earn a place in civilized society. It appears that will not happen any time soon.

Further resources:
Armenian Genocide Institute-Museum, Armenia
the forgotten (ABC news program with survivor eyewitness accounts, and photos smuggled out of Turkey by German soldier/observer Armin Wegner)
Armenian Genocide Contemporary Articles: news reports in the New York Times and other papers at the time
— Hye Etch (Armenian internet site): Armenian genocide;
— Selected prior posts on this site: Armenian genocide: now it’s fit to print; Genocide: “Never again” or “Again: whatever”?
Stop the Genocide in Darfur (Armenian National Committee of America)

* Resolution sponsor Bergner cited a message by then German chancellorTheobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to the German ambassador to Turkey: “our single goal is to keep Turkey on our side until the end of the war, regardless whether the Armenians are destroyed because of that or not.”
** Maps: ANCA,

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