USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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LA Times: Armenian genocide resolution far from certain

Posted by uscsjp on April 21, 2007

WASHINGTON — It was the year 2000, and Rep. George P. Radanovich was on his way to the Capitol, expecting the House to pass a long-debated resolution he was sponsoring to recognize the Armenian genocide almost a century ago.

But just as the Republican from Mariposa prepared to step onto the House floor, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called off the vote because President Clinton personally had warned him that the symbolic but emotion-charged resolution could damage national security. Turkey, an important U.S. ally, long has insisted that the deaths of about 1 million Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire were not acts of genocide.

Seven years later, however, with Congress in the hands of Democrats, the resolution’s backers believe they stand their best chance yet of winning passage — even though the Bush administration, like previous Democratic and Republican administrations, is working hard to kill it…

And the speaker is not the only one in a bind on the issue. The Israeli government and many of its U.S. supporters face similar crosscurrents because opposing genocide is at the core of the Jewish state, but Turkey is the closest thing to an ally Israel has in the Muslim world…

Armenians, along with most historians and many Western governments, say more than 1 million died at the hands of Turkish forces — victims of either murder or mass deportation that led hundreds of thousands to succumb to exposure and disease.

Turks say there was no government-sponsored program targeting Armenians. Rather, they insist, large numbers of Armenians — and Turks — died in the chaos of war and an uprising staged by Armenians seeking to capitalize on a government weakened by World War I…

Though the events lie far in the past, Armenians and Armenian Americans have worked hard to keep the memory alive. The Turkish government and the ultranationalists who are resurgent in that country have worked equally hard to keep the U.S. government from taking a position.

Caught in the middle of the debate are Israel and its supporters.

“It’s a terrible predicament,” said David Twersky of the American Jewish Congress. “As Jews, we have a tremendous reverence for the moral imperatives of history. But then there is the aspect that no Muslim country is closer to Israel than Turkey. So we feel paralyzed by a set of conflicting emotions.”

Turkish officials say the renewed push to recognize an Armenian genocide could not come at a worse time.

The issue is so incendiary that even a symbolic recognition by Congress could embolden ultranationalists there to unleash enough anti-American sentiment to shut down important U.S. military bases and affect Washington’s position throughout the Middle East.

Civilian and military leaders of the Turkish government, including Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, met at a Washington hotel in February with more than a dozen leaders of major Jewish organizations in an effort to prevent action on the resolution. Members of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee took part in the gathering.

“I believe the right thing for the Jewish community is to recognize the Armenian genocide as a fact, because virtually every historian and scholar of note in this area calls it a genocide,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. “As friends of Turkey, we need to encourage them to just recognize the truth, honor the victims and be done with it. This would only enhance Turkey’s standing in the world.”

Other Jewish leaders, believing the security needs of the U.S. and Israel trump distant history, are siding with Turkey.

“I don’t think a bill in Congress will help reconcile this issue. The resolution takes a position. It comes to a judgment,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The Turks and Armenians need to revisit their past. The Jewish community shouldn’t be the arbiter of that history,” he said. “And I don’t think the U.S. Congress should be the arbiter either.”…

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are among those working to scuttle the measure, contending it could jeopardize Turkey’s support for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan… (full link)


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