Truth, diplomacy, and genocide

The Armenian genocide is a live political issue only because the Turkish government insists on denying it. Yes, this is an inconvenient time to speak the truth on the matter, but nonetheless it IS the truth.

Mike O’Hare’s post says lots of true things, but leaves out what seems to me a central fact: it is still the official policy of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide, and to persecute Turks (including Orhan Pamuk, the one Turkish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) not just for using the word “genocide” but simply for stating the fact that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered by the dying Ottoman Empire (and to a lesser extent by the nascent Turkish Republic) and the related facts about the Turkish government’s treatment of Turkish Kurds.

That’s what distinguishes the Armenian genocide from, to take one of Mike’s examples, the genocide of the Cathars by the combination of the French Monarchy, the Papacy, and the Dominican Order; in that case, none of the responsible parties continues either to deny the fact or to justify it. That the Armenian genocide is still a live political issue isn’t the fault of the Armenians; it’s the fault of the Turkish army and of the Kemalist political tradition.

There’s a difference between, on the one hand, wantonly asserting a hurtful fact about an ally and, on the other, taking the side of the truth in a battle with falsehood of truly Orwellian dimensions. Nor is the Turkish record of maltreatment of minorities merely ancient history; while oppression doesn’t justify terrorism, the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey is a recent and current fact (though it’s no longer a criminal offense to speak or write in Kurdish) , which is part of the reason the Turkish government is so terrified of the emergence of a formally autonomous Kurdistan within Iraq.

I agree that this is an especially lousy time to bring the resolution to the floor of the House, and I’m not sure whether to be more annoyed at Nancy Pelosi for what looks to me like a failure of leadership or at George W. Bush for his arrogant refusal to pick up the damned phone and ask her, politely, to keep the resolution bottled up. Still, the claims of truth are not to be despised.

Yes, Turkey matters to us, and not just in terms of the logistics of the occupation of Iraq. And yes, sometimes diplomacy counsels against speaking the whole truth. But the resolution is the truth, and the fact that the truth is more than the Turkish political leadership can bear says more about Turkish politics than it does about the U.S. Insofar as this non-binding resolution really threatens long-range damage to U.S.-Turkish relations, it’s only because the blunder in Iraq &#8212 strongly opposed at the time by the Turkish government and almost universally unpopular in Turkey today &#8212 and because of the failure of the Turkish application for EU membership. The argument that we need the Turks and shouldn’t do anything to offend them does not lie in the mouths of the BushCheney cabal, or of anyone else who cheered the election of the Turkophobe Nicolas Sarkozy to the French Presidency.

Footnote And can we now hear no more about the “moral clarity” of the imperialist/warmonger faction?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: