Turkey Continues to Dictate US Policy on the Armenian Genocide

President Obama campaigned hard to get the Armenian-American vote by taking a hard line on the Armenian Genocide. He even had a track record of complaining about the previous administration’s lack of recognition when Condoleezza Rice recalled the the US Ambassador to Yerevan, John Evans, because he publically used the word “genocide”. You can’t even use the “G” word when speaking to Armenians, as this is too upsetting to the Turks.

During the campaign, Obama said, “As a U.S. Senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.” Now Obama has decided that realpolitik is much more inportant than principle. The first Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day since Obama took office was last Friday. After all his bluster, when the White House issued a statement about the day, the word “genocide” was clearly left out.

Everyone noticed this, except of course the Turks, who were angry that any statement had been made. The under secretary in Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned to U.S. Ambassador  in Ankara to tell him that the Turkish government was uneasy about the statement because it didn’t mention the deaths of thousands of Turks during the rounding up of 1.5 million Armenians for extermination. Even in avoiding the “G” work, the Turks found some of Obama’s expressions “unacceptable”.

Who do they think they are? First of all, that the US Ambasssdor should be summoned by some second-rate bureaucrat is insulting enough. If the bloody Turks have a problem with the watered-down statement of the President of the United States, who has already flushed all of his principles to appease them, then why can’t the President or Prime Minister of Turkey can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and call them White House directly? At the very least the US Ambassdor should be asked to reply on behalf of the Administration directly to the President, Prime Minister, or Foreign Secretary. The Ambassador should have then had direct orders from the White House to explain into which bodily oriface the Turks can shove their revisionist denial of the slaughter of the Armenians.

Why do with let the Turks get away with this? What would happen if Germany decided to collectively deny the Holocaust? The US wouldn’t stand for that. Good grief, the US government is even trying its hardest to send an exonerated innocent man to Germany to stand trial for crimes he didn’t commit (that didn’t even occur on German soil) because the Germans have collectively forgiven themselves for anything they did during the Holocaust, just to show its committment to the cause.

This is even worse. This is like campaigning on the  promise of a Holocaust memorial, then denying the Holocaust once in office. If Obama had not taken a stand on this issue, it might be more understandable that he has bowed to the same pressure as every previous adminstration, letting the Turks dictate American policy. But to completely back down from promises he made to the Armenian disapora is reprehensible.

Good Turk, Bad Turk

Boris Kemal Bey Johnson, the new mayor of London, is an ethnic Turk. His paternal great-grandfather was Ali Kemal Bey, a high profile Turkish journalist and Interior Minister.  Boris’ grandfather Osman, who was born in England while Ali was in exile, took on his grandmother’s maiden name of Johnson.

As longtime readers will know, I’m not big on the Turks. Despite the doner kebab being my favourite takeaway meal, Turks in positions of governmental authority tend to worry me. But not wanting to be given to stereotyping, I must acknowledge that there are good Turks and bad Turks. Boris comes from a line of good Turks.

I say this because Ail Kemal Bey passionately condemned the attacks on the Armenians during the genocide of 1915. Again, as longtime readers will know, I am not willing to let the Armenian Genocide be swept under the rug of history.

The question is whether the good line stops at Boris. Ali’s great-grandson has not made an passionate condemnation of the genocide. There have been a number of oportunities in Parliament to do so. In the current session there have been four Early Day Motions about it, none of which have been signed by the MP for Henley. In the last session a motion by then-Tory MP Bob Spink garnered 182 signatures. Boris’ wasn’t one of them.

In addition to being a flamboyant character, Boris is now in one of the most influential poilitical roles in the country. He has been elected by a greater constituency than any other Conservative politician. Is he going to be one of the good Turks? We have yet to see, but so far it doesn’t look promising.  Neither the Conservative Party nor the Labour Government have been supportive of the Armenian cause. Politics has won out over truth. I hope pressure can be brought to bear to encourage Boris to follow the example of his great-grandfather.

History That Matters

I’m covering American involvement in the First World War with my Year 10s. Thursday I was showing a map of Europe in 1914 to demonstrate the changes in boundaries after the War (particularly as they relate to Wilson’s 14 Points) when I drifted over to the Ottoman Empire. I explained how all the countries in Middle East – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and what would eventually become Israel – were all created out of the break up of the Ottoman Empire after the war.

Then, speaking of the Ottoman Turks, I mentioned the Armenian Genocide. At that point I reached a crossroads: I could either get back to the lesson plan, the scheme of work, and the exam syllabus, or I could give substantive time to the horrors of 1915. Modern pedagogy said to stick to the syllabus. If it’s not on the exam, they don’t need to know it. Teach the exam. Obviously, I went the other way. Two hours the other way.

None of my students will remember the 14 Points in five years time. Don’t get me wrong – they are still going to learn them and about the Lodge Reservations and how it all relates to Isolationism of the 1920s. But they won’t remember. However, if they learn about the Genocide – if they see the pictures and read about the atrocities – they may remember it.

But more importantly, they may leave school with an understanding of the sort of place the world is. They may appreciate the place they have found themselves in time and space and what a valuable thing it is to live in a peaceful corner of the world. Later they will learn about the Jewish Holocaust – you can’t get out of school without learning about that – but now they will understand that this isn’t just a thing that happened to Jews during the Second World War. It happens to Christians and it continues to this day in both the Genocide denial of the Turks and the systematic obliteration of the Armenian past in eastern Anatolia.

I may not have time or opportunity to cover the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33 or Cambodia or Bosnia or Rwanda, but I can a least do my part to see that the Armenians are not forgotten. If I can inspire one student to aspire to see that others are not forgotten, I will have done something worthwhile.