Friday, March 30, 2007

Coverage of Genocide Recognition Bill

The title of today's New York Times story on House resolution 106, "Planned House Vote on Armenian Massacre Angers Turks," does not sound very promising at first glance. But the article itself should inspire optimism among advocates of recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. The article frames the issue mainly as one pitting the Turks and the White House against House Democrats. From the article, the issue clearly emerges as one of strategic and commercial interests versus morality and justice. This kind of framing provides all the more reason for Nancy Pelosi to support the resolution - rightly or wrongly, most Americans believe that U.S. foreign policy ought to be and is guided by moral values. Furthermore, many Americans probably resent what they perceive as undue pressure exerted by the Turkish government, especially when expressed in a half-threatening, half-paternalistic warning by Abdullah Gul. The Turkish foreign minister told the Times that

As the elected government of democratic Turkey, we would not be able to remain indifferent. However, I am confident that common sense would prevail at the Congress.

The article does mention the restoration, by the Turkish government, of the Armenian church at Akhtamar near Lake Van (depicted in our banner). This is definitely a good public relations move, that will engender sympathy among Americans for Turkish efforts at reconciliation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Schiff presses Rice on Genocide

Congressman Adam Schiff (Photo: Schiff's House Site)

Following is the original transcript of an exchange between Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California, 29th District) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the United States, on March 21. It is somewhat long, but I thought some of Rice's answers were worth noticing, sometimes for their brutal honesty, more often for their diplomatic contortions.

The exchange took place at a House Appropriations Committee hearing before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, on which Schiff sits. The transcript is from a press release on Schiff's online newsroom.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you, Madam Chair. Madam Secretary, welcome.
About a week or so ago, Madam Secretary, you and Secretary Gates sent a letter to some of the chairs of committees here on the Hill opposing recognition of the Armenian genocide.
This concerned me for a number of reasons, not the least of which that I don't see how we can have the moral authority that we need to condemn the genocide going in Darfur if we're unwilling to recognize other genocides that have taken place, if we're unwilling to recognize the first genocide of the last century, where 1.5 million people lost 
their lives.
We're all well aware of how the Turkish lobby and Turkey has, either implicitly or explicitly, threatened because it doesn't want the genocide recognized and its own difficulty in coming to grips with that chapter of Ottoman history.
So I'm not going to ask you about that, but I do want to ask you, is there any -- do you have any doubt, in your mind, that the murder of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 constituted genocide? Is there any doubt about that, in your mind?

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Congressman, I think that these historical circumstances require a very detailed and sober look from historians and what we've encouraged the Turks and the Armenians to do is to have joint historical commissions that can look at this, to have efforts to examine their past and, in examining their past, to get over their past.
But I will tell you, Congressman, I don't think that it helps that process of reconciliation for the United States to enter this debate at that level. I just don't think it's helpful.

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary, your comments, you think that there should be some kind of debate or discussion about the genocide suggests that you have a question about whether genocide occurred.
Is that correct?

RICE: Congressman, I believe that this is something that Turks and Armenians are best to address through their own processes of coming to terms with their history.
Lots of people have had to come to terms with their history...

SCHIFF: Yes, and, Madam Secretary, we have to come to grips with our own history.

RICE: Yes.

SCHIFF: And we did.

RICE: I personally am well aware of that.

SCHIFF: But, Madam Secretary, you come out of academia.

RICE: Yes.

SCHIFF: Is there any historic debate outside of Turkey? Is there any reputable historian you're aware of that takes issue with the fact that the murder of 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide?

Congressman, I come out of academia, but I'm secretary of state now and I think that the best way to have this proceed is for the United States not to be in the position of making this judgment, but rather for the Turks and the Armenians to come to their own terms about this.
Lots of people are coming to terms with their history in Asia, in Europe people have had to come to terms with their own history and that's...

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary, we have no reluctance to recognize genocide in Darfur. We have no reluctance to talk about the Cambodian genocide or the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust.
Why is it only this genocide? Is it because Turkey is a strong ally? Is that an ethical and moral reason to ignore the murder of 1.5 million people? Why is it we don't say, "Let's relegate the Holocaust to historians" or "relegate the Cambodian genocide or Rwandan genocide ?" Why is it only this genocide that we should let the Turks acknowledge or not acknowledge?
And, Madam Secretary, Hrant Dink, who was murdered outside of his office, is not a testimony to Turkish progress. The fact that Turkey brought a Nobel-winning author up on charges of insulting Turkishness because he talked about the murder of the Armenians doesn't show great efforts of reconciliation of Turkey.
Why is it only this genocide we're incapable of recognizing?

RICE: Congressman, we have recognized and the president recognizes every year in a resolution that he himself issues the historical circumstances and the tragedy that befell the Armenian people at that time.
We do recognize it. But I don't -- if you'll just allow me. I do not see that this situation is going to get better in the sense that it allows Turks and Armenians to move on to deal with their present unless we are able to let them deal with their past as to the murder that you...

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary, because I'm going to run out of time.
You recognize more than anyone, as a diplomat, the power of words.

RICE: Yes.

SCHIFF: And I'm sure you supported the recognition of genocide in Darfur, not calling it tragedy, not calling it atrocity, not calling it anything else, but the power and significance of calling it genocide .
Why is that less important in the case of the Armenian genocide?

RICE: Congressman, the power here is in helping these people to move forward. After the murder that you talked about, Turks went into the streets to embrace Armenians and to say that this is not the way that Turks behave.
The foreign minister himself has called into question the issue of arresting people for Turkishness. I do think that there is an evolution that is going on in a Turkey that is democratizing and democratizing before our very eyes and where Turks will be able to deal better with their history.
But I do believe that people are better left to try and deal with this themselves if they're going to be able to move forward.
We have to ask ourselves, "What is the purpose here," and I think the purpose is to acknowledge, of course, the historic tragedy, but the purpose is also to allow Turks and Armenians to be able to move forward.
And, yes, Turkey is a good ally and that is important. But more important is that like many historical tragedies, like many historical circumstances of this kind, people need to come to terms with it and they need to move on.
We've done that in our own country. People have done it in Europe. People have done it in Asia and I think... 

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary...


RICE: ... the best to have them move forward together.

LOWEY: Thank you, Mr. Schiff.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Décès inattendu du Premier Ministre arménien

Andranik Markarian, 1951-2007 (Photo: Iran-Daily)

J'ai appris hier matin -de bouche à oreille- que le Premier Ministre arménien Andranik Markarian était décédé d'une crise cardiaque. Après avoir en vain fait le tour des principales radios d'information, des dépêches AFP, du site du Monde, etc. j'ai décidé d'attendre confirmation avant de me faire l'écho de la nouvelle -sur notre blog, même si cette affaire ne concerne pas particulièrement la communauté juive. Heureusement ce matin les media arméniens -non, pas internationaux, quel journaliste sensé perdrait son temps sur une nouvelle aussi peu grand public?- donnaient davantage de précisions sur ce décès.

Apparemment l'ex-Premier avait de lourds antécédents en matière cardiaque: il se faisait régulièrement suivre en Russie et en France. Une paralysie du coeur l'a pris dans son appartement et les médecins ont inutilement tenté de le réanimer.

Des funérailles d'Etat sont prévus par le Président Kotcharian, qui a déclaré être profondément touché. Il a immédiatement prévenu son Ministre de la Défense, Serge Sarksian, qui en route pour une visite officielle en Chine a annulé son voyage. Une réunion d'urgence a eu lieu hier, et une autre est prévue pour aujourd'hui, dès le retour de Sarksian. Quant aux suites deux tendances semblent se dessiner. Kotcharian pencherait pour un candidat proche de lui au poste, en la personne de Hovik Abrahamian, actuel Ministre du Gouvernement local, une des figures montantes du régime depuis trois ans. Ce mouvement s'est accéléré en 2005, quand Kotcharian a inclus le département des Réfugiés et situations d'urgence dans le Ministère du Gouvernement local, le tout confié à Abrahamian. Ce choix pourrait cependant créer de nouvelles vagues entre Kotcharian et Sarksian, qui fera sans doute son possible pour pousser un homme à lui, quelqu'un de discret et d'acquis, et qui lui rendra la campagne présidentielle de l'an prochain que plus aisée. Affaire à suivre...

Je vois l'information pour la première fois sur un media international sur le site de la BBC.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Armenian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada

The Armenian embassy in Ottawa, Canada (March 2007)

I thought I'd post a picture I took recently of the Armenian Embassy in our nation's capital. In my opinion, it's quite striking. Note the Ararat motif in one of the gables. The embassy is located close to the downtown area, near the Rideau Canal on which people frequently skate during the winter. I don't know the significance of the statue on the right - if any of our readers could enlighten us on that point, your help would be much appreciated.

Friday, March 16, 2007

State Department Urging Congress to Reject Genocide Resolution

Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried
(Photo: Dept. of State)

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried is urging Congress to reject the proposed House resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. According to Fried, Turkish officials have told the U.S. that Turkey would shut down the American air base at Incirlik or restrict U.S. overflights, should the resolution be approved. Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, made the remarks at a Thursday session of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe. The full transcript of his remarks is now up.

In bringing up these arguments, Fried is appealing frankly to American strategic interests. There is no doubt that the base has been vital to ongoing American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. More dubious, however, is Fried's argument, which has been adopted by other anti-recognition activists, that

such a step would undercut voices in Turkey calling for a truthful exploration of these events in pursuit of Turkey's reconciliation with its own past and with Armenia.

Supposedly, there are now growing calls in Turkey for changes to the infamous Article 301. But if there is such a furor now about a House resolution, I don't see how this is strengthening the extremists. I think there is also some confusion of cause and effect. Haven't the Article 301 prosecutions actually emboldened the violent extremist groups in Turkey? Why is it that the onus of responsibility for fostering a more democratic climate in Turkey and for a real engagement with the past is placed on people in the U.S. who want recognition of the Armenian Genocide? It's pretty clear that this is a ploy, an affectation of concern for justice and reconciliation, which is being instrumentalized to prevent passage of the recognition resolution.

Fried reached another low when he claimed to speak on behalf of the "60,000-70,000 Turkish Armenians" who oppose the U.S. measure because it would "dramatically ... threaten their personal security." Sorry, but the Dink assassination demonstrated all too clearly that the Armenians in Turkey are living in a state of fear. The Turkish government bears responsibility for their security - it cannot blame America for supposedly "inciting" violence.

Thanks to Taline for bringing this report to my attention.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Israeli Parliament Narrowly Votes Against Discussion of Genocide

Meretz MK Hayim Oron (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Knesset, Israel's legislature, on Wednesday narrowly voted against an initiative by MK Haim Oron (Meretz) to convene a parliamentary discussion on the Armenian Genocide in the Culture and Education Committee. The vote against this initiative came after heavy pressure from both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, who expressed concern about the negative fallout the initiative would have on Turkish-Israeli relations, Ha'aretz reports.

Fifteen members of the governing coalition voted against Oron's proposal, while a group of 12 MKs, which included legislators from the opposition parties, as well as MKs Shelly Yahimovich (Labor), Nadia Hilo (Labor), and Yitzhak Aharonovitz (Yisrael Beitenu) voted for it. MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), who has previously signed a petition calling for recognition, implored the legislators not to remove the issue from the agenda.

Meretz, the party to which Oron belongs, is a leftist, social democratic party, somewhat comparable to the European Greens. It has a faction of five seats in the current Knesset (its lowest total ever). One of the party's past leaders, Yossi Sarid, has supported official recognition of the Armenian Genocide. I could not obtain a complete list of the breakdown, but I assume that the other people who voted for the initiative included the rest of the Meretz parliamentarians, and members of parties from across the political spectrum. As Oron said, "this is not about left-wing and right-wing" - a statement confirmed by the presence of both members from the left (Meretz) and the right (Likud and Yisrael Beitenu) on the side voting for the bill.

Yahimovich, a former media personality and a rookie MK, is part of the left-wing of the Labor Party (Avodah). Hilo, a Christian Arab who hails from Yafo (Jaffa), is active on social justice causes. Aharonovitz, on the other hand, belongs to the far-right party Yisrael Beitenu associated mostly with Russian immigrants, though he himself was born in Israel. A former Lieutenant-Colonel in the Israeli Army and a past Deputy-Commissioner of the Israeli Police, he is respected for his expertise on security matters. The recently-deceased, Moscow-born MK Yuri Stern, also of Yisrael Beitenu, had previously supported recognition efforts.

Oron said that he wanted to bring the topic up for discussion now because this was the last opportunity to do so before April 24 - the day on which Armenians commemorate the Genocide. He said that

it is incumbent especially upon us, members of a people which experienced genocide [Shoah] and fights against its denial, to show sympathy for the tragedy of another people.

To me, the debate in the Knesset as well as the coverage again illustrate that there is nearly unanimous consent in Israel that what happened to the Armenians was a genocide. Ha'aretz referred matter-of-factly to "the Armenian Genocide which took place nearly 100 years ago." But of all countries, Israel can least afford to anger the Turks right now. There is no doubt that the relationship with Turkey is of paramount strategic interest to the country.

And yet, Health Minister Ya'akov Ben-Yizri, speaking on behalf of Foreign Minister Livni, must have realized just how unconvincing the official explanation, defending the government's position, sounded:
As Jews and Israelis we have special sympathy and a need to commemorate the massacres [מקרה ההרג] that were perpetrated against the Armenians in the last years of Ottoman rule. We also understand the significance of the sensitivity [sic. maybe someone can suggest a better translation] of the Armenian people, but over the years this has turned into a loaded topic between the Armenian and the Turks, and each side is attempting to persuade [others] to affirms its claims, and we hope that both sides will reach an open dialogue that will enable them to heal the wounds that have been left open.

כיהודים וכישראלים יש לנו רגישות מיוחדת וגם צורך להזכיר את מקרה ההרג שנעשה בארמנים בשנותיו האחרונות של המשטר העותומני", אמר בן יזרי. "אנו גם מבינים את חשיבות הרגישות של העם הארמני, אך במהלך השנים הוא הפך לנושא טעון בין הארמנים לטורקים וכל צד מנסה להוביל לצדקת טענותיו, ואנו מקווים ששני הצדדים יגיעו לדיאלוג פתוח שיאפשר להם להבריא פצעים שנשארו פתוחים

Oron responded that he hoped the topic would remain on the agenda, because "we owe this clarification [i.e., recognition] to the Armenian people, precisely at this time when we are struggling to preserve the memory."

Ha'aretz also noted the presence, in the public gallery, of the leaders of the Armenian community, "who did not hide their disappointment."

Oron's last name, in Hebrew, has the same spelling as that of Prof. Yair Auron (for more on him, see this partial review of one of his books, and this one on his activism). I am not sure whether they are related.

An English version of the Ha'aretz article is now up, but it is only an abridged translation. Thanks to John and Ima for their help.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

From the Jewish Grassroots

A lead editorial in the Wednesday, February 28 edition of The Jewish Press condemns the efforts by the Turkish government to enlist Jewish organizations in a bid to prevent the passage of House Resolution 106, which would officially recognize the Armenian Genocide:

We are certainly not insensitive to the significance of Turkey’s support of Israel. But the Turkish government’s attempt to capitalize on that support by pressing the American Jewish community to oppose a Congressional resolution that condemns as “genocide” Turkey’s murder of a million and a half Armenians during World War I strikes us as being the height of chutzpah.

The editorial refers specifically to the February 5 meeting of Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül with several American Jewish organizations, where Gül solicited their support in blocking passage fo the resolution (see my previous post).

The Jewish Press's implicit support for House Resolution 106 is very significant. The weekly has a circulation of at least 95,000. Its orientation is generally right-wing, and most of its readers identify as "Modern Orthodox." The paper's editorial line is unequivocal about its support for the State of Israel, and many of its readers identify with religious Zionism; in the past, one could be sure that they would support the Likud or parties to the right of it. It would certainly be hard to accuse them of not having the national security and strategic interests of Israel in mind. Having said all this, the paper's editorials frequently provoke controversy in the religious Jewish community in New York and elsewhere. Its columns are often widely discussed.

While the Jewish Press editorial argues that "opposition to House Resolution 106 does not necessarily signify lack of sympathy with the victims, or, indeed, sentiment against the concept itself," the board is unequivocal about its own position on the genocide:

Anyone who seriously and objectively considers those events cannot but conclude that there was a calculated and purposeful effort to exterminate the Armenians. After all, approximately 1.5 million perished.

The Jewish Press especially condemned Foreign Minister Gül for using the argument of the Shoah's uniqueness to make the case that Jews should quash an Armenian Genocide resolution:

The Turkish official reportedly appealed to the participants by noting – outrageously, we think – the uniqueness of the German genocide against the Jews.

It concludes that

acknowledging as genocide the systematic murder of a million and a half human beings of a particular ethnic heritage in no way detracts from recognition of the Holocaust as a uniquely monumental evil in the blood-soaked annals of human history.