New Trouble From Old Events


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has apparently promised some wealthy Armenian-American backers in her district that she would bring to a vote a resolution condemning the massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as genocide.

It was that. You don’t kill 1.2 million people out of a population of only 1.6 million by accident. In addition to mass executions, Armenians were forcibly deported to the deserts of modern-day Syria, where thousands more died of starvation and dehydration. There is a voluminous record of the horrors of that time.

There is a hitch, however. The modern Turks, our NATO allies, strenuously and vehemently oppose any labeling of what happened to the Armenians as genocide. When the French did so, Turkey permanently ended all military cooperation with France. The Turks are threatening similar measures if Congress votes on the resolution and have already recalled their ambassador to the U.S. They claim the deaths were the result of wartime starvation and a civil war.

Consequently, the president, the Cabinet, former secretaries of state and defense, not to mention the war supporters in the media, are all decrying the resolution and pleading with Pelosi not to bring it to a vote. They fear the Turks will kick the U.S. military out of Turkey, including at the Incirlik Air Base. About 70 percent of the supplies to American troops in Iraq flow through Turkey. The base was officially opened in 1955.

Both strategically and tactically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to alienate a current ally because of a historical event that occurred 92 years ago. The Ottoman government didn’t survive much longer than the Armenians. Defeated in World War I, it was replaced in a revolution led by Kemal Ataturk. Thus, modern Turks and the present Turkish government are as innocent as lambs of having played any part at all in the genocide.

I’ve heard some very nave statements by some supporters of the resolution. One congressman asserted that Turkey needs us as much as we need Turkey. That’s not true. Turkey became an ally because of its traditional enmity with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union no longer exists.

Years ago, during an interview with a visiting Turkish colonel, I navely ask if he thought the U.S. and Turkey would remain friends. The grim-faced colonel replied: "Turkey and the U.S. are not friends. We just happen to have the same enemy." Well, today we don’t.

To further complicate matters, the Turks have massed troops on the border with northern Iraq and are threatening to invade in order to get at the Kurdish faction that commits acts of terror against Turkey. I have no sympathy for the U.S. or the Kurds. If they didn’t want the Turks to act, they should have put a tight grip on the PKK faction and stopped its attacks in Turkey. They failed to do so despite promises.

Another congressman said the U.S. would actually be doing Turkey a favor by passing the genocide resolution. That is so stupid, it’s not worthy of comment. I’m sure Armenian-Americans have a jillion lawsuits and demands for reparations all ready to go.

As an American opposed to the American Empire, I fervently hope Ms. Pelosi doesn’t lose her nerve and lets the House vote on the genocide resolution. I would be pleased as punch if the Turks kicked us out of Turkey, moved us out of Incirlik and moved in their own air force.

Given President Bush’s determination to keep American troops in Iraq apparently forever, if the Turks made it harder to do that, they would be doing us a favor.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.