Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Now is not the time to offend Turkey

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee is preparing the death knell for U.S.-Turkey relations. It just approved a resolution recognizing the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman Empire (c. 1915) as genocide. The resolution will next move to the House floor for a full vote, and a companion piece is waiting for a vote in a Senate committee.

My argument is NOT that there was no genocide. Many historians believe a genocide occurred, though I do not know enough about the surrounding events to have a definitive opinion. If it did occur, the Armenian genocide should be
roundly condemned, though Congress must stay out of the debate.

Turkey is one of the U.S.'s historic and most important allies. There has been much focus in the media that a good portion of US supplies for the War in Iraq go through Turkey, but that's just the beginning. Turkey has been a member of the NATO military alliance since 1952, serves to moderate and mediate conflicts throughout the Middle East, and has shown the world that a country can be both predominantly Muslim and a modern democracy.

But the people of Turkey feel that they have been repeatedly slighted by the West, especially recently. Turkey applied for full membership into the European Union in 1987, and it believes xenophobia has kept them out while allowing in less developed countries such as Poland and Bulgaria. Further, while ethnic Turks on the island of Cyprus voted for peace with Greek Cypriots and were kept out of the E.U., Greek Cypriots voted against peace and yet were admitted into the E.U. Turkey also contends that the US ignored Turkish concerns when it went into Iraq, and consequently it has been a victim of a spate of terrorist bombings originating from Iraqi Kurdistan.

The events of 1915 are a sensitive subject for the Turks. In recent years Turks have been more open to examine their history, but attempts to force them to confront their past have been met with fierce resistance. If the genocide resolution passes Congress, it could burn our bridge between the West and the Muslim World.

Once again, genocide should always be condemned. If the mass murder was currently being committed, I would demand that Congress denounce the perpetrators. But it is not Congress' place to throw history into a country's face and drive away a vital American ally.

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