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French Parliament Approves Armenian Genocide Bill

The Armenian Genocide: Revisionism and the U.S. National Interest

20 November 2000

When historical instances of systematic genocide are overlooked by neo-Nazi historians, it is called revisionism. When they are overlooked by the U.S. government it is called safeguarding U.S. national interest.

Take, for instance, the Armenian Genocide. In 1915, the military elite of the crumbling Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) decided to implement drastic measures against the Armenian minority residing within its borders. By 1923, between 1.1 and 1.5 million Armenians had been systematically massacred by Ottoman troops, while another 0.4 million had sought refuge abroad -many of them here in the U.S.

The facts and figures of the Armenian Genocide are not new. They have been widely known for decades. The bureaucratic precision of the Ottomans, who kept detailed records of all "neutralising activity" carried out by the Empire's troops, as well as painstaking scholarly research conducted over the years, have provided us with ample documentation, impressive in its volume and clarity -see, for instance, The Association of Genocide Scholars reported in 1998 that had it not been for the testimonies offered by survivors of Nazi concentration camps, the Jewish Holocaust would have been harder to prove than the Armenian one, as the latter has been so well-documented. In fact, the two instances of genocide are closely related: Hitler himself referred to the Armenian Genocide when arguing for the implementation of his 'final solution' for the Jews: "Who, after all", he wrote in a 1939 internal memo discovered in 1951 "speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?".

Today, numerous democratic nations around the world have officially recognised the 1915-1923 slaughter of the Armenians as an Act of Genocide. The long list includes Argentina, Australia, Russia, Canada, Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, Sweden and the Vatican. In addition, international bodies, such as the United Nations (through its War Crimes Commission), the World Council of Churches, the League of Human Rights and the Union of Hebrew Congregations have published official declarations recognising the Genocide. On November 16, 2000 the European Union added itself to the long list, by calling for Turkey to publicly recognise the Genocide. Turkey claims that, although 300,000 Armenians were exterminated, such acts were not systematic and were sparked by internal strife.

One of the few democratic national governments who have remained largely silent over the issue has been that of the U.S. On October 11, 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives found itself before an opportunity to follow the example of other Western nations by voting on a proposed resolution formally recognising the massacre of the Armenians as an Act of Genocide. The resolution had been proposed by a bipartisan group of representatives, and co-sponsored by a House majority.

Yet things did not work out quite as planned. On the evening of the vote, J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Speaker of the House, withdrew the resolution from the floor. The reason behind the withdrawal was initially unclear, but later emerged in full color: minutes before the vote was due, U.S. President Bill Clinton telephoned Hastert and requested that he immediately withdrew the resolution, as it could "seriously harm U.S. interests if passed" [N.Y. Times, 10/20/2000].

The precise nature of those threatened U.S. interests became clear on the following day. Specifically, the Turkish government issued a warning to the U.S. embassy in Ankara, stating that, if the resolution was passed by the House, it would proceed to do the following: (a) ground U.S. planes which use Turkish air bases to patrol and bomb northern Iraq; (b) cancel a $4.5 billion contract to buy 145 attack helicopters made in Texas; and (c) block a major U.S. backed $2.7 billion project to pipe Caspian oil through Turkish territory to Europe [N.Y. Times, ibid.; Reuters 10/20/2000].

The end of the proposed Armenian Genocide resolution ensued rather quickly, following Clinton's telephone call. The resolution was withdrawn without questioning by the same U.S. governing officials who have showed such humanitarian sensitivity to the plight of Kosovar Albanians in Yugoslavia. Representative Hastert, who withdrew the resolution, characteristically stated to the press that "[t]he Congress, while it has a right to express its opinions on critical issues of the day, also must be cognizant of the consequences of the expressions of those opinions" [N.Y. Times, ibid.]. Especially, one might add, if those consequences involve the financial dealings of U.S. arms and oil interests around the globe.

© The News Insider 2000

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