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U.S. congress on Armenian genocide

by Archives October 16, 2007

The recent news that the U.S. Congress voted 27 to 21 to recognize the mass murder and deportation of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 as genocide, could not help but make its way into discussions at last week’s Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide. President George Bush has made it clear that he does not agree with the recent resolution, which must now go to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
“[Its] passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror,” said Bush.
Conference panelist Taner Akcam authored A Shameful Act: the Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. He said that since the end of the First World War, it has been seen as an issue of Turkish national interest and security that these crimes not be described as genocide.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has warned that the U.S. risks losing an important supply route should the resolution pass. Roughly 70 per cent of American air cargo destined for Iraq currently goes through Turkey.
“The American congress yesterday listened to two kinds of arguments,” said Akcam. “Americans arguing against the resolution also argued it was against the national interest and security. The other group in favor of the bill argued [for] humanity and [for] changing history.”
Akcam believes this debate is the wrong way to approach this situation. “It is easy to develop a national security concept that includes these demands. We have to shift our thinking. Any national security concept of the U.S. that excludes the human rights aspect, that excludes the historic wrongdoing of the region cannot work,” said Akcam.
After the war, the question of what to do with the crumbling Ottoman Empire was of utmost importance according to Akcam, as was the question of how to deal with the wartime atrocities. “The Allied powers advocated the trial of individual suspects and they argued the punitive dismemberment of the Ottoman state,” he said.
Ever since this partition, “the perception in Turkey [therefore] developed that [the Allies’] punishment of human rights abuses was only a cover [for having infringed upon] the national interest and security of Turkey,” said Akcam.
For this reason the Turkish government has spent millions lobbying to dissuade Western nations from classifying the crimes as genocide.
Last year, the Turkish military canceled defense contracts with France when its national assembly voted to make denial of the Armenian genocide a crime.

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