Commentary Magazine


Topic: Armenian genocide

Armenian Group “Troubled” by Hagel’s Genocide Stance

One of the country’s most prominent Armenian-American lobbying groups said today that it is “troubled” by potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s position on the Armenian genocide. 

“We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide – the still unpunished crime against a Christian nation that continues to define Turkey’s present-day policies toward Armenia and much of the region,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in an emailed statement.

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One of the country’s most prominent Armenian-American lobbying groups said today that it is “troubled” by potential defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s position on the Armenian genocide. 

“We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide – the still unpunished crime against a Christian nation that continues to define Turkey’s present-day policies toward Armenia and much of the region,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in an emailed statement.

Hagel has opposed official U.S. government recognition of the genocide, and has declined to say whether he believes the massacre of more than 1 million Armenians beginning in 1915 was in fact a genocide. 

“What happened in 1915 happened in 1915. As one United States Senator, I think the better way to deal with this is to leave it open to historians and others to decide what happened and why,” then-Senator Hagel told a group of Armenian reporters during a trip to the country in 2005.

“The fact is that this region needs to move forward,” Hagel added. “We need to find a lasting, just peace between Turkey and Armenia and the other nations of this region. I am not sure that by going back and dealing with that in some way that causes one side or the other to be put in difficult spot, helps move the peace process forward.” 

ANCA objected to the argument that official U.S. recognition of the genocide would hinder peace between Turkey and Armenia.

“As much as Erdogan and his allies might like, the ‘lasting, just peace between Turkey and Armenia’ that Chuck Hagel seeks cannot be built on Genocide denial. The U.S. and the international community must set an example by condemning the Armenian Genocide — and speaking out against all genocides, wherever and whenever they occur,” said Hamparian. 

Hagel’s record has already come under fire from the pro-Israel community, gay rights groups and Cuban Americans. The latest criticism from the Armenian-American community, which has many allies and supporters in Washington, could raise more concerns in the Senate over Hagel’s potential defense secretary nomination.

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Turkey Pushes Genocide Denial

In 1915, when stories of the systematic extermination of the Armenian minority in Anatolia by the Ottoman authorities started to surface in the Western press, Turkish diplomats were rapidly mobilized to deny the reports. “All those who have been killed were of that rebellious element,” the Turkish consul in New York, Djelal Munif Bey, told the New York Times, “who were caught red-handed or while otherwise committing traitorous acts against the Turkish Government, and not women and children, as some of these fabricated reports would have the Americans believe.”

As the sun began to set on the Ottoman Empire, its leaders–and their secular successors–laid the foundations of a gruesome template that remains with us today. Ever since the slaughter of the Armenians, each episode of genocide and mass killing has been accompanied by voices who willfully deny that such horrors actually took place. Genocide denial is a phenomenon most commonly associated with the Shoah, but it also raised its head in Bangladesh in 1971, in Cambodia in 1979, in the former Yugoslavia and in Iraq during the 1990s, in Rwanda in 1994 and in Syria in the present day.

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In 1915, when stories of the systematic extermination of the Armenian minority in Anatolia by the Ottoman authorities started to surface in the Western press, Turkish diplomats were rapidly mobilized to deny the reports. “All those who have been killed were of that rebellious element,” the Turkish consul in New York, Djelal Munif Bey, told the New York Times, “who were caught red-handed or while otherwise committing traitorous acts against the Turkish Government, and not women and children, as some of these fabricated reports would have the Americans believe.”

As the sun began to set on the Ottoman Empire, its leaders–and their secular successors–laid the foundations of a gruesome template that remains with us today. Ever since the slaughter of the Armenians, each episode of genocide and mass killing has been accompanied by voices who willfully deny that such horrors actually took place. Genocide denial is a phenomenon most commonly associated with the Shoah, but it also raised its head in Bangladesh in 1971, in Cambodia in 1979, in the former Yugoslavia and in Iraq during the 1990s, in Rwanda in 1994 and in Syria in the present day.

As the original pioneers of genocide denial, the Turks remain its most aggressive practitioners. That, perhaps, is to be expected; far less understandable is the willingness of certain countries and institutions to collude in this trampling of history and memory. In that regard, this item from Denmark’s Copenhagen Post is nothing less than astounding:

The Royal Library has attracted heavy criticism after agreeing to let Turkey co-arrange an alternative exhibition about the Armenian Genocide.

The library has complied with the wishes of the Turkish ambassador to Denmark to be involved with the exhibition, ‘The Armenian Genocide and the Scandinavian response’, which is currently on display at the University of Copenhagen.

The Turkish Embassy has been granted the opportunity to stage a Turkish version of the historical events in a move that has generated criticism from a number of circles, including politicians, historians, and the Armenian Embassy in Copenhagen.

Genocide scholars in Denmark have reacted angrily. “If you believe that all versions of history are equal, then you’ve undermined your role as a research institution,” said the historian Matthias Bjørnlund. “It was genocide and not all interpretations of this history are correct.” But the director of the Royal Library, Erland Kolding Nielsen, denied having caved to pressure from the Turkish Embassy. “One can’t pressure us, and we have not spoken about removing the Armenian exhibition. We have simply given [the Turks] the opportunity to show their alternative exhibition,” Nielsen said.

Clearly, this sets an extremely dangerous precedent. No longer does it seem far-fetched to think that an exhibition about, say, Auschwitz, or the North Korean gulags, might be “balanced” with a “counter-narrative” from the perspective of the perpetrators of these atrocities.

The current Danish controversy also speaks volumes about the extent to which Turkey is prepared to go in enforcing its state doctrine of genocide denial upon its ostensible allies. Earlier this year, Ankara temporarily froze ties with France after that country’s Senate passed a law officially recognizing the Armenian massacres as a genocide. Responding to similar efforts by American lawmakers, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told President Obama in March that he was “tired” by the constant reminders of Turkey’s historic crime, adding that the U.S. administration should “not … mistake U.S. senators, lawmakers and politicians for historians.”

For decades, Turkey has acted on the premise that Western acquiescence toward its regional bullying–whether that involves its assaults on Kurdish civilians or its continued occupation of northern Cyprus–means that it will never be obliged to reckon with the monstrous crimes committed against the Armenians. If the authors of Washington’s policy toward Turkey want us to believe that Erdogan and his cohorts share not just our strategic goals, but our core values too, then Ankara must be told that the practice of genocide denial, inaugurated by Djelal Munif Bey in 1915, is no longer acceptable almost 100 years on.

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