Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Genocide Denial

LATimes, in full:
The politics of saying 'genocide'
More than 90 years after the Armenian genocide, the U.S. is deadlocked in a humiliating linguistic debate.
By Matt Welch, MATT WELCH is The Times' assistant editorial pages editor.
April 22, 2007

ON TUESDAY, President Bush will be obliged, by law, to wrap his double-talking mouth around one of the most curiously persistent debates in modern geopolitics: Whether to call a 92-year-old genocide a "genocide."

Every April 24 since 1994, the U.S. president has delivered a proclamation honoring the people Congress has declared to be "the victims of genocide, especially the 1 1/2 million people of Armenian ancestry who were the victims of the genocide perpetrated in Turkey between 1915 and 1923." And every year since 1994, the U.S. president has managed to do it without once uttering the G-word. It's a ritual of linguistic realpolitik in deference to the massive objections from Washington's important NATO ally, Turkey.

But 2007 may be the year that the cop-out finally blows up in a president's face. What was once the obscure obsession of marginalized immigrants from a powerless little Caucasus country has blossomed in recent years into a force that has grown increasingly difficult to ignore. In 2000, the Armenian issue helped fuel one of the most expensive House races in U.S. history; two years ago, it turned a mild-mannered career U.S. diplomat into an unlikely truth-telling martyr. Now the question of how to address these long-ago events is having an impact on next month's elections in Turkey.

What's more, Congress appears poised to vote on a resolution urging the president to say the words "Armenian genocide" when observing the awkwardly named "National Day of Remembrance of Man's Inhumanity to Man" on April 24 — the date in 1915 when the Ottoman predecessors of modern Turkey launched the genocide by rounding up 250 Armenian intellectuals for eventual execution.

The resolution won't take effect on Tuesday. The Bush administration, ever mindful of its delicate relationship with Turkey (especially with a war in Iraq next door), takes the bill so seriously that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned in a joint letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) that it could "harm American troops in the field." The lobbying has been successful enough that the House has delayed its vote until after this year's April 24 commemoration. But passage later this year would still be an enormous blow to the White House.

Why is this hairsplitting exercise over a single word — in a nonbinding resolution, no less — reverberating so strongly more than nine decades later? The easy answer is that there has been a confluence of mostly unrelated events. Democrats took control of Congress in January and are spoiling for a fight, especially one that can paint Bush's foreign policy as hypocritical. The president, after all, used "genocide" as a justification to topple Saddam Hussein before, during and after the war against his regime, and the United States has not hesitated to apply the word to the crisis in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died since 2003.

Across the Atlantic, the Armenian question — especially Turkey's offensive laws against "insulting Turkishness," which have been used to prosecute even novelists who create fictional characters questioning the government's denialist position — has become one of the main lines of attack against Turkey's bid to become the first majority-Muslim country to join the European Union. Most of the 15 countries that have officially recognized the genocide are European (with Switzerland and France even going so far as to pass over-the-top laws making it a crime to deny the genocide).

Then there was the January murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in broad daylight on a busy Istanbul street. Dink's assassination, at the hands of a Turkish nationalist, shocked the world and led to a wave of anxious introspection in Turkey. Yet Ankara quickly — and disastrously — concluded that the proper response was to redouble its losing campaign to prevent foreign governments from using the G-word.

High-level Turkish ministers were dispatched to Washington over the last few months to warn that the resolution in Congress could force them to close the crucial U.S. Air Force Base at Incirlik and could imperil relations at a tipping-point moment for the Middle East. (The exact same argument was used by President Clinton in October 2000 to convince then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to withdraw at the last moment a similar bill, introduced by then-Rep. James Rogan (R-Glendale), who was fighting a losing battle against Democratic challenger Adam Schiff in an $11-million race.)

For Turks, the genocide is taboo for a host of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that it occurred at the time of the founding of modern Turkey under Kemal Ataturk, a man so sainted that insulting his memory is still punishable by jail. So the battle continues, year after year.

Earlier this month, Turkish lobbyists successfully scotched a United Nations exhibit on the 13th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide because it dared refer to the "1 million Armenians murdered in Turkey." "Every time they try to censor discussion of the Armenian genocide," a New York Times editorial observed, "they only bring wider attention to the subject and link today's democratic Turkey with the now distant crime." Turks even helped water down a U.S. Senate resolution condemning Dink's murder.

Yet this flurry of recent developments doesn't adequately explain the enduring potency of the recognition issue.

For that I will defer to the most recent U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans: "In the real world," Evans told a packed Beverly Hilton hall of diaspora Armenians in February, "when an official policy diverges wildly from what the broad public believes is self-evident, that policy ceases to command respect."

Evans, a career, keep-your-head-down foreign service type, surveyed the available literature on the events of 1915-23 before taking the Armenian post in September 2004 and concluded that the U.S. position of avoiding the word "genocide" diverged so wildly from the historical consensus that it undermined Washington's moral authority.

He attempted to budge the policy from behind the scenes, but when that failed he took a page from a man he knew well from his pre- and post-communist postings to Prague — former Czech President Vaclav Havel and decided to publicly "call things by their proper names."

So in February 2005, while speaking in California, Evans said: "I will today call it the Armenian genocide. I think we, the U.S. government, owe you, our fellow citizens, a more frank and honest way of discussing this problem." For that remark he was recalled from his post so that Washington could get back to the business of evading the historical truth.

President Bush won't say "genocide" on Tuesday. In the words of Condoleezza Rice, the administration's position is that Turks and Armenians both need to "get over their past" without American help.

But this issue won't go away. Watching Rice's linguistic contortions in response to harsh congressional interrogation by Schiff, who has become the Armenians' great House champion, is profoundly dispiriting; it makes one embarrassed to be American. Of all issues subject to realpolitik compromises, mass slaughter of a national minority surely should rank at the bottom of the list.

Hitler reportedly said, just before invading Poland, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" It's a chilling reminder that forgetting is the first step in enabling future genocides. Yet Hitler was eventually proved wrong. No temporal power is strong enough to erase the eternal resonance of truth.


Mizgîn said...

Seeing all the energy that goes into denial from all sides, you would think genocide were rocket science, wouldn't you?

Legal definition of genocide:

The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide:

1) the mental element, meaning the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such", and

2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called "genocide."

Article III described five punishable forms of the crime of genocide: genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.

"Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide. "

It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

Punishable Acts The following are genocidal acts when committed as part of a policy to destroy a group’s existence:

Killing members of the group includes direct killing and actions causing death.

Causing serious bodily or mental harm includes inflicting trauma on members of the group through widespread torture, rape, sexual violence, forced or coerced use of drugs, and mutilation.

Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group includes the deliberate deprivation of resources needed for the group’s physical survival, such as clean water, food, clothing, shelter or medical services. Deprivation of the means to sustain life can be imposed through confiscation of harvests, blockade of foodstuffs, detention in camps, forcible relocation or expulsion into deserts.

Prevention of births includes involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.

Forcible transfer of children may be imposed by direct force or by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or other methods of coercion. The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children as persons under the age of 18 years.

Genocidal acts need not kill or cause the death of members of a group. Causing serious bodily or mental harm, prevention of births and transfer of children are acts of genocide when committed as part of a policy to destroy a group’s existence.

The law protects four groups - national, ethnical, racial or religious groups.

A national group means a set of individuals whose identity is defined by a common country of nationality or national origin.

An ethnical group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common cultural traditions, language or heritage.

A racial group means a set of individuals whose identity is defined by physical characteristics.

A religious group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common religious creeds, beliefs, doctrines, practices, or rituals.

Key Terms

The crime of genocide has two elements: intent and action. “Intentional” means purposeful. Intent can be proven directly from statements or orders. But more often, it must be inferred from a systematic pattern of coordinated acts.

Intent is different from motive. Whatever may be the motive for the crime (land expropriation, national security, territorial integrity, etc.), if the perpetrators commit acts intended to destroy a group, even part of a group, it is genocide.

The phrase "in whole or in part" is important. Perpetrators need not intend to destroy the entire group. Destruction of only part of a group (such as its educated members, or members living in one region) is also genocide. Most authorities require intent to destroy a substantial number of group members – mass murder. But an individual criminal may be guilty of genocide even if he kills only one person, so long as he knew he was participating in a larger plan to destroy the group.

Seems pretty clear and simple to me.

«—U®Anu§—» said...

That's what conservatives did to the hippies in 1967, and they think they're still at war with the hippies. Now they call them "liberals."