Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Last American President to Explicitly Recognize the Armenian Genocide was Ronald Reagan

"President Erdogan, tear down this lie!"

The title (and photograph and caption) of this blog post was intended to spark interest, thought and perhaps healthy controversy.

The claim of the title is true as far as it goes.

But let me say right now that this is not going to be a pro-Reagan, pro-Republican, pro-conservative or even (perish the thought) anti-Obama piece, at least per se.

First, here's the Ronald Reagan statement from 1981. It was actually made in the context of remembering the Holocaust:
Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it — and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples — the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.
Now, I'm going to make some claims that will muddy the waters and may even offend a few people.

  • Every recent American president has explicitly opposed congressional resolutions branding what happened as a "genocide".
  • This includes Reagan, notwithstanding the above statement (which again was made almost tangentially in the context of another genocide).
  • Frankly, I think Reagan had the best reason for it (if there can be a "best" reason). During the 1970's and 1980's, the cause of recognition was tainted by Armenian terrorist groups--first and foremost, The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia. This was a hard-left group that trained with the PLO, was against Turkey in part because it was pro-Israel (how things have changed) and killed 46 people in assassinations, bombings, airport shootings and the like. This was in that more innocent era when terrorism was not so much a Muslim phenomenon as it was either the work of a broad front of loosely allied leftists or the last desperate stratagem of "oppressed" nationalities. As always, anti-Semitism was a factor. Reagan argued that explicitly recognizing the genocide would reward Armenian terrorists, who, sincerely or not, put recognition of the genocide at the head of their demands.
  • But that was a personal opinion that Reagan merely happened to express once or twice. The quasi-official reason for not mentioning "genocide" was that recognition would offend a vital NATO ally (Cold War)  or offend a crucial ally in the War on Terror (post Cold War). 
  • President Barrack Obama may have additional reasons. He seems to favor Muslims over Jews and Christians whenever possible. And thus an historical event that appears to frame Muslims as oppressors and Christians as victims would not be something he would wish to, so to speak, emphasize. He also appears to have a real friendship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • But to be fair, on the recognition question itself, there's no formal difference between the position of Obama and the position of George W. Bush, or for that matter, the position of Ronald Reagan.     

What happened was genocide. The man who coined the term "genocide" in 1943 actually said that he was first motivated by contemplating the Armenian case. The Turks tried to eliminate the greater part of the Armenian race. There can be no good excuse for not telling the truth on that. Or for not calling it what it is.

And what good reason is there to kowtow to Turkey? It was a cut-rate NATO ally and now it's a fake ally in the "War on Terror". The only thing the Turks have been successful at is convincing others they're more important than they actually are.

And for one day shy of one-hundred years they have lied about the murder of over a million innocents.*

I can deal with an embargo on doner kabobs, or sludgy coffee or bald, mustachioed circus weightlifters or whatever. But one thing richly deserves to be said:

Take your lie and shove it.


*I should say, I'm referring to the post occupation Turkish governments. Many individual Turks have indeed spoken out about the Genocide in circumstances that have often been dangerous, sometimes fatally so. The journalist Hrant Dink was killed for it in 2007. 

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