Friday, October 26, 2007

The Victors Make History

The House was discouraged recently from putting forth a bill that would declare the early 20th Century Armenian deaths genocide. The White House and its constituents were fighting the bill, stating that it would damage relations with U.S. ally Turkey. Turkey is a very important point of access to the Middle East and is considered a vital military asset.

One of the goals of the genocide bill is to set a path for defining genocide in order to prevent future violations of human rights. In the case of Rwanda, for example, the U.S. and the U.N. refused to acknowledge the mass killings as a genocide until after the majority of the violence against Tutsis had terminated. The passing of the resolution regarding the Armenian genocide is important in setting a historical standard against massacres based on race or ethnicity. In the case of the Armenian slaughter, there was at least a level of justice offered to the victims in the form of a series of court martial trials against the major perpetrators, whereas justice in modern genocides such as Rwanda is still lacking.

Congress ratified the bill, with the following results: Turkish governmental officials have expressed disappointment with the passage of the bill, citing it as irresponsible of a super-power. Now the Turkish government has responded by ignoring American pleas to stave attacks on the Kurdish separatist rebels. The Congressional has tried to maintain a focus on the fact that the issue is a 90-year-old genocide that happened when some of the current governments were not even in place.

The story of the Armenian Genocide:

1 comment:

Susan said...

Congress' attempts to hold Turkey accountable for previous acts of atrocity and genocide are admirable, and I think I support them. But I wonder if American efforts to define genocide and hold Turkey accountable will help with future decisions about humanitarian intervention and just war, or if this will merely be viewed as another self-righteous American belief that we have a monopoly on knowledge and justice when it comes to international relations and foreign policy. Perhaps it would have been better to leave issues of definitions and terms to the UN and the European Union (which as repeatedly emphasized that Turkey must make amends for the Armenian genocide if they wish to become a part of the EU).

But even if we are able to come up with a truly universal and more descriptive definition of genocide, will that solve anything? Would a definition of genocide have prompted the international community to intervene in Darfur, or Rwanda? Sometimes I wonder if attempts like this, made by Congress or the UN or other world powers and legislative bodies, are simply efforts aimed to save face and appease the cries of the populace for justice and nonviolent activism.