Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hissy Fit Over Controversial Armenian Genocide Vote

From Denny: The hissy fit is on. Turkey is steaming mad that the United States Congress finally got around to declaring a genocide is a genocide. It happened almost a century ago and there are still fights over it.

Islamic Turkey, then known as the Ottoman Empire, killed up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians. Historians widely view this genocide as the first of the 20th century. Of course, Turkey denies it's no big deal 1.5 million died all at once. They claim the death toll is an inflated figure, and, besides, it didn't rise to the level of true genocide because they were really just victims of civil war and unrest. How do these people sleep at night?

It was the House Foreign Affairs Committee that endorsed the resolution, squeaking by with a 23-22 vote today. Of course, the Obama administration begged Congress not to offend Turkey by approving this measure. They did it anyway and it now proceeds to the full House where it's any body's guess if it passes.

A few hours just before the vote, White House spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had spoken with the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, and indicated that "Further Congressional action could impede progress on normalization of relations" between Turkey and Armenia. Hammer did not give any details about the conversation. In spite of the Secretary of State's admonition, Berman urged fellow members of the committee to pass the resolution.

"The Turks say passing this resolution could have terrible consequences for our bilateral relationship, and indeed perhaps there will be some consequences," Berman said. "But I believe that Turkey values its relations with the United States at least as much as we value our relations with Turkey."

Within minutes after the vote, Turkey threw a temper tantrum and threatened it was recalling its ambassador to the United States. Read that as "We are taking our toys and running home to sulk."

There was an approved measure just like this from the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007. Then President Bush prevented it from being brought to the House floor for a vote. Back then, Turkey recalled its ambassador. Bush and Cheney did a whole lot of hand wringing over whether Turkey might cut off American access to a Turkish air base we required for the Iraq War.

Anyway you look at it, there are three agendas in play:

* Armenian activist groups have lobbied for this genocide resolution for almost a century to validate the lost. They are not about to give up any time soon.

* Turkey claims it could jeopardize U.S-Turkish cooperation and set back negotiations aimed at opening the border between Turkey and Armenia. Turkey sealed the border in 1993 to protest Armenia's war with their neighbor Azerbaijan.

* Obama goes to bed with a huge lasting headache and Secretary of State Hillary needs nausea meds. America still desires Turkey's support for the terrorist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, guess what, fighting terrorism is mutually supportive on that front. Obama is also pressing Turkey to support American sanctions against Iran, Turkey's neighbor. Turkey holds the status of a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council so their goodwill would be beneficial to American interests.

Back in April of 2009, President Obama really dropped the ball on this human rights issue when he issued the annual White House statement on the very day of the Armenian genocide remembrance. Sure, you don't want to offend our allies. The Turks have proved to be one of the more stable and practical governments in the Middle East, not allowing radical Islamic extremists to hijack their government. They have straddled the mindset divide between the West and the Middle East usually most admirably.

That said, sometimes you just have to push people out of their comfort zones and the Turks require more than gentle nudging to grow past this thorny issue. Diplomacy is not about stepping back, playing the enabler and allowing people to throw temper tantrums because their egos can't handle it that some ancestors shamed them by cruel inhuman acts. The Turks are embarrassed and refuse to step up like grown-ups and deal with clearly what makes them uncomfortable. They require the diplomatic version of an intervention because this century long issue has evolved into a sickness like an addiction. Each generation keeps kicking the can down the road to the next generation as the one to accept responsibility.

Every country on this planet has done something inhuman, unwise or stupid at some point in its history. Germany had its Hitler; Austria, with a thousand year history, harmed their image by supporting Hitler. America has shamed itself by torturing our prisoners in this global terrorism fight.

Some things we can change in our lifetime; some things we cannot. None of this generation was alive in 1915 when the genocide occurred so this isn't as personal as their culture has tried to make it, cultivating in every one's minds for such an extensive period of time. It's time for this generation of Turks to be the leaders and lay down this issue.

America was courageous enough to admit its wrong-doing in this generation and we have changed course to do better. Turkey can clean their karmic slate and do the same. If Turkey does not grow a kinder attitude in this situation, the world will remember them as beginning the war in this century between Islam and Christianity, as they chose to slaughter over a million Christians. The Middle East still smarts from the idiot Christian Crusades from the West of many centuries ago - which we have since acknowledged as wrong. Turkey, now it's your turn to clear the air and start anew. It isn't that difficult.

President Obama, real leadership and strong diplomacy are not about placating people when their egos are uncomfortable. It's about forging ahead to put to peace their differences, angers and hurt egos so the current generation can thrive. That's where you place your policy: the health of the future for both Turkey and Armenia.

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