Between 1915 and 1917, in the midst of World War I, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Empire in what is now modern-day Turkey. A nefariously brutish deportation spawned what may very well be the first recorded genocide of the 20th century – dozens of countries have formally acknowledged the plight of the Armenians and passed legislation recognizing the Armenian genocide.
Two countries – Turkey and the United States – haven’t passed such resolutions. Earlier this week, however, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution out of committee to recognize the Armenian genocide. Days later, the legislation now seems headed for an old-fashioned trademark congressional stalemate. President Bush, along with members from both political parties, have criticized the resolution, suggesting that recognizing the Armenian slaughter could endanger U.S. relations with Turkey. Recently, relations became strained as the Turkish government tried to enter Northern Iraq in an offensive against the PKK – a Kurdish group Turkey labels as a terrorist organization. President Bush, Secretary Rice and others firmly stated that passing such a resolution raises tensions with Turkey. Passing such a declaration – even if it is entirely symbolic – does little to aid American interests in any palpable sense. While the President is – for once – correct in his assessment that passing such a resolution would not likely boost U.S.-Turkey relations, it seems unlikely that it would do much to hinder them.
Turkey is a secular nation that shares strategic goals with the U.S. concerning terrorism as well as broader Middle Eastern stability. It also has countless business ties with America and a deep longing to enter the European Union. To think that Turkey – by all accounts, a rationally acting state – would go against its own interests to spite the Americans is silly.
An ongoing and similar situation involves the United States’ hosting of the Dalai Lama. Yesterday, the United States Congress presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest honor given by our national legislature. He was also allowed to speak to the Congress afterward. The Bush administration acted contrary to their symbolic treatment of the Armenians, constituting either brazen hypocrisy or nuanced, strategic analysis – or perhaps a dose of both. This occurred in spite of the fact that recognizing the importance of this Buddhist spiritual leader could – you guessed it – endanger U.S. relations with China.
China objected to the Dalai Lama’s visit on the grounds that he is a radical separatist fighting for Tibetan independence. This was rightfully shrugged off by President Bush. And while “tensions” may be heated for several weeks, like with Turkey, very little is likely to come of it. Almost undoubtedly, life will joyfully go on with U.S.-China relations, as Beijing continues to purchase American debt, poison our children’s toys and plan for the 2008 Olympics.
We can presume that recognizing past human rights violations like the Armenian genocide and current human rights champions, like the Dalai Lama, are unlikely to have any widespread negative impact on U.S. foreign policy. However, we should ask if there is anything to gain from hosting the Dalai Lama and recognizing the Armenian genocide. Go ahead…
“Is there anything to gain from hosting the Dalai Lama and recognizing the Armenian genocide?”
I’m glad you asked that. Besides the fact that it is quite clearly “the right thing to do,” we live in a time when America’s image in the world has been tarnished. Many view the United States as little more than a belligerent, arrogant bully. Recognizing voices often muffled on the world stage could be an initial catalyst to repairing America’s image as a nation that trumpets liberty, values human rights and gives voice to the underdog. Clearly, hosting a Buddhist monk and passing symbolic legislation would not do as much as closing down the Guantanamo Bay prison, but it is not trivial. It is an important first step.