Monday, April 6, 2009

Genocide, Schmenocide: Let's All be Friends

I think it's nice to be considerate of other people's feelings. President Barack Obama is, apparently, being nice - at least in Turkey.

He didn't call that massive die-off of Armenians, about a century back, "genocide."

That's very polite of him.

Armenian Genocide - or Not

A little backstory is in order here. About a century back, piles of Armenians in and around eastern Turkey stopped breathing.

The Ottoman Empire (not the current government of Turkey) got credit for the first big genocide of the twentieth century. In its own way, the Ottoman empire was a trend-setter.

Then, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Mustafa Kemal (Mustafa Ataturk Kemal, for those who prefer the founder of the Republic of Turkey to be mentioned with the honorific "father of the Turks") is a national hero in Turkey. Mustafa Kemal is credited for founding the Republic of Turkey.

Which is not the Ottoman Empire.

The Republic of Turkey governs Turkey, which was the heart of the Ottoman Empire: but The Republic of Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire.

The Republic of Turkey is the government which sorted out the mess left by the Ottoman Empire.

Back to the Republic of Turkey, Whose Government was Not Involved at All in the Armenian You-Know-What

The Armenian you-know-what (you know - the g-word) is a remarkably sensitive topic for the government which replaced the regime which actually committed the you-know-what.

That's probably why President Obama politely walked around the subject in his speech to the Turkish Parliament. Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist, was killed, back in 2006: probably because he insisted on calling that you-know-what a genocide. (December 8, 2007) I doubt that anybody in the Turkish Parliament would have taken a shot at the American president: or that President Obama would have had a fatal accident later. But Turkey and many of its citizens are quite sensitive about the you-know-what that involved Armenians. A hundred years ago. Under another, entirely different, government.

President Barack Obama's speech to the Turkish Parliament didn't avoid the subject of Armenia entirely, though. These are the two paragraphs from the text of his speech, which mention Armenia or Armenians:
Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.

We've already seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders. These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations. So I want you to know that the United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. It is a cause worth working towards. (AP)

Being Nice is Nice: Being Real Has Merit, Too

I hope that President Obama has some grand plan, which will address the little matter of dead Armenians, Turkey's feelings, and his desire for a nice world.

In a way, he's doing a better job of dealing with reality than journalists.

Some news articles do acknowledge piles of Armenian bodies, and the stink they left in history.

The Los Angeles Times had a story with this subhead:

"Last year he described the deaths of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians before and during World War I as genocide, but today he emphasizes increasingly cordial contacts between the two nations." (Los Angeles Times)

Reteurs' lead paragraph was quite straightforward:

"(Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday stood by his views on mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, which he has termed genocide, but said he expected a breakthrough in talks between Turkey and Armenia...." (Reuters)

Others, not so much. In the "In the news" links, below, articles about President Barack Obama's achievements in Europe which do not contain the words "Armenia" or "Armenians" are identified with the notation (NDA) - standing for "No Dead Armenians."

Which is slightly interesting, since all of them show up in a Google news search, using this search string:

obama armenian geoncide

I suppose that happened because President Obama's name shows up often in the selected articles: Search engines seem to work that way.

Blame Turkey Forever? No - Get Real? Yes

I don't think that Turkey's name, reputation, and national character. should be raked over the coals at regular intervals over the Armenian you-know-what. The Ottoman Empire was in charge when all those Armenians stopped breathing: about a century ago.

The current government in Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire. Actually, the Republic of Turkey is the outfit that cleaned up the mess left by the Ottoman Empire.

Whatever its faults, the current leadership of Turkey had nothing to do with the Armenian genocide. Which makes the Republic's refusal to admit the you-know-what's existence rather hard to understand.

I do think that it's a mistake to be nice, and ignore unpleasantness has had a serious effect on people - in this case, Armenians. Who do, assuredly, remember the you-know-what.

As President Obama said, "...Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight...." And I'm not at all sure that an issue can be resolved by politely ignoring it: or making believe it's unimportant.

Related posts: In the news: Background:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Might want to take another look at the paragraph starting with "I don't think that Turkey's name, reputation, and national character."

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Brigid,

I see what you mean. Time to chop that sentence into bite-size morsels.

Thanks.

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