Alex Massie

Any port in a storm: or more odd reasons for forgetting the Armenians again.

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Amidst suggestions that Nancy Pelosi will in fact put the Armenian Genocide resolution in her pocket, it's been quite something to see so many self-styled liberals shake their heads and mutter that, you know, while we feel for the poor Armenians - and please, don't for a moment doubt the seriousness of our compassion - that feeling does extend to doing anything other than cave to Turkey' desire to muddy historical waters that are plenty clear enough (and have been for 90 years) to most reasonable observers. Still, it must be reassuring to be told, We'd like to help, we really would, but it's just too difficult.

For some reason the Washington Post has run a number of pieces taking this brave stand. Something should be done for the Armenians but nothing should be done that might mean anything, even on a symbolic level.

Daniel Larison knows much more about Ottoman history than I do and he dismantles Richard Cohen's rather rotten column in his usual, exemplary style.

One thing I'd add, however, is that it is remarkably rich for Cohen to say that the slaughter of the Armenians, while terrible, falls short of genocide even as he notes that the term was coined by Raphael Lemkin who, Cohen says, "clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews". What happened to the Armenians was not, therefore, genocide it was just "plenty bad".

But of course Lemkin himself deliberately cited the suffering of the Armenians when he first wrote about genocide. He didn't seem to share Mr Cohen's belief that there is only one kind of genocide.

Then there's Fred Hiatt, the WaPo's editorial page editor  who thinks the resolution should be spiked because, well, modern Armenia isn't properly democratic. Or something like that. [Hat-Tip: Matt Zeitlin] Hiatt laments that the Armenian diaspora should have concentrated on having the genocide recognised rather than ensuring that Armenian civil society was constructed upon sounder foundations. And, yes, clearly it would be good if there were an Armenian George Soros to preach for  - and fund - institutions for an open society. Hiatt thinks, however, that Armenia should forget the past and emulate the Baltic states. Well, fine, but as Anne Applebaum correctly reminds him, the Balts are pretty keen on re-examining and restoring their histories too.

But just because Armenia isn't perfect - well, let's just say that seems an odd reason to suppose that persuading Turkey to recognise the genocide is a quixotic cause that would only be contemplated, let alone chased, by people with no sense of priority or perspective.

As a half-Scots, half-Armenian friend emails me to point out:

Imagine an alternate universe in which a 15 year-old Israel was surrounded on three sides by an Iranian state that not only questioned the Holocaust, but had been responsible for it. It's an imperfect analogy, but not a ridiculous one. Even the WaPo wouldn't blame Jewish Americans in that scenario for having skewed priorities.


Perhaps everyone would have had a more comfortable time if the matter had never been raised at all and perhaps many of those members of Congress still on board with the resolution are motivated by parochial concerns and maybe there will be some uncomfortable consequences that stem from doing the right thing. So be it. When the government of the United States is asked to recognise a genocide it seems to me that you have to have some strong reasons - and a pretty strong stomach - to side with those who would deny the genocide's existence. That's true even when the victims are form a small country of little strategic or other significance.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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