Alex Massie

Forgetting the Armenians, 2009 Edition

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At the New Republic Mike Crowley picks up where this post left off and lays-out the familiar arguments on US recognition of the Armenian genocide. It's tough for the Armenians: all they have on their side is principle (and Obama's campaign promises) while, as Crowley points out, the Turks have realpolitik and a well-oiled lobbying machine (that currently employs the combined efforts of Dick Gephardt and Denny Hastert) that takes opposing any formal, President-endorsed recognition of the genocide very seriously indeed. As Mike reports:

Obama can be forgiven for dodging the explosive subject of genocide while he is a guest in Ankara next week. But, when the Armenians' annual day of genocide remembrance comes on April 24, the White House will be expected to release a statement. In the past, these proclamations have been exercises in strained euphemism. Last year, for instance, George W. Bush lamented "mass killings and forced exile" and "epic human tragedy"--but did not use the term "genocide." The Armenian-Americans who supported Obama in November (John McCain never endorsed genocide recognition) expect him to use the occasion to say the magic word.

But sources on Capitol Hill and those familiar with Ankara's thinking both predict Obama will punt on the issue. "I fully expect him to fold," laments one human rights activist who wishes otherwise. "I would be shocked if he didn't." But the real shock should be in seeing Obama break such a clear promise. Reasonable people can differ on whether recognizing the genocide is worth the possible consequences. It is not debatable, however, that Obama made a promise, or that he ran as a man of integrity and principle. To be sure, Obama's high-minded rhetoric has always concealed a deeply rooted pragmatism (think of the convenient difference between troops and "combat troops" in Iraq). But there is a line between pragmatism and hypocrisy, and Obama may be about to cross it.

All true. But hypocrisy can breed opportunity. As Daniel Larison - who has written a lot about this - observes, relations between Turkey and Armenia show signs of improving. Opening the border between the two countries and "normalising" relations between them might do rather more for the average Armenian than a welcome, but still symbolic, declaration from the American Congress and President.

Larison suggests that delaying the resolution (again!) for another year might not be the worst thing in the world. And that seems reasonable. Provided, that is, Washington pressures Ankara to improve its relations with Yerevan. Indeed, suggesting that Washington will certainly recognise the genocide next year if there's no significant progress in moving towards Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. That might at least permit Obama a less than wholly shameful retreat from his campaign positioning on the issue. Of course, the Armenians have heard "wait for next year" many times before. If Obama does choose expediency over principle - and one would be amazed if he does not - then he should also make it clear that this is a one time only offer*.

Of course, this may be far too optimistic.

*Suppose there is this progress you seek? Wouldn't recognition next year be seen as being too risky and too likely to jeopardise that progress? Perhaps. But that's something to be determined at a later date. Meanwhile, the genocide issue would, for once and at last, be being used to advance Armenian (and, in the wider scheme of matters, Turkish) interests rather than being just a political irritant to be dealt with as shabbily and as quietly as possible.

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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