Simply put, there’s a lot at stake. Turkish-American relations have stood the test of time, as the national interests of both countries have yielded mutual benefits. We strongly supported Turkey’s entrance into NATO back in the postwar era—the first and to date only Islamic nation in the military alliance. For its part, the Republic of Turkey was a strategic partner throughout the Cold War. It continues to work with us in the current War on Terror, or whatever we’re calling this conflict nowadays. Above all, the airbases at Adana and Incirlik provide high strategic value for our military. Overall, the geopolitical importance of Turkey, a nation of 80 million bestriding the northern reach of the Middle East and situated at the gateway between Europe and Asia, needs little explanation. The United States has pressed ardently for Turkey’s admission in the European Union, despite a weary Germany and an obstructionist France. Notwithstanding this dual alliance, borne more of fast friends than any deep ties between the cultures, Turkey has threatened to server ties with America should we insist on calling a spade a spade. The Armenian genocide pricks the national consciousness of Ataturk’s Republic more than anything else. House Resolution 252, should it pass, would require the president to “characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenian as genocide.” As far as the Turks are concerned, this resolution would amount to utter betrayal, for the tacit and not-so-tacit agreement with U.S. policymakers is the sine qua non of Turkish diplomacy.
We should keep in mind that the Republic of Turkey grew out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Technically speaking, Ataturk’s government had nothing to do with the genocide. As historian Taner Akçam has shown, the first president of Turkey called the genocide a “shameful act.” I suppose someone will point out that Ataturk has blood on his hands with regard to the Anatolian Greeks, and I don’t want to diminish his dark side, as it were; but Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt are not without their blemishes too.
The world from a blog is a simple place, but here’s my two cents anyway. The Republic of Armenia, in consultation with the Armenian Diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States should come to an agreement with Turkey: you officially state that 1915 was an act of genocide and we won’t bring up any legal battles for financial and land restitution. I’m a dreamer, I know. Understandably, I'm sure that not a few Armenians would see restitution as intrinsic to a mea culpa; one should back up words with action. Besides, the financial and legal issues are secondary for Turks; no nation worth it’s weight in gold (and Turkey is a proud nation with many great achievements) would willingly tarnish its self-image as an honorable people with a venerable past. With the aforementioned Native American genocide in mind, we certainly aren’t leading by example. We have a log in our own eye. In keeping with the spade metaphor, however, I'll say that the Turks could rightfully thrown dirt in our face over this issue. Gradually we're coming to terms with our past, but it will be a long uphill journey. Even President Reagan, otherwise known for his sunny optimism about America, recognized our predicament: “Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal." But he hastened to add: "The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past.” Ataturk wanted a complete break from the Ottoman past. It's time the great Republic of Turkey confront its ghosts and properly bury the dead.
2010 is a highly charged political year in our country. The Republicans expect to gain a number of seats in both chambers of congress. Speculation is that candidates will try and garner Armenian-American votes this November by paying lip service to opposing HR 252. (Presumably the Armenian-American lobby is more powerful and numerous than the Turkish-American lobby.) Who knows?