By a one-vote margin, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Armenian genocide resolution, but if what happened last year is any indication it will either not be brought to a vote or it will be voted down. We already know this, because this is what happens every year. This annual ritual includes the usual protestations and threats from Ankara. These always have their desired effect, because every Speaker yields to the President, and every administration yields to the Pentagon, which reliably implores every administration every year to scrap the resolution. Depending on the state of Israeli-Turkish relations, the resolution has relatively more or fewer backers. Given Erdogan’s treatment of Israel in the last year, there might be a few more than usual.
There is one good reason why the House should not pass the resolution, and at least a dozen bad ones. Max Boot rehearses some of these. The good reason is that the resolution would antagonize Turkey at a time when there might yet be a breakthrough in Turkish-Armenian relations. That would be a good outcome for both countries and for the region. It would honor the vision of Hrant Dink, who worked intently to improve relations between Turks and Armenians in Turkey and between the two republics. Dink argued that Diasporan Armenians should devote all their energy and time to building up the Hayastan that exists and cease dwelling on the genocide, as real and terrible as it was. Incredibly, it was the complete misunderstanding of his statements on this point that inspired his Turkish nationalist killer to murder him. The Republic of Armenia could use the economic and diplomatic links with Turkey, and this might work to lessen the tensions in the southern Caucasus that linger from the Karabakh war. If Turkish-Armenian rapprochement continues, the House should not pass the resolution.
Otherwise, the resolution ought to be passed. After all, it is actually not the business of Turkey whether our House of Representatives passes symbolic non-binding resolutions on any topic. One can argue that the House should never pass symbolic resolutions, but no one ever makes this argument except when it comes to defeating this resolution. Virtually no one who is not working for Ankara or pro-Turkish lobbying groups claims that the genocide did not happen or that it was not a state-organized genocide, so there is no good historical argument against recognition. We do not usually accommodate genocide deniers, and it continues to escape me why we should indulge them in this instance. It’s true that the resolution will do nothing for the victims, but then the resolution is really for the descendants of the survivors who support its passage. They wish to commemorate the attempted destruction of their people and their ancestors’ expulsion from their ancestral lands, and I cannot think of one other group of people in this country we would try to prevent from doing this. It is true that the resolution does not provide any justice for the victims, but then it also does nothing to harm or burden the modern Turkish state. Ankara’s constant opposition is not only shameful but also utterly irrational.
The alliance argument doesn’t hold up very well, either. After all, Turkey makes its own foreign policy and often does so in ways that are quite irritating to Washington. That is Turkey’s prerogative, and generally I have no problem with that, but it does undermine the claim that the U.S. must not displease solidly reliable Ankara with a symbolic, toothless resolution. Ankara annoys Washington and Washington infuriates Ankara on far more substantive issues. Somehow, the alliance survives the real rifts that these disagreements create, because the interests of both states dictate that the alliance is more valuable than the points of contention between our governments. It would survive recognition of the genocide, and once the recognition was done it need never disturb U.S.-Turkish relations again.
Boot mentions needing Turkish aid on Iran sanctions, when it is already virtually certain that Turkey has no intention of supporting a new round of sanctions. If the resolution is scrapped tomorrow, Turkey’s vote on the Security Council will still go against Washington’s proposal because Turkish interests diverge from Washington’s on this question. Since a new round of sanctions is misguided and probably futile, this isn’t so bad, but we need to understand that scrapping the resolution will not yield any substantive gains on policy elsewhere because Turkish cooperation on sanctioning Iran, for example, will not be forthcoming anyway.