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Remembering Genocide, Recognising Genocide

Tomorrow is April 24, the day on which Armenians traditionally commemorate the genocide committed against their people.  That genocide began 92 years ago this month.  April 24 was chosen as the day of commemoration because it was on April 24, 1915 that the leading members of the Armenian community in Constantinople (Polis to the Armenians, Konstantiniye for the Turks) were arrested and taken away to be executed in the days and weeks that followed.  That gave the signal for the beginning of the organised attempt to annihilate the Armenians in all those places where they constituted more than 5-10% of the population; the goal was nothing less than the destruction of the Armenians throughout most of Anatolia.  Obviously, the Ottoman triumvirs directly responsible never publicly admitted their responsibility, much less were they punished for their crimes, and all attempts to hold other involved in the genocide were by and large stillborn thanks to post-WWI politics.  The new national government in Ankara early on rejected attempts to hold “the Turks” collectively responsible (this is understandable, in a way), and this hardened into the full-fledged policy of denialism that we see today.  At this point, denialism and Turkish republicanism have unfortunately combined; the hyper-nationalists today are only the most obnoxious of the denialists.  The Turkish Republic is the only ostensible democracy that I know of in which it is a crime to state publicly well-established historical facts.  In other democracies they make it a crime to deny genocides–in Turkish democracy, they make it a crime to use the word genocide.  It is a bad joke that the administration that wants to intervene in Sudan to stop a civil war that they (mistakenly) deem a genocide actively opposes a minimal effort to acknowledge a genocide that only Ankara and their apologists refuse to call by that name. 

Tomorrow Congress is preparing to pass still considering a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide as genocide and acknowledging the role of the Turkish government in it.  If West Germany had had a law on the books criminalising anyone who spoke of the Holocaust or the responsibility of the German government, it seems unlikely that Washington would respond well to threats from Bonn to the effect that relations would sour dramatically should Congress pass a purely symbolic resolution acknowledging the historical reality of the crime their government actively denies.  Today Ankara so threatens Washington with very real retribution for such a symbolic measure, when it is Ankara whose denialist law and repressive government combined to inflame public opinion against Hrant Dink, leading directly to his death.  That is only the most recent and dramatic example of how this genocide denialism has served as a mechanism for suppressing freedom of speech and whitewashing past crimes in Turkey.  It is appalling that such a government believes it is fit to join the nations of Europe as an equal; it is even more depressing that so many Americans are interested in currying favour with such an ally.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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