As the Republic of Turkey continues to amplify its discontent with Wednesday’s non-binding vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide, pressing questions remain unanswered.
I am Armenian-American. My being an Armenian speaking on this issue may invalidate for some the fact that my hyphenated identity makes me at least equally an American–a second-generation granddaughter of a genocide survivor, born and raised in the nation’s heartland, who has been a lifelong public servant and educator. But the questions I raise could only originate from my upbringing as a proud member of a rigorously democratic society, which has taught me to cherish and exercise my right to question authority.
I have been startled by the tone of the reporting on Wednesday’s historic vote. In the span of less than twenty-four hours, I went from feeling vindication for the venerated legacy of my ancestors to fearing for our collective historical representation. The Turkish government’s reactionary behavior hijacked the global news cycle into focusing almost entirely on the “consequences” of the vote, as opposed to the moral victory it signaled for our fellow victims of genocide and human rights atrocities the world over.
All day long, questions begged for answers.
How can the same politicians who routinely swagger and curse against any foreign power that dares to threaten American interests or security now be buckling to audacious threats to the safety of our military by the leadership of the Republic of Turkey?
Why does the same press that has been raising critical questions about the intent and efficacy of the war in Iraq not challenge the impudence of Turkey’s movements to inch closer towards invading northern Iraq (and potentially create another genocidal situation with more segments of their Kurdish enemies)?
Where are the voices applauding the “moral authority” exercised by twenty-seven members of the Foreign Relations committee on behalf of the United States, which Congressman Tom Lantos so powerfully noted as having plummeted in the court of world opinion over the past several years?
If Turkey does hold firm on its threats, what other uses might come from the tens of billions of dollars of aid that it demands from the Bush Administration to ensure its participation in the war with Iraq?
Who will voice outrage against our ally’s court decision yesterday to convict the son and colleague of murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink for “insulting Turkishness” under the Machiavellian Article 301 of Turkey’s penal code simply because they republished Dink’s remarks about the Armenian Genocide?
I fully realize that justice is not the sole impetus behind the House resolution. I only need to look near my home district of St. Clair County, Illinois (where Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello is a co-sponsor of the resolution), to see how fleeting moral convictions can be. After more than twenty years of advocating on behalf of Armenian Genocide recognition, former St. Louis Rep. Richard Gephardt made a startling about-face and now commands lucrative fees from his lobbying ventures on behalf of the Turkish government. It appears that his successor, Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan, may be afflicted with the same propensity to waffle on issues of conscience, since he withdrew his support this month as a co-sponsor of the resolution and voted against it as a member of the Foreign Affairs committee. Republican Rep. John Shimkus withdrew his co-sponsorship two days after Carnahan.
A dear friend, who also is Armenian-American, just deployed to Iraq as a reserve officer. There is absolutely nothing in the world that I would do, no resolution I would support, if it further endangered his life. Rather, it is precisely for him and other service members that I believe Wednesday’s vote is especially poignant–a reminder to them that our government can in fact still make difficult moral decisions in the face of aggression from antagonistic world powers, even those which purport to be our allies.
We all know the punch line of the saying that begins, “With friends like these…” In the case of the Republic of Turkey’s decidedly unfriendly reaction to our sovereign government’s vote acknowledging the veracity of a watershed historical event, I am disappointed that more of our nation’s public intellectuals are not asking difficult questions which demand honest answers. Indeed, without a critical discussion on the innate merits of doing the right thing even in the face of adversity and intimidation, who needs enemies?