(Photo Credit: Mariurupe’s Photostream)
As I have written on this blog before, I think that the debate surrounding H.R. 252 – a non-binding resolution approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month that calls the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 “genocide” – is very complicated and offers no simple and easy solutions.
One’s position on the issue depends in part on the lens through which the analyst is observing the question. Commemorating tragedy does not always align with the promotion of American national interests.
On balance, I am inclined to oppose the resolution for three basic reasons.
1. The United States’ priority today should be to help Turkey and Armenia normalize their relationship and move forward. H.R. 252 will stoke nationalist anger in Turkey and is therefore most likely counterproductive to that goal.
2. Turkey is an extremely important ally of the United States – a country whose cooperation is vital on a range of the United States’ most urgent national security challenges in the Middle East. Ominously, U.S. favorable ratings in Turkey are abysmal at a time when Turkey’s democratization process is making its politicians more responsive to popular opinion than ever before.
3. We do not have a lot of friends among Muslim nations. We should be doing everything we can to ensure that positive relations with the Middle East’s only Muslim democracy remain strong.
Despite my position, I want to share the European Stability Initiative (ESI)’s recent newsletter on this issue, “Turkey’s Friends And The International Debate on the Armenian Genocide,” which provides some useful background on the issue while arriving at a different conclusion than my own.
I found the following refutations of common Turkish fears particularly noteworthy.
On Turkish fears that the resolution could lead Armenia to make territorial claims on parts of Turkey:
The question of territorial claims is a red herring in the recognition debate. Though it has been on the agenda of a vocal nationalist minority in Armenia (and in the Diaspora) for decades, border revision has never been part of any Armenian government’s policy. Armenian nationalists’ claims, based on the never-ratified Treaty of Sevres, have not managed to secure any international support. Normalization of ties between Turkey and Armenia, in any case, would put them to rest once and for all. This, in fact, is exactly why some Armenian nationalists have second thoughts about establishing relations with Turkey.
On the question of reparations:
The argument that recognition, be it by countries in the EU or the US, will allow Armenians to sue the Turkish government – is widespread in Turkey. It is also false. The Armenian genocide has been officially recognized by more than 20 countries: if recognition would pave the way towards restitution, these countries’ courts must surely be flooded with Armenian lawsuits? In fact, not a single genocide-related claim has successfully been made against the Turkish government anywhere in the world – this, despite genocide resolutions having been passed in countries like France, Germany and Russia….
The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in the area of property restitution makes it clear that Armenians could pursue compensation or restitution claims only if the Turkish state were to establish a legal base allowing them to do so. An International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) study in 2002 – is just as unambiguous on the issue. Although the events of 1915 had “all the elements of genocide” ICTJ concluded that “no legal, financial or territorial claim arising out of the Events could successfully be made against any individual or state under the Convention.” The European Parliament recognized in an 18 June 1987 resolution “that the present Turkey cannot be held responsible for the tragedy experienced by the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire and stresses that neither political nor legal or material claims against present-day Turkey can be derived from the recognition of this historical event as an act of genocide.”
You can read the full newsletter here.
These facts are important, but I am not convinced think that they lead to the conclusion that the United States’ Congress should involve itself by passing H.R. 252.
— Ben Katcher