Nice timing on the Armenia `genocide' resolution, Ms. Pelosi

October 16, 2007|By TRUDY RUBIN

What were they thinking?

No doubt members of the House Foreign Relations Committee felt righteous about the nonbinding resolution they passed last week condemning World War I massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as "genocide." They sloughed off the warnings from Turkey, which rejects the genocide charge. Several 90-something Armenian ladies who survived the massacres were in attendance in wheelchairs. Democratic legislators from states with large Armenian constituencies were pressing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push the resolution. Everyone cloaked himself in high moral purpose.

Yet this is a case of self-proclaimed moral intentions run amok.

The timing of this resolution couldn't be worse. About 70 percent of the military cargo sent to Iraq is flown through Turkey's Incirlik Air Base or on air routes over Turkey. Turkish officials warn they will reconsider support for the Iraq effort if the resolution goes to the full House.

Equally disturbing, the resolution comes just as Turkey is considering a large-scale military invasion into northern Iraq to wipe out Turkish Kurd terrorists (known as the PKK), who are conducting bloody raids into Turkey from inside the Iraqi border. Anti-Americanism is on the rise among ordinary Turks furious at the U.S. for failing to stop the PKK raids.

"The Turks are talking of a cross-border operation and [Speaker] Pelosi brings this resolution up now?" muses Henri Barkey, a top expert on Turkey. "Now the Turks have no choice."

One has to ask why this resolution was so urgent. It's not about Darfur, where the killing is going on now. The Armenian massacres happened from 1915 to 1923, and the empire that conducted them is gone. Yes, Turkey should confront whether the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians resulted from an Ottoman plan to drive them out of the empire. And it is shameful that Turkish law still prohibits open discussion of the issue.

This year, journalist Hrant Dink was killed by a nationalist for calling the massacre of Armenians a "genocide." After the assassination, tens of thousands of Turks gathered to protest. There were signs that the Turkish government would try to change the law that limits debate on the Armenian issue. However, says Mr. Barkey, the House resolution "will make it harder to change the law, because it will rouse nationalist feeling."

What's most dishonest about the House move is the claim it won't hurt U.S.-Turkish relations. In 2003, a Turkish parliament outraged by the coming Iraq war refused to let the U.S. military use its ports and territory to enter northern Iraq. This cost the U.S. war effort dearly.

Turkish ire has been roused again by the House resolution. If Ms. Pelosi brings it to the full House, Turkey may indeed curb its support for the Iraq war effort. Moreover, if the U.S. wants to withdraw from Iraq, it will need those land and air routes. And if we want to keep a base in Iraqi Kurdistan, the safest passage in and out will be via Turkey.

So think about it, Ms. Pelosi. To make a statement about 1915, you are hindering slow Turkish efforts to face the past, while harming our national security. And you are making it harder to leave Iraq.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her column appears Tuesdays in The Sun. Her e-mail is

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