This week’s strong action by the House of Representatives to officially recognize the 1915-18 Armenian genocide was long overdue, but thankfully taken.
Now the Senate must put politics aside and do the right thing by also recognizing the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians for what it was — genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Once the senators pass the bill, President Trump should sign it.
An axiom in politics, as uttered by Winston Churchill, is to never waste a crisis. So kudos to Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democrat from Burbank, who introduced the resolution and helped get it to the House floor at a time when many in Congress were furious with Turkey. The measure passed 405-11.
The furor resulted after President Trump last month announced the abrupt pullback of U.S. military forces from northern Syria. Turkey rapidly pledged it would enter that country and attack Kurds, longtime foes who the Turkish government consider to be terrorists.
Trump’s unilateral decision came under intense criticism from both congressional Democrats and Republicans as a betrayal of Kurdish forces who had provided key help in the battle against the Islamic State. Indeed, Kurds were instrumental in helping American special forces track down the head of IS. As U.S. forces closed in on him last Saturday, the leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, blew up a suicide vest, killing himself and two children with him.
Neither Trump nor Barack Obama before him would go on record calling the killing of Armenians from 1915-18 a genocide. On Tuesday, in a speech on the House floor, Schiff said, “For (Armenians) and for the descendants, the word genocide is sacred, because it means the world has not and will not forget. To deny genocide, on the other hand, is profane. It is, in the words of Elie Wiesel, a double killing.”
While America has long recognized the Jewish Holocaust, no U.S. president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 has given official status to what happened to Armenian Christians under Turkish rule. Turkey strongly denies its actions amounted to a genocide.
Beyond military need
America has a key military base in Turkey that dates back to the 1950s and has been used time and again to stage troops to hot spots in the Middle East. The thinking is that if America ruffles Turkish feathers with a genocide recognition, Turkey might force U.S. military personnel from the Incirlik Air Base.
There is no questioning the strategic importance of Incirlik, or of Turkey — a NATO nation like the U.S. But the issue is not just about military strategy; it is about doing what is morally right. Turkey is on the wrong side of history and should be held accountable, as much as Germany had to face up to its guilt in the systematic killing of Jews by Hitler’s regime.
Bills have been introduced in the Senate before to recognize the genocide. One senator who led a recent attempt, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said he did not know of any reason why Senate GOP leaders would not at least take up the matter now. Republicans control the upper house, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, did not respond to requests for comment earlier this week.
It is very simple: The killing of Armenians in the World War I era was a genocide. The U.S. government needs to once and for all put this issue to rest by recognizing that fact. Then, Fresno’s large Armenian population can finally claim the moral satisfaction it has been seeking for more than a century.