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ISSUE 121 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/26/2007

Genocide sidetracks

By Tim Rehborg
Opinion Editor

Friday, October 26, 2007

This past week, the U.S. Congress spent many hours debating what may appear as a far-removed issue: the injustices the Ottoman Empire committed against Armenians between 1915 and 1919 that included mass murder and the displacement of almost 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appealed to recognize these war crimes as genocidal, comparable to the Holocaust, Rwanda and Darfur.

In Turkey, the Armenian conflict is a sensitive issue. A law forbids citizens from calling the massacre a "genocide," punishable under the laws of "insulting Turkishness." The official position in Turkey is that the killings resulted from unrest and civil war. Several prominent Turkish scholars and authors have been jailed for publicizing their opinion on this issue.

While my first impulse is to agree with this measure, I wonder about the timeliness of this legislation. Turkey plays a key part in the war currently being fought in Iraq.

Their interest and involvement centers on Kurdish groups who span Iraq and Turkey. These groups, including the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK), a Marxist organization officially recognized as a terrorist group by the United States, have been fighting for years to create an independent Kurdish state.

Turkey has dealt with the PKK within their borders. However, Turkey has amassed 60,000 troops at the Iraq border to manage the contention.

Turkish involvement in the Iraq War exists in this sense that they allow U.S. troops to use the Incirlik Air Base as a major resupply area. However, due to this recent legislation, Turkey has threatened to limit the United States' access to this base.

Limited access to a key air base wouldn't be this legislation's only repercussion.

In the past week, as a result of several bombings by Kurdish insurgents, many have demanded for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invade the semi-autonomous Kurdish state in Iraq.

This northern state is one of the most peaceful regions in Iraq, integral to the Iraqi rebuilding process. A war between two of the United States' key allies in Iraq would cause many complications in regards to current military efforts.

What are the positive aspects of passing legislation declaring the Armenian killings genocidal? The most influential faction is the Armenian diaspora. With an Armenian population ranging between 1.5 to 2 million in the United States, outnumbering Turkish-Americans 3-1, the international Armenian community far exceeds the number of native Armenians currently living in Armenia. The international Armenian community's call to recognize violence against ethnic Armenians as genocidal has influenced legislation in nearly a dozen countries, including France, Germany and Canada.

If we were discussing Darfur, or a horrendous act committed in the past 10 years (or still going on today), I would entirely support a congressional move to recognize its atrocity.

However, the killings in Armenia happened 90 years ago. What is the value in recognizing a genocide now, at a time when such a declaration would only inflame international relations and negatively affect the military efforts in Iraq?

I believe that the moral value of declaring the Armenian killings a genocide is greatly outweighed by the negative effect it would have on Iraqi and Kurdish people who would suffer from Turkey invading northern Iraq.

If Congress really wanted to help this region, it could instead turn its attention to the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq who have fought for decades against persecution and for a certain level of autonomy.

Instead, our legislative body continues to acquiesce to the demands of a minority lobbyist group, which only damages the United States' international image.

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