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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I've been a little slack in reading tnr.com lately so thanks to Matt of blogrel for the link to this classic piece from the June 29th, 1921 edition of the New Republic. In it Aghavnie Yeghenian reflects on living under the shadow of genocide in a United States that seems blissfully unaware, the difficulty of dealing with normal life and comprehending the behaviour, not so much of the perpetrators, but of the passive bystanders. It is a brilliantly painful piece, even though it deals more with the author's feelings than the 1915 genocide and the events surrounding the post-WW 1 re-ordering of Europe and the greater Middle East. In it is the sorrowful feeling of abandonment, that I remember only too clearly from victims of the Bosnia war in the early 1990s:
What has happened to the people who look out at the Armenian sea of suffering? They are incomprehensibly unresponsive. They seem almost motionless. We detect, however, a slight movement. It seems to spring from an emotion like that described in a cartoon published in a well-known American magazine, showing the gaunt figure of Armenia disturbing the peace of a fat congressman, who, handkerchief to his eyes, exclaims, "Get out. You are breaking my heart." Yes, there almost seems to be a slight movement, a turning of the back to avoid a harrowing picture.
Read all of it.
I am aware that Turkey denies that all this happened, or that it was genocide, or that the numbers are accurate etc. I'll accept that viewed back from history it is an issue far less black and white than the Holocaust, but the problem with that comparison is that every single other occurrence of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass killings is less clear than the Nazis' crimes. In fact the Holocaust has been a bit of a double-edged sword in regards to our sensitivity about such issues (I'll post on that at length and separately). I think it's sufficient to say for now that the Armenian genocide took place and that it was genocide. As for the Turkish and Turkophile claims to the contrary, they are not all as ludicrous as those of Holocaust deniers, but I'll deal with this issue in a lengthy and separate post.
What should we learn though for today? How to intervene properly against such crimes is something that has been a personal interest of mine since childhood, and John Kampfner has some stimulating thoughts on it. (Again, an issue I'll deal with in a "lengthy and separate" posting.) Now, the reason for the title of my posting becomes apparent when you look beneath the closing words of Aghavnie Yeghenian article, where there is this link:
March 2003, days before the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein, President Bush went on the radio to declare, "We have seen far too many instances in the past decade--from Bosnia to Rwanda to Kosovo--where the failure of the Security Council to act decisively has led to tragedy." But behind his statement lay a bitter irony. Because, even as the United States was resolving never again to stand by and allow genocide in Iraq, it was standing by and allowing genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Over the past year, as the national security rationale for the Iraq war has deteriorated, the Bush administration has turned increasingly to moral language to justify its invasion. Which makes it all the more remarkable that it has remained so passive in the face of the greatest moral emergency on earth today.
History's cruel lesson there in its full starkness, if we want to heed it. But will we?


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