Worse Than Irrelevant

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

IT'S EASY to dismiss a nonbinding congressional resolution accusing Turkey of "genocide" against Armenians during World War I as frivolous. Though the subject is a serious one -- more than 1 million Armenians may have died at the hands of the Young Turk regime between 1915 and the early 1920s -- House Democrats pushing for a declaration on the subject have petty and parochial interests. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chief sponsor, says he has more than 70,000 ethnic Armenians in his Los Angeles district. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has promised to bring the measure to a vote on the House floor, has important Armenian American campaign contributors. How many House members can be expected to carefully weigh Mr. Schiff's one-sided "findings" about long-ago events in Anatolia?

The problem is that any congressional action will be taken in deadly earnest by Turkey's powerful nationalist politicians and therefore by its government, which is already struggling to resist a tidal wave of anti-Americanism in the country. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called President Bush on Friday to warn against the resolution. Turkish politicians are predicting that responses to passage by the House could include denial of U.S. access to Turkey's Incirlik air base, a key staging point for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Turkish parliament could also throw off longstanding U.S. constraints and mandate an invasion of northern Iraq to attack Kurdish separatists there, something that could destabilize the only region of Iraq that is currently peaceful.

No wonder eight former secretaries of state, including Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III, George P. Shultz and Madeleine K. Albright, have urged Ms. Pelosi to drop the resolution, saying it "could endanger our national security interests in the region, including our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and damage efforts to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey." Yet the measure is proceeding: It is due to be voted on today by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Supporters say congressional action is justified by the refusal of the Turkish government to accept the truth of the crimes against Armenians, and its criminalization of statements describing those events as genocide. It's true that Turkey's military and political class has been inexcusably slow to come to terms with that history, and virulent nationalism -- not Islamism -- may be the country's most dangerous political force. But Turkish writers and intellectuals are pushing for a change in attitude, and formal and informal talks between Turks and Armenians are making slow progress. A resolution by Congress would probably torpedo rather than help such efforts. Given that reality, and the high risk to vital U.S. security interests, the Armenian genocide resolution cannot be called frivolous. In fact, its passage would be dangerous and grossly irresponsible.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company