Saturday, October 13, 2007

Truth and Reconciliation

When apartheid in South Africa finally crumbled and the new democratic government took over, a "Truth and Reconciliation" commission was established. Functionaries of the old regime were encouraged to come clean with the truth, and in return they were not sent to jail and were allowed to get on with their lives. Truth and Reconciliation is credited with enabling a smooth transition to democracy and averting bloody reprisals by black South Africans for the decades of oppression that they suffered under apartheid. A similar process took place in Chile after the brutal Pinochet regime was replaced by a democratic government.

Note that truth comes before reconciliation. The latter is predicated on the guilty parties owning up to their crimes, publicly and (we hope) with contrition. In Turkey they don't understand that. In the last days of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey massacred a million and a half Armenians in what can only be called - and has been called by virtually the entire civilized world except for the United States - genocide. Today the current government of Turkey (the one that overthrew the Ottoman sultanate and established the modern Turkish republic) is all bent out of shape because an American Congressional committee passed a resolution (on which the whole House of Representatives has yet to vote) labeling the massacre a genocide. If not for the vitriolic Turkish reaction, I would say that the resolution was something of a שבועת שוא , akin to swearing that a tree is a tree. That reaction, coupled with virulently anti-American street demonstrations in Turkish cities, proves the need for the resolution. Further proof is provided by Hitler's Mein Kampf, where he correctly predicted that the world would let him slaughter the Jews of Europe, asking rhetorically, "Who remembers the Armenian massacres?" The Armenians remember their genocide about the same time that we remenber ours, in April each year, and it always puzzled me why joint commemmorations are not held.

Now Turkey is threatening dire consequences if Congress passes the resolution and calls a spade a spade. As an American I am incensed that a little country like Turkey thinks it can threaten us. They need us a lot more than we need them. And Europe's democracies have even more leverage. Turkey's fondest desire is to join the European Union, never mind that only a tiny sliver of their country is in Europe. Turkey's record on human rights, while quite progressive in a Middle Eastern context, is dismal by European standards (it is a crime in Turkey to identify the Armenian massacres as genocide), and those are the standards by which Turkey will be judged if it is to join the E.U.

As a Jew I am disappointed that several years ago the Israeli government put heavy pressure on Hebrew University to cancel an international conference of historians on the Armenian genocide. To its discredit, Hebrew University canceled the conference. Israel, like the United States, values its strategic relationship with Turkey. But strategic relationships should never be at the expense of truth, especially for Israel, since the Armenian genocide gave Hitler a green light for the Shoah. After the defeat of the Nazis, the democratic government of Germany (first West Germany, now the reunified country) owned up to the nation's crimes, made amends where possible, and now takes its rightful place as a civilized nation. Turkey needs to do likewise.

Who remembers the Armenian massacres? All civilized people and nations should.

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Blogger Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Politics make strange bedfellows. If Turkey was a good Muslim country and hated Israel like the rest of them, I don't doubt the Israeli government would have recognized the Armenian genocide by now. Same for America - Turkey is NATO's only Muslim ally and therefore too important to offend.
It's a shame really. We saw this with Serbia as well. During the war the Serbians were far more helpful to their Jews than the Croatians who openly helped the Nazis but when Milosevic went to war against all his neighbours, it put Israel into a difficult spot. Serbia was a traditional ally and on one hand you don't betray your traditional allies. On the other hand, what they were doing was obscene.
That's the difference between politics and the real world, I guess.

Sun Oct 14, 05:15:00 AM EDT  

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