Although it was not the intention of my remarks against the perpetually repugnant Abe Foxman (whose latest caper, by the way, has been to warn Catholics against the Latin Mass as an anti-Semitic time bomb) to belittle any group’s past sufferings, my implied objection was simply about characterizing the Armenian massacre in 1915 as “genocide.” The fact that the crimes in question fit the tendentious UN definition, which conveniently omits the largest number of murder victims in the twentieth century, the victims of Communist “class war,” is not a particularly convincing reason for supporting the congressional resolution.
If by genocide we mean the planned systematic extermination of an entire ethnicity or race carried out by a particular state, it is not clear that the killing of Armenians by Turkish-Kurdish military units during World War One would fit that description. What we are describing is a series of brutal killings inflicted on Armenian communities by Turkish soldiers, in which the broken-down Turkish state played only a very limited role. It is also a factor that Armenians had in some cases already taken up arms, at the prompting of the British and Russians, against the Turkish government, which by then was fighting for the political survival of the Turkish nation on several different fronts at the same time. Some Armenian communities, furthermore, were not involved in the massacres, and indeed Armenians continue to live within the Turkish republic down to the present time.
This piece of corrective history is not intended to diminish the horror of what really happened. Over a million hapless Armenians were slaughtered or driven out into the desert to die of hunger and thirst. If Armenians were not the victims of “genocide, they were certainly the victims of what R.J. Rummel has called “democide,” the indiscriminate slaughter of large numbers of people by a bloodthirsty enemy. Moreover, the leading Western Ottoman historian Donald Quatert is correct when he criticized the Turkish government for not being sufficiently willing to investigate an especially seamy side of their national history. Stonewalling actually increases the perils of having exaggerated charges hurled against the Turkish people.
But let me make one point about mass-killing that is frequently left out of discussion. There is no intrinsic moral reason to treat genocide as being worse than other forms of mass murder, and although my cousins died in Nazi labor camps, I suspect that the bestial leaders of Communist “workers’ states,” whose enablers and apologists today go by the name “antifascist,” may be the worst murderers in the history of the human race. I am challenging the abuse of the term “genocide” to describe all kinds of nastiness, including, as my colleagues tell me, the failure to fund sufficiently Native American legends. There are crimes committed against entire populations that approach or equal Hitler’s war against the Jews or the Poles but which are nonetheless not “genocide” but something equally horrendous.
Allow me to give a second reason that I am not hot to trot for the congressional resolution to acknowledge the “Armenian genocide.” I find no justification for the US government giving further aid and comfort to the victim-industry, particularly if it embarrasses the military leaders of the present Turkish state, who are our friends against fundamentalist Muslims. It is the friends and heirs of the great Westernizer Kemal Mustafa, the man who saved Turkey from extinction after World War One, who will take the hit. The Muslim fundamentalists have no reason to dislike the charge of genocide that our Congress is ready to throw at the Turks: that charge will redound to the discredit of the now increasingly endangered secular Turkish state that came out of World War One, an entity that Muslim fanatics and European multiculturalists probably hate equally. The Turks should not be confused with masochistic Germans who can’t blame themselves sufficiently for their entire national past. To their credit, the Turks are patriots — rather than Teutonic doormats
It may also be high time throughout the Western world to say no to new Holocaust industries and to stop the ones that already exist. The French state in its antifascist enthusiasm last year made it a criminal offense to question publicly the “Armenian genocide,” an act which like the criminalization of any attempt to question the Nuremberg Trial’s judgments about Nazi “crimes against humanity,” enjoyed the overwhelming support of the usual suspects. Communist deputies and their PC allies in the French National Assembly ran to vote for both prohibitions against “diminishing [official] genocidal acts,” two gestures that serve exactly the same functions. They divert attention from the staggering crimes committed by Communist regimes, and they destroy what remains of liberal freedoms in what the neoconservatives misleadingly call “Western democracies.” If groups wish to grieve over inhumanities committed against their ancestors, let them do so without restrictions on the liberties of those who fail to show appropriate, state-required grief.
Every year the Jewish people lament collectively the destruction of their second temple carried out by (imperialistic) Romans. The Jews have every right and perhaps an ethnic duty to do so. As far as I know, they have not incited any government to cast blame on the inhabitants of central Italy for the outrages committed against ancient Jewish by Roman political globalists. Nor have they asked that the Arch of Titus, which depicts in relief the triumphant Romans carrying away temple candelabra, be razed, as an act of ethnic sensitivity. Would that Jews and other ethnic groups behaved as discreetly in other matters! And, even more importantly would that Western Christians showed less interest in abetting those who wish to make state-supported displays of their victim status. The fact that certain groups but not others are allowed to play this victim card makes it seem all the more questionable.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author ofMulticulturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.