By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
It took nearly two decades of political lobbying and the entire Kardashian family, but finally, on Tuesday, Oct. 29, the U.S. House of Representatives officially recognized the 1915 slaughter of more than 1.5 million Armenians by Turkish (then, Ottoman) forces as an act of genocide.
Just as Ankara’s current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is embarking on yet another carefully crafted ethnic cleansing – this time with the goal of the systematic elimination of the Kurdish people, not only within Turkey, but also in Syria – the House voted overwhelmingly (405 to 11) to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide and denounce it as part of official U.S. foreign policy.
And while the long-sought-after acknowledgement by the United States of the heinous slaughter which began with the start of the World War I and which reduced the Armenian population inside the Ottoman Empire from 2 million to less than 400,000 in just eight years, may be little more than a symbolic gesture for the survivors and descendants of the Armenian holocaust, the vote was intended to be a clear message to Erdoğan that the world will not again turn a blind eye to Turkey’s inhumane acts of mass carnage.
“When we see the images of terrified Kurdish families in northern Syria, loading their possessions into cars or carts and fleeing their homes headed to nowhere except away from Turkish bombs and marauding militias, how can we say the crimes of a century ago are in the past?” said Californian Democrat Adam Schiff, who pressed the bill through the House.
“We cannot. We cannot pick and choose which crimes against humanity are convenient to speak about. We cannot cloak our support for human rights in euphemisms. We cannot be cowed into silence by a foreign power.”
Erdoğan’s response to the U.S. condemnation was quick and expected.
Within hours of the House’s vote, he called the resolution “void of any historical or legal basis,” and discredited the premise that Turkey’s butchery of the Armenian population was anything other than a consequence of the “simple causalities of war.”
Erdoğan also sneered at the House’s appeal to U.S. President Donald Trump to impose further sanctions on Turkey because of its untempered offensive into northern Syria.
The Turkish president, who has become ever-more defiant since purchasing a Russian missile defense system last July in direct disregard for U.S. sanctions and who jumped into Syria as soon as Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, has defended the incursion against the Kurds as a security measure.
And, indeed, Turkey has suffered from separatist unrest and violence instigated by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which he claims is being supported by the Syrian Kurds.
With the withdrawal of most U.S. troops, Syria’s Kurds are stuck right dab in the middle of one of the most brutal and indeterminable armed conflicts in the world today.
And with Turkey’s so-called “safe zone” within Syria, the Kurds (who make up nearly 10 percent of Syria’s total population) are being forced out of their mountainous homeland, essentially becoming displaced people.
It is the repetition of a story that the Armenian people know well.
They, too, were driven from their land without food or water, and were eventually killed off at the hands of the Turks.
Now, Erdoğan has his sights set on eliminating the Kurds, who he sees an an obstacle to his quest for absolute power in Turkey.
Since 2014, when Erdoğan became Turkey’s president (he was previously the country’s prime minister for nine years), hundreds of innocent Kurdish civilians have been killed on Turkish soil, and tens of thousands have been displaced when their homes were destroyed by Turkish forces, all part of Erdoğan’s devious scheme to cleanse the country of what he considers impure races.
And it is not only the Kurds that Erdoğan wants to eliminate.
In his efforts to silence his opponents and purge all dissidents, he has filled Turkey’s jails to the point that the country now has the third-largest prison population in Europe, just behind Russia and Belarus.
It also has the dubious distinction of being the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.
Yesterday, Oct. 29, the same day of the House resolution, Turkey celebrated its 96th national day, commemorating its birth as a republic led by its modern-day founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a secularist and nationalist who believed in the concepts of equal civil rights for all.
But Erdoğan has turned Atatürk’s dream of a modern, secular, equalitarian society into a nightmare of abuse and annihilation for all those who oppose his authoritarian rule, even those outside Turkey’s borders.
Granted, the resolution by the U.S. House to condemn Turkey’s genocide of the Armenian people a century ago – which will still have to be approved by the U.S. Senate – is little more than a beau geste and cold comfort for the Armenian diaspora.
But it should be a strong reminder to the world entire what the systematic extermination of a people looks like, and a stern warning that, unless they are stopped, autocratic tyrants are capable of the worst of crimes against humanity.
Just like the Armenians a century ago, the Kurds of Turkey and Syria are being targeted for genocide.