The Ottoman Empire died an ignominious death 85 years ago in the aftermath of World War I. Democrats are nonetheless intent on rebuking it for the mass killing of Armenians during World War I that many scholars and a proposed House resolution call "genocide."
The historical controversy over the massacres is an extremely sensitive point in Turkey, where it's a crime to refer to the massacres as a genocide. The mere passage of the resolution by a House committee last week was enough for Turkey to recall its ambassador to the U.S. The House leadership promises a vote by the full House by the middle of November, and the resolution likely will pass with bipartisan support, souring relations with an ally whose support is absolutely essential to our war in Iraq.
And the Democrats accuse President Bush of diplomatic insensitivity? Bush the "cowboy" would never do something so pointlessly destructive. The resolution represents local interest-group politics wedded to moral exhibitionism, with tendentious, strategically blinkered justifications thrown on top.
The top "Young Turk" Ottoman ministers responsible for the deportation orders against the Armenians -- Mehmet Talaat, Ismail Enver and Ahmed Djemal -- might be appropriately shamed by the resolution if they hadn't died in 1921, 1922 and 1922 respectively. To have had any positive real-world effect beyond the merely symbolic, the resolution should have been pursued by Speaker Nancy Pelosi's predecessor, Champ Clark, who ruled over the House from 1911 to 1919.
Pelosi has a special interest in the resolution because she has thousands of Armenian-Americans in her district, as does another strong backer of the resolution, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. These constituents want recognition of the historic injustice done to them and their forebears. That's entirely understandable, but it's not the role of the United States Congress to unravel long-ago historical disputes.
Most members of Congress need to be told how to vote on the latest highway-appropriations bill. They aren't suited to rule on complex historical controversies, especially when no local projects are involved to hold their attention. The slaughter of the Armenians is not as self-evidently a genocide as the Holocaust. Armenians were killed in massive numbers, but respected historians like Bernard Lewis, Norman Stone and Guenter Lewy think there wasn't genocidal intent on the part of the Ottoman government.
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