Michael Totten

Evading genocide with quotation marks

President George W. Bush’s second-term National Security Strategy states:

4. Genocide
Patient efforts to end conflicts should not be mistaken for tolerance of the intolerable. Genocide is the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The world needs to start honoring a principle that many believe has lost its force in parts of the international community in recent years: genocide must not be tolerated.
It is a moral imperative that states take action to prevent and punish genocide. History teaches that sometimes other states will not act unless America does its part. We must refine United States Government efforts — economic, diplomatic, and law-enforcement — so that they target those individuals responsible for genocide and not the innocent citizens they rule. Where perpetrators of mass killing defy all attempts at peaceful intervention, armed intervention may be required, preferably by the forces of several nations working together under appropriate regional or international auspices.
We must not allow the legal debate over the technical definition of “genocide” to excuse inaction. The world must act in cases of mass atrocities and mass killing that will eventually lead to genocide even if the local parties are not prepared for peace.

Fine words. However, when the U.S. ambassador to Armenia called the genocide of the Armenians a, well, genocide, the courageous souls of Foggy Bottom sallied forth to oblige the ambo to state that:

Although I told my audiences that the United States policy on the Armenian tragedy has not changed, I used the term “genocide” speaking in what I characterized as my personal capacity. This was inappropriate.

The ambo alluded to the president’s annual statement on the genocide, a statement which does not mention it as a genocide:

This terrible event is what many Armenian people have come to call the “Great Calamity.”

A year later a rumpus has been started about the ambo’s status, eliciting this bit of editing by the State Department:

Armenia: Status of US Ambassador to Armenia Evans
Question: What is the status of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Evans? Was he recalled for statements acknowledging the Armenian “genocide”?
Answer: U.S. Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President. Ambassador Evans and his capable team have the full confidence of the Administration.

Smart! So to show that somebody else said genocide, and that the State Department didn’t, the used quotation marks, which means that the genocide was a “genocide”, not a genocide. It’s different, you see?
The L.A. Times has it right:

It is time to stop tiptoeing around this issue and to accept settled history. Genocide, according to accepted U.N. definition, means “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Armenia is not even a borderline case. Punishing an ambassador for speaking honestly about a 90-year-old crime befits a cynical, double-dealing monarchy, not the leader of the free world.

If Bush can stand up to Saddam, he can handle a democratic government in Turkey. What is more, given the choice, one day, between EU membership and acknowledging a nearly century old crime that nobody seriously denies, what will Turkey do? When that happens, maybe the State Department will get rid of those quotation marks.
Andrew Apostolou (historian in jim jams).