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Dial D for Denial

Published: October 19, 2007
Section: Opinions


Someone once asked Marcel Ophls, a director whose films The Sorrow and the Pity and Htel Terminus changed the way a generation of Europeans thought about fascist collaborationism, what it was like spending so much of his time interviewing Nazis. Oh I get along with Nazis, he responded.We share something in common: an interest in the past. I share more with them than I do with most people today who dont care about the past.

Last week, President Bush demonstrated that he cares about past. The House of Representatives is trying to pass a long overdue resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The massacre and forced deportation of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 marked the beginning of a golden age of mass murder during which technology and ideology came together in perfect symbiosis and made it possible to do in a few years something that used to take centuries viz. exterminate an entire ethnic, religious, or national group.

Bush has come out firmly against the House resolution. In so doing he took the standard line that Turkish nationalists have been towing for decades. The argument goes something like this: Sure, a lot of Armenians died, but 20 million people died during the First World War, so we really dont have to call this particular slaughter genocide. Bushs denial of the Armenian Genocide is based on simple political calculations. The US needs Turkish cooperation to ship military supplies for its own mass murder in Iraq, and the Americans want to make sure that Turkey doesnt invade Kurdistan. Denying genocide is a price Bush has shown that he is all too ready to pay as long as this denial furthers US imperialism.

If the Armenian Genocide deniers argument sounds vaguely familiar to you, youre not alone. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes a similar tact when talking about the Nazi Holocaust. Ahmadinejad famously told NBCs Brian Williams, In the second World War, over 60 million people lost their lives. They were all human beings. Why is it that only a select group of those who were killed have become so prominent and important?

This kind of hypocrisy and opportunism is exactly what Ive come to expect from the Bush Administration, but there is some good news. For the first time in nearly seven years, Bush and I have something in common. We both care about the past, albeit in different ways. I agree with Orwell that we cant obliterate history for political purposes. For Bush, on the other hand, history is a tool which he can use to denounce his enemies and which he can ignore when denial advances his political goals.

Perhaps this resolution will scuttle the long-standing American-Turkish alliance. If thats the case, I say let it drown. Any relationship build on a foundation of lies is doomed to collapse. Even the most elaborate diplomatic dance will not resurrect dead Armenians and no alliance is so essential that we should deny a genocide in order to protect it.