Moral Clarity

Obama, Armenia, and What Hitler Learned About Genocide Denial

The president’s failure to call out Turkey for its role in the Armenian Genocide stains the soul of America.

Chronicle/Alamy

Over the past decade the United States has often held up Turkey as the model of a moderate, democratic ally in the Muslim world, serving as a bridge between America and illiberal autocracies in the Middle East. President Obama has publicly showcased a warm working relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even he has heartily dismantled Turkish democracy and media freedoms.

Today, the idealism many once felt about Turkey’s President has been washed away by his increasingly authoritarian rule, persecution of his political opponents, support of terrorism, and anti-Semitism.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for our nation to hold its nose when dealing with thuggish autocrats in the face of pressing global crises. But the time has come to ask ourselves whether America is selling its moral soul to hold on to an “ally” that contravenes all decency by steadfastly denying the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide.

In recent history, Turkey has pulled every lever of influence at their disposal to prevent formal acknowledgement by the United States that Ottoman Turkey slaughtered 1.5 million Christian-minority Armenians under the cover of a world war and its aftermath. America’s concession to this morally bankrupt stipulation for good relations not only sets a gut-wrenching precedent but ignores the lessons history has taught us about turning a blind eye genocide.

Consider the words of Adolf Hitler to Nazi officers in August 1939, a week before the invasion of Poland: “Go, kill without mercy … who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Evil doesn’t happen in a vacuum but rather incubates amid the silence of bystanders. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The Armenian Genocide was Hitler’s proof-of-concept for his belief that the world has a short memory and would be largely indifferent to unspeakable horrors.

Once examined thoroughly the connections between the Nazis and the Young Turks are troubling. Hitler’s confidants learned from Turkey’s genocidal playbook. As Hitler strategized his rise to power in the early 1920s, his lead political advisor was Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, a young German Consular office in Erzurum during WWI, a region of Ottoman Turkey densely populated with Armenians.

Scheubner-Richter saw the galvanizing, nationalistic effect of blaming a well-educated, affluent religious minority for a nation’s woes. He witnessed the strategy of rounding up dissident intellectuals and political leaders first and the use of starvation as a means for mass slaughter. Although Scheubner-Richter died literally marching arm-in-arm with Hitler in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, he was so influential to Hitler’s thinking that he dedicated the first part of Mein Kampf to him and later singled him out as the only “irreplaceable loss” of the Putsch.

It wasn’t only Nazi elites that took notes from Turkey—Turkey’s ethnic cleansing in WWI was well known and admired by Nazi ideologues. In 1923, journalist Hans Trobst wrote in the Nazi newspaper Heimatland, “these bloodsuckers and parasites, Greeks and Armenians, had been eradicated by the Turks.” This chilling praise of genocide foretold atrocities to come.

Turkey’s approach to its own genocide has been the precise opposite of Germany’s efforts at atonement and reconciliation. In recent years, Turkey charged scholars and journalists with crimes for “insulting Turkishness” by advocating genocide. In a chilling and terrifying example of blaming the victim, High school textbooks in Turkey today refer to the “Armenian matter” (the word genocide is never used) and describe it as being the result of provocation by Armenians. Insinuations of genocide are said to be a lie used in an attempt to harm and break up Turkey.

The “Armenian matter” isn’t the only area where Erdogan has displayed detachment from reality. He aggressively contests that atrocities in Darfur were genocide yet libeled Israel as being guilty of an attempted “genocide” during its air campaign against Hamas in 2014 and called Zionism a “crime against humanity” in 2013. In July of last year he disgraced himself further with the stomach-turning charge that Israel’s “barbarism has surpassed even Hitler’s.”

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This wretched anti-Semitic fervor has continued apace with Turkey most recently welcoming the relocation of Hamas’s so-called West Bank and Jerusalem Headquarters to Istanbul, even while the genocidal Hamas charter calls for the murder of Jews wherever they may be found. And rather than demonstrating even a hint of sympathy after the bloody Paris terror attacks took the lives of four Jews guilty only of buying bread for the Sabbath, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu equated Benjamin Netanyahu to the terrorists who carried out the attacks.

How can we as a nation trust a country that not only denies its own guilt in genocide but aids and abets organizations committed to the repetition of this most horrific of all human sins?

The White House has demonstrated its own faulty moral compass by both ignoring the intensifying anti-Semitism of our NATO “ally” and by refusing to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. While President Obama supported formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a Senator and made promises to Armenian-Americans to recognize the genocide while seeking their votes in 2008, he has failed to live up to this promise over the past six years.

This revisionist history our nation indulges is disturbing and a stain on our conscience. Rather than speak truth, America seems to cower at the thought of an autocrat’s displeasure.

I cannot begin to imagine the pain of the Armenian community of having to suffer—even now on the centenary of the Armenian genocide—the final indignity: that after the murder of 1.5 million innocent victims the world barely acknowledges their deaths. That after being robbed of their lives the victims are now robbed of their memory.

When we dishonor the lives of the Armenians killed, we embolden those who would commit unspeakable evil, much in the way Hitler was emboldened by the world’s indifference to this dress rehearsal for the Holocaust. President Obama could have used the upcoming 100th anniversary of the genocide this week as an opportunity to finally place the United States on the right side of history and morality and make it clear to Turkey that its choices have consequences. Sadly, he chose to do precisely the opposite. After intense lobbying by the Armenian-American community, to whom he made a campaign promise in 2008 that “As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,” the White House announced three days before the centenary that the President would break his promise for the sixth year running.

Mr. President, the world is watching. History is taking notice. The souls of 1.5 million Armenians cry out from the grave. Are you listening?