THOLOS OF ATHENA

Thursday, October 18, 2007

BLOOD ON THE MOON

History, with its terrible crimes, prods us into an awareness of responsibility. Looking at current events, some pundits think that our attention is diverted from contemporary war crimes, if Congress acknowledges an Armenian Genocide that took place in Turkey, beginning in April of 1915. Comedian, Jon Stewart, gets big laughs at the expense of spineless democratic leaders in the US House and their “stern rebuke to the Ottoman Empire.” And it is really funny because these same leaders genuflect in the direction of our nation's crazy autocrat, republican President/Decider George Bush.

But whatever else is at stake, there are reasons to think about the 1915 genocide. It's important to acknowledge extreme crime when it is written so large in history. Realistic estimates put the Armenian dead at 1.5 million.

The clockwork agenda behind the war and occupation of Iraq really exploits public hysteria and superstition. How else does one explain the hands-off policy of the so-called congressional opposition? They are really afraid of the White House, fearful of the most impeachable administration that ever was. But they are also beholden to the imposition of fear that churns around them, that has been built up after 2001, from the ashes of the Twin Towers and the guile of Bush and Cheney.

The despotic unitary executive, the blueprint for domestic surveillance, the aspiration for total state secrecy, and Vice President Cheney's co-executive powers,-- all these things were in place-- before the disaster on September 11th. Over a million Iraqis have been killed in the last four-and-a-half years; four million have sought shelter in other countries or live on the run. Iraq's professional classes have fled; and a humiliated people have watched helplessly while their country's cultural artifacts were looted. And right now, mercenary soldiers of the Blackwater Company run amok in the country, getting drunk and crawling around the streets of Baghdad after dark, dressed in camouflage gear and lugging their weapons, after a hard day of shooting civilians who get jammed up with them in traffic.

Turkey's eccentric governments have fallen to the occasional military coup in the period after World War II; and US presidents have looked the other way as their Turkish ally cracked down on dissent and stifled democracy. I seem to remember that the last time a resolution about the Armenian Genocide had a chance of passing in Congress, it was scuttled at the eleventh hour by President Clinton. It's no surprise that President Bush holds the same convictions, the same institutional attitude. Past experience shows that where administration policy is concerned, “now” will never be a good time to ruffle the sensitivities of the Turks.

It is a scandal that Turkey cannot face its own history. The country has persecuted its own writers for “insulting Turkishness”--even when those artists try to deal with this history in works of fiction.

Armenians served in the Ottoman Army, loyal to the Empire, when it was an ally of Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany in World War I; but there was an outbreak of Turkish hysteria which played into the hands of the Young Turk regime, the architects of the genocide. There was a blood red moon, which thousands of Turks took as an omen to unleash hell on earth upon next-door neighbors. The ensuing hysteria fanned the flames of the genocide. Armenian families were slaughtered, root and branch. Entire families were killed and beheaded, and the severed heads were pinned up on clotheslines as a public display. Then, the Armenian population that survived the initial slaughter was driven across the Turkish border into an inhospitable desert, without provisions, where they stood little or no chance of survival.

There is some duty we bear as we claim this kind of memory. And Armenian suffering is held cheap if we don't publicly accept their history as victims of genocide. We ought to reflect as well on the fact that American troops occupy a foreign country against the wishes of its people. Soon the grim side of our own history will pursue us through the years.

Our nation's salvation is linked to breaking the power of popular superstitions, like "the clash of civilizations." America's civilization is real; but it belongs to a world community of laws, treaties, and norms of behavior. On the other hand, the American leaders who most desperately deserve impeachment, go on about their business, as they feed the dogs of war and make methodical preparations to hand us over to the Furies.

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