What is genocide vote actually about?

armenian genocideSometimes you just have to go ahead and beat your head on the wall. The Los Angeles Times has a small feature today -- a little box of text -- with this headline: "Back story: Armenian genocide."

How would you like that writing assignment? Cover the Armenian genocide (or the non-genocide). You have 100 words or less. Here is what they ended up with:

Between 1915 and 1923, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in eastern Turkey as the region was engulfed in the violence of World War I and the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire. Substantial evidence and authoritative research support the conclusion that they were victims of a genocide, murdered by Turkish forces or killed by exposure to harsh weather and disease during forced deportations. Turks insist there was no government-sponsored program to eliminate Armenians. They maintain that massive numbers of Armenians, and Turks, died in the chaos of war and in an uprising staged by Armenians seeking to take advantage of a government weakened by World War I.

So once again we plunge into the mystery of Turkey, a "secular Muslim" state -- while a key historic reality in traditional Islam is the union of mosque and culture. To have a genocide, does it have to be "government-sponsored"? What if the whole idea is trying to form a government in the first place and you have racial and religious hurdles to conquer?

So what is this whole genocide resolution debate on the Hill all about? It's hard to tell from the major newspaper stories today (click here for The New York Times). Clearly, the White House thinks this is about national security. The Democrats in key zip codes face Armenian voters. The Turks are furious. The Armenians are praying for victory.

What is this about? It's interesting, after all the politics, including hints that this is linked to clashes over Iraq, to read the end of the Washington Post piece:

Armenian Americans erupted in applause after the vote, while attendees of Turkish descent sat in stony silence.

Outside the hearing room, the Rev. Sarkis Aktavoukian, who leads an Armenian church in Bethesda, wept. "America has shown its justice today," he said.

The vote drew swift condemnation from the Bush administration. "We are deeply disappointed," said R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state of political affairs. "Turkey is one of our most important allies globally."

varzahan bachmann plate8bSo we have the death of the last great Islamic empire in the region, which was followed by the start of Turkey's ongoing attempt to create a secular form of Islam, which has consistently had to cope with the reality of the Islamic fervor in its midst. Somewhere in there about 1.5 million Armenians who are Christians, for the most part, died and many of their priceless, ancient churches were destroyed (a painful issue that is still very much alive).

This is a very emotional story. Does it have anything to do with religion? You think?

Obviously there is more to it than religion. Obviously. But it's hard to ignore the religious element. You really have to try to avoid it.

Once again, it is interesting where the religious voices appear in these stories. Here is the end of the Los Angeles Times piece:

The head of the worldwide Armenian Apostolic Church, His Holiness Karekin II, delivered the invocation in the House chamber earlier Wednesday, asking all to "remember the victims of the genocide."

Both sides are expected to step up lobbying before the House vote. A few lawmakers who were once cosponsors have withdrawn their support.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) said last week in a letter to the Foreign Affairs Committee that "a terrible crime was committed against the Armenian people," but, noting that Turkey helps to moderate extremist forces in the Middle East, concluded, "I have great concern that this is the wrong time for the Congress to consider this measure."

So, please the Turks or you play into the hands of people who are even worse.

Nope, no signs of religion in this debate, there are no religious tensions at all. No way.

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