by Tal Buenos . . .
The Genesis Of The Genocide Accusation
April 16, 2015
The genesis of the genocide accusation
Public statements made by prominent figures around the world may give the impression that the whole world has bought into the genocide accusation, but it still remains true that this perception of genocide was created by U.S. power
What happened 100 years ago is a matter of historical inquiry. What is happening these days is a matter of political capital. The systematic accusation of genocide directed toward Turkey is a phenomenon unto itself. It is separate from the historical events surrounding the Armenian-Turkish conflict, and should be studied as such by scholars of history and politics whose expertise is American foreign policy. However, to this day, there is no known academic publication that has asked the following questions: When did the systematic accusations of genocide against Turks begin? What American interests were served by establishing such accusations? How did this accusation become internationally institutionalized to the current level?
In short, the systematic accusations of genocide directed towards Turks began to take form when the U.S. was itself under attack in the court of public opinion for carrying out genocidal policies on the Vietnamese. The accusation against Turks provided an alternative narrative on genocide, through which the popular discourse on genocide at the time was to be replaced and forgotten. Over the years, the establishment of genocide scholarship in the U.S. - and in many Western liberal states that depend on the U.S. - has cemented such genocide-labeling by producing a controlled discourse on 1915. This discourse has been widely disseminated to the extent that the genocide label is now taken for granted, regardless of the biased sources that inform it.
Following World War II, the U.S. decided not to ratify the U.N. Genocide Convention - despite having created the term for wartime and postwar considerations regarding Germany - and the policy was to phase out the term genocide, for fear of it being used against the U.S. government's role in the history of Native American extermination and African slavery. There was even concern regarding the lynching of African Americans, for it presented a clear case of race-based mass killings along with the segregated conditions of poverty and disease.
In the 1950s - even before the genocide accusation against the U.S. was introduced during the Vietnam War - there was significant international pressure on the U.S and its neocolonialist dominance. In 1955, after the Korean War and the U.S.-backed French war in Indochina, 29 African and Asian states - representing over 1 billion people - met at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, and issued a united declaration on April 24, 1955, protesting the suppression of the national cultures of their peoples by existing forms of colonialism.
It then became beneficial for the U.S. to foster the narratives of small nations whose victimhood would take the edge off accusations of neocolonialism by victims of American aggression. In this context, discussions began at Harvard University over the establishment of the first American chair in Armenian Studies. In other words, academic infrastructure was being erected for the development of an Armenian national narrative under U.S. control. The project was supervised by Richard N. Frye. Aside from being a professor of Central Asian Studies at Harvard University, Frye had worked for the U.S. government in several capacities, including holding a position in the Office of Strategic Services, the U.S. intelligence agency that preceded the Central Intelligence Agency.
Over a decade later, the escalation of American attacks on Vietnam resulted in a shocking level of carnage and a resounding accusation of genocide by influential intellectuals around the world. Within a short period of three years and nine months, known as Operation Rolling Thunder, the U.S. dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs on Vietnam. As criticism mounted, the International War Crimes Tribunal - led by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre - held hearings in 1967 to mark the outrage. Today, this appeal "to put an end to the United States' genocide" by an international tribunal of intellectuals who were not empowered by any state, should be viewed as symbolic of a time when there was a completely different discourse on genocide. In those days, the discourse was free of American control.
The impact of the well-articulated accusation of genocide against the U.S. was evident. Already in 1966, the U.S. Army Field Manual 33-5 informed its soldiers that the term genocide is popularly used with reference to the U.S. by local insurgents. Even the level of compensation befitting a genocide was being discussed. For example, John Kerry, now the U.S. secretary of state, appeared on April 22, 1971 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a war veteran, spoke of the atrocities, and stated that "we have a definite obligation to make extensive reparations to the people of Indochina."
Despite its unrivaled military superiority, it was not a good image for the U.S. to be seen to be as hated as the genocide accusation indicated. It is better for a dominant global power to convert its hard power into soft power. It is far more expensive and risky to use military force to coerce other states than it is to persuade them to agree through co-option. The American power to frame the global agenda was being harmed by the vilification of Uncle Sam. After being seen as a savior in World War II, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. found itself being viewed as a merciless aggressor. This was bad for business, as they say.
During the Vietnam War, the emergence of an American-nurtured Armenian narrative initiated the transformation of the discourse on genocide. The discourse was no longer to be on how imperialism imposes itself on locals, on natives, or how the invader could come from afar and use technological advancement against the many, the civilian populations, to wipe them out if they did not succumb to the great power. Instead, the discourse was to be in favor of U.S. interests by focusing on a narrow view of atrocities, as if planned by the local leadership, within a sovereign state, without regard to the outside influence of a great power. This way, the substantial interferences with governance by external forces and the destruction of previously peaceful societal structures would be concealed by the discourse. This type of destruction was done to the Ottoman state, not by it. Yet, the discourse on genocide has ignored this historical perspective since "genocide" has become a tool to excuse interference, not to condemn imperialism.
The genesis of the genocide accusation against Turks is to be identified in the context of the American war in Vietnam. It was during this war that the accusation of genocide was first published by an American non-Armenian publication. Marjorie Housepian's "The Unremembered Genocide" in 1966, published by Commentary, brought back into fashion the use of anti-Turkish World War I propaganda. Over the almost 50 years since then, the academic pretense of an American-influenced genocide scholarship has shamelessly lent credibility to this propaganda. In countries such as Sweden and Denmark, where the Russell Tribunal hearings were held, there are now American-inspired academic centers that control the language on genocide.
While the debate on what happened 100 years ago is often described as an Armenian issue, the systematic accusation of genocide directed against Turks might be an American issue. Instead of engaging in endless, fruitless, arguments with Armenians on how to characterize historical events, it might prove productive to identify and expose the American origins of the discourse that has been legitimizing anti-Turkish propaganda by controlling the institutionalized study of genocide in Western society.
The centuries of Armenian-Turkish coexistence, as well as the decades of Armenian-Turkish conflict could have been subject to a shared historical study if not for the politicization done in service of American interests. Public statements made by prominent figures around the world may give the sense that the whole world has bought into the genocide accusation, but it still remains true that this perception of genocide was created by U.S. power. Therefore, the threat and use of the label of genocide against Turks will not end until it no longer serves American interests.
* Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Utah
The Armenian Issue And The Public Figure Effect
Tal Buenos, April 23, 2015
Ignorance of truth, selective view of history and national interest seem to have more influence on the public perception of the 1915 events rather than the views of qualified professionals due to the way U.S. has manipulated the matter to its own advantage
Turkey might be portrayed as a raging bull in the context of the Armenian issue, but a closer look would show that in the field of public opinion regarding the issue, it has been more like a sitting duck. It has to suffer through widely disseminated misrepresentations of Ottoman history, accusations of genocide, calls of denial and depictions of reactionary anger without being able to do much about it.
The U.S. government's ability to frame the agenda by affecting public opinion domestically and internationally without being seen as doing so, is known as soft power. As defined by American political scientist Joseph Nye, soft power is only effective when the information that reaches the public is not thought to be controlled by the government. Otherwise, it will be considered propaganda and thereby rendered ineffective.
Concerning its control of the genocide discourse, the U.S. government began this process by nurturing the Armenian national narrative at Harvard University in the 1950s and then at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1960s before cultivating a field of genocide study that features the Armenian tragedy as the prototypical case of genocide in the 20th century. "Prototypical," so as to make the accusations against an American-perpetrated genocide in Vietnam forgotten, and "20th century," so as to make the history of Anglo-American colonialist massacres in the 19th century more forgettable. Since then, not only have particular cases of massacres against natives been suppressed, but it has been found that accusations of genocide against Turkey presents Washington and Brussels with political leverage that affects Turkey's decision-making in a way that is favorable to the West.
There had to be academic literature that describes the Armenian tragedy as genocide to lend credibility to this anti-Turkish propaganda. After the U.S. made a substantial investment in the Holocaust's memorial and education in the late 1970s, it could utilize the consensus on the Holocaust to cultivate a seemingly credible scholarship of genocide. Decades later, there are now centers of Holocaust and genocide studies placed across the U.S. and in many Western countries. As a result, the word "genocide," while used in different contexts, is now mainly associated with the Armenian case.
To create even further distance from any visible U.S.-government control, the more effective genocide accusations now appear in popular forms. They appear in mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, where writers can claim that "scholars agree" it was genocide, under headlines that themselves present the genocide label as a given. A recent development, special to this month of April being 100 years removed from the events of 1915, is the influence that public figures are having on public opinion on this issue.
It begs the question of what to do when public figures affect public opinion on history more than historians. This being a political issue of mass mobilization, public opinion has no interest in the detailed historical analysis by Ottoman historians who sit in library dungeons. This being a political issue aimed at Turkey, it seems that the Turkish government is forced to react to the influence of world-known public figures without being able to generate influence to match it.
The effectiveness of Kim Kardashian's visit to Armenia just two weeks ahead of April 24 was not about her intentions or thoughts regarding the Armenian tragedy, but about the ability through her visit to frame the agenda. The many news items about her visit presented a platform for controlling the popularly-consumed information on this issue, not only to promote the association of genocide with 1915, but also to give the semblance of distance between these public opinion maneuvers and the U.S. government. This is mainly done by referring to the U.S. government in these articles as if it is resisting the wave of public opinion on the issue.
In other words, the U.S. government is using its own influence on the media to lead the public into thinking that there is a consensus on the label of genocide, and that the only reason why President Barack Obama avoids the term, is because of Turkish political pressure. This is how the American threat of using the term "genocide" against Turkey is sustained. It would be foolish of anyone to think that the U.S. government does not set out to control public opinion as long as it can get away with it. The American coverage of the Kardashian visit was not spontaneous, but rather looked to maximize its public figure effect on public opinion.
Furthermore, when considering the framed agenda, it is no accident that Pope Francis was acting more like a public figure and less like a religious leader when he spoke on the issue. By describing the events of 1915 as "the first genocide of the 20th century," he showed less sensitivity to Christian-Muslim relations, and more commitment to a political dictation. Why else would he highlight the Armenian case and fail to address similar relocations and massacres where Muslims were victims?
Raphael Lemkin, the man known for coining the term "genocide" in 1944 while employed by the U.S. government, later listed the Armenian case as number 39 on a list of 40 other cases that he called genocide in modern times. Why then would this one case be on the lips of Pope Francis? Did he choose to emphasize the 20th century so as to erase from memory the many massacres in history that were committed in the name of Christianity or by colonizers of Christian faith?
This same structuring of genocide history through a focus on the 20th century has been followed by many in American-based discourse, most notably Samantha Power in her 2002 work, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide." In this book, she begins her genocide narrative with a chapter titled "Race Murder," aimed at showing Turkish perpetrators as the prototypical mass-murderers of the 20th century. The convenience with which she absolves the U.S. from responsibility in known cases of massacres throughout the century cannot be ignored by careful readers of her book. However, what cannot be ignored by Turks in particular is that she legitimizes WWI propaganda in order to label Turks as race murderers.
Currently the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Power is a public figure thanks to the success of this book. In view of the fact that she is now enjoying the status of being a public figure, undoing her vilification of Turks could go a long way in correcting public perceptions on the Armenian issue. If the Turkish government were to demand a public apology from Power, then the ill effect of public figures could be turned around. The apology would be for unabashedly using a biased selection of questionable sources to cast a terrible shadow on the Turkish nation, especially having a negative effect on the lives of Turks in Western societies.
Through her influential bestseller, Power has had more effect on public perceptions of Ottoman history in the West than skilled Ottoman historians have. She did this without any credentials in the field of Ottoman history and with an utter reliance on the information provided by a web of Anglo-American wartime propaganda. To this day she has not shown any remorse for disgracing and implicating an entire people just so that she could frame an agenda. It is high time for her overdue apology.
*PhD condidate in Political Science at the University of Utah