- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

ISTANBUL, Turkey.

The European Union's parliament is demanding Turkey admit that its predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, committed genocide against Armenians 85 years ago. It's the type of self-defeating nonsense for which Europeans are justly famous.

Armenian genocide resolutions have passed one house of both the French and Italian legislatures. (While thus occupied, Paris doesn't have to deal with the complicity of Vichy France in the genocide that defined the term.)

In October, the U.S. House of Representatives came close to voting on a non-binding resolution on the same subject. The measure was wisely tabled.

Weighing the advantages of such declarations (none) against the very real risk of losing the cooperation of a country critical to Western security should make the matter a no-brainer.

Armenians maintain that early in World War I, the Ottoman Turks slaughtered 1.5 million of their countrymen in an act of calculated barbarism foreshadowing the Holocaust. Turks, who put Armenian casualties much lower, say the objective was relocation, not extermination.

The Ottomans, who were used to shuffling people around in their empire, saw their Armenian subjects allied with their Russian enemy in the Great War. Moreover, say the Turks, atrocities were committed by both sides, including the actions of Armenian partisans intent on creating a homogenous homeland by driving out Turks.

Though acknowledging atrocities against Armenian civilians, conservative scholar Bruce Fein, a columnist for this newspaper, notes: "When Armenians held the opportunity, they massacred Turks without mercy… . The war ignited a cycle of violence between both groups."

While individual Turkish officers and soldiers behaved abominably, records show the Ottoman government ordered its army to exercise restraint in moving the Armenians.

Like the Jews, Armenians have borne the brunt of history, not only in 1915 but since antiquity. But assigning responsibility for the slaughter, and determining its magnitude, is the work of historians, not politicians.

The EU manifesto comes as Ankara negotiates its entry into the Union. It strengthens the hand of Turkish militants (a few years ago, an Islamic party was briefly in power) and weakens the intellectual heirs of Kemal Ataturk, who would draw their nation closer to the West.

Turkey and Israel are the only democracies in the Middle East. Turkey is also unique as a nation with an overwhelmingly Muslim population and a secular government.

Strategically situated at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Turkey borders and helps to contain Iraq, Iran and Syria. Its army is the second-largest in NATO.

For almost a half-century, Turkey has been a loyal ally of the United States. It stood with us in every conflict from Korea to the Gulf war. In the United Nations, Turkey votes with America more consistently than either France or Italy.

And Turkey has friendly relations with a country desperately in need of friends. It is Israel's major regional trading partner. Israeli pilots train over Turkish airspace.

The Turks are a proud people and understandably indignant when their nation is compared to Nazi Germany. The matter is more than academic. Between 1973 and 1985, 47 Turkish diplomats were assassinated by an Armenian terrorist group. The tragedy of 1915 was the excuse for these atrocities.

Turkey also fought an extended war against the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), another object of Western solicitude. The PKK murdered approximately 30,000 Turks, most of them civilians. The foregoing does not put Ankara in an apologizing mood.

For the West, historical apologies are an emotional cathartic. President Clinton can barely blink without expressing remorse for everything from slavery to Ronald Reagan's Central American policy.

Facing both internal and external challenges as it struggles to modernize and maintain its special identity, Turkey cannot indulge in national psychotherapy.

History isn't edited by current political realities. But the latter injects a note of caution. Damaging a vital strategic relationship to memorialize a tragedy is no bargain.

The people who once reached the European heartland as conquerors now guard its southern flank. Alienating them is in no one's interest save our enemies.

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