From Ankara to Dresden: Truth vs. point of view when diplomacy is the real issue

Baseless. Ignorant. Hateful.

Where are those three words when you need them?

Not in Washington, D.C.

Surely, not in Ankara, Turkey this April.

They were in Dresden last weekend, rolling off the lips of my hero and president, Barack Obama, and the words were truthful and surgery sharp and divided sensible people from fools who think accepting history is one of life’s options.

“To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened — a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful,” Obama said. “This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.”

Substitute “Holocaust” with “Armenian Genocide”, and the language would belong to the man I still believe him to be, rather than the one who has replaced a ! with a ? in the estimation of many Armenian Americans and some of us who are convincingly more the latter than the former.

I’m struck at his use of the words “our history”.

Ours?

Who owns the franchise on the bit of history that was shaped in the 1915-18 Ottoman Empire? To this day, the Turks, that’s who. They are the ones who get to manipulate it into revisionist history that eliminates ownership of shame. “We didn’t do it, the war did.”

Is anybody’s family less dead depending on the language that is used to describe why hate killed them? Does the Jewish burden weigh heavier than the Armenian? No, the Holocaust burden enjoys shared suffering because it is “our history”.

And whether from Hrazdan or Harvard, who doesn’t see the hypocrisy of the world leader laying flowers in Dresden, but wilting from the obligation of truth in Ankara?

Why could my president bow his head in Dresden for the Holocaust, but not straighten his back in Ankara and use the word “genocide” to answer a reporter’s question about the “atrocities” of early-20th century Turkey?

For those of you tuning in late: On April 6, Obama visited Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara and during a press conference was asked whether he would use the “g-word” in his April 24 address on Remembrance Day.

"I want to focus not on my views right now, but on the views of the Turkish and Armenian people. If they can move forward... the entire world should encourage them," the president said.

It was brilliant diplomacy. He at least implied that he knew the truth, even though he wasn’t going to say it. Perhaps that’s a start, considering that this president – who has supported Armenian Genocide recognition – still has more than three years on his tenure.

Still, thinking of the president’s word in Dresden, “ignorant”: Is it worse to deny that evil happened, or to know that it did and not say so, for sake of diplomatic expediency?

I really wish my president would have stopped short of saying this in Dresden: “ . . . a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.”

What’s the difference between telling a lie, and not shouting the truth when empowered to do so?

Apparently it is the difference between “our history” and “my views right now”.