by Gordon Taylor | 10/18/2007 02:12:00 AM
As the most minor of Asia Minor historians I cannot help but have an opinion about that age-old problem, the Armenian genocide and massacres of World War I. Is there anyone on the planet who is not heartily sick of this whole disgusting controversy? I would much rather continue my posts of images from the PKK guerrillas of Kurdistan, but tonight I am stuck on this topic. To get past it, I have written the following letter to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Don't tell me: I know that even if they print it, it will do no good whatsoever. But at least I will have tried. And I defy anyone to come up with a better way of saying what has to be said.

To the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

I for one am sick to death of the eternal controversy regarding the Armenian massacres (aka, the genocide) of World War I. The U.S. Congress cannot afford to offend either side; the two sides will not agree; and so we are stuck. We need a way out. In that spirit, I offer the following, a Draft Resolution for the U.S. Congress and for all people of goodwill who want to end this stalemate now:

Be it enacted, etc.

(1) By this measure, the Congress of the United States takes note of the heritage of suffering borne by its citizens of Armenian descent, especially those trials undergone during the years of World War I: the forced migrations, starvation, disease, and killings that have come to be known, in many nations, as the Armenian genocide.

(2) At the same time, we recognize the following: that no people holds a monopoly on virtue, victim-hood, or villainy; that the prelude, fighting, and aftermath of World War I brought suffering and death to uncountable multitudes in Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, the Caucasus, and eastern Anatolia; that the Turks, Kurds, Muslims, and Assyrian Christians of those lands suffered no less than others; and that their own deaths, forced migrations, and exiles deserve notice by anyone who mourns the injustices of the past.

(3) Last, we call upon those two great nations, the Republics of Armenia and Turkey, who share a common heritage of culture, music, and language, as well as a centuries-long history of cohabitation and amity, to throw aside their grievances and to realize—as should all peoples—that the recitation of past suffering is useless unless it leads to a better life for those who live and those who are to be born. We, the Congress of the United States, stand ready to work with them in this undertaking.

This is the best diplomatic language that I, a layman, can summon. It will, of course, be forgotten the day it is written. Consider it a last candle before I begin, once again, to curse the darkness.

Gordon Taylor

Credit: Gordon Taylor, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkey, is the author of Fever & Thirst: Asahel Grant and the Tribes of Kurdistan (Academy Chicago, 2005). For twenty-seven years he has been a driver for King County Metro Transit.




Blogger Ahistoricality on 10/18/2007 4:31 AM:

the recitation of past suffering is useless unless it leads to a better life for those who live and those who are to be born.

I applaud the effort, but I'm really not sure about the language.

History is more than mourning, and more than a utilitarian tool for bettering ourselves. History is not something to be either overcome or all-absorbing. We need to recognize these as historical pathologies, and find a way to help people put their memories, identities and communities into realistic historical perspectives.


Blogger Unknown on 10/18/2007 4:54 AM:

Ahist, I guess we disagree on this one. Of what use is history if not to give meaning to our lives by centering them in a network of time and space, and to help them keep from reinventing the wheel? I don't believe history is teleological, but I do think that we can use it to strive for teleology in our own lives -- that our society can be better than those of the past by learning from their mistakes.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 10/18/2007 2:02 PM:

I'm not saying that history can't be used -- in fact, I'm advocating much the same uses you are -- but that justifying it and structuring it as a utilitarian project is going to produce bad history and worse long-term results.


Blogger Unknown on 10/18/2007 5:38 PM:

I'm confused. What's the difference between a "utilitarian project" and the uses of history that we both agree on?


Blogger Ahistoricality on 10/18/2007 9:43 PM:

The difference between saying that the accuracy is secondary because purpose of history is to be useful to our political and cultural goals and saying that accuracy and truth are the highest aims of history and political and cultural progress are salutary side-effects.


Blogger Unknown on 10/18/2007 11:01 PM:

I see. Okay. Thanks for clarifying.

I see Gordon's letter as recommending the second one, though, not the first.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 10/19/2007 1:06 AM:

Hi. Both of your perceptions look fine to me. But really, this last phrase ("the recitation of past suffering") in the letter was not really meant to promote a general theory of the uses of history. I was more particularly concerned with the habits of human beings, specifically those groups in the Middle East who are forever rehearsing their grievances against others. Turks are always telling me about their relatives who fled Bulgaria, or who used to own estates on Crete; Armenians, of course, have a thousand stories of death and exile; Greeks--well, don't get me started. Among these people nothing is ever forgotten. I was saying: you don't have to forget it; just don't let it govern your life now.

And of course, Clause #3 in this draft is the least important anyway. It's the "and so I say unto you" peroration.

Looks like Murtha has pretty much put the kibosh on the whole thing anyway. Which is kind of a pity, because if it were done right, a resolution might actually accomplish something.