All week, the G-word has been rattling around the foreign ministries of the world. Ever since John Kerry — he of Israeli-Palestinian peace “in six months” fame — announced that Isis was committing genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims, we’ve been trying to work out just what he’s talking about. Even the poor old Canadians and their super-liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau, have since been refusing to recognise the Isis atrocities as “genocide” — the attempt to exterminate an entire race of people — preferring instead to talk about “crimes perpetrated…against religious and ethnic minorities.” Could this be, ask Canadian critics, because Canada last month withdrew the last of its clapped out CF-18 fighter jets from the battle against Isis?
More likely the Canadians have caught on to the whole genocide trap. But first: yes, Isis have indeed committed horrific crimes against minorities under their control. Their massacre of Shia Muslims and the murder and enslavement of Yazidi and Christian women and children are all real — perhaps 10,000, perhaps 100,000, the figures are as numbing as they are vague. The Isis magazine Dabiq admits all this — perhaps the closest anyone has come to self-incrimination since Pol Pot listed his crimes in Cambodia.
But there’s a problem. These terrible atrocities are being committed on the very land and deserts upon which a far more terrible genocide was perpetrated just over a hundred years ago by the Turks who head-chopped and knifed and shot to death a million and a half Armenian Christians, raping their women and throwing so many of their dead men into the waters of Anatolia that the very rivers changed course. And Turkey — heaven be praised — is now our good friend, NATO ally and, since this month, our bastion against the Muslim refugee “invasion” of Europe. Back in 1915, the Brits and Americans had no problems in naming the guilty party, along with the Turks’ militia ally — again, take in your breath — the Kurds, now our brave allies against the forces of Isis darkness.
All this, you see, is a bit embarrassing. The Yazidis and Christians of Iraq have certainly been massacred — including a few Armenian grandchildren of the 1915 survivors, although that hasn’t cut much ice in the US — although the Shia Muslims of Iraq were being slaughtered in Iraq by the thousand during the latter half of America’s military occupation. The Shia, I suspect, have been given a bloodbath upgrade to genocide because Shia Iran agreed to a nuclear deal with the rest of the world. But back to Yazidis for a moment.
One of the worst genocides against this forlorn, centuries-old religion occurred in 1892 when the Turkish Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II targeted them for mass extermination. But the Sultan included among his victims tens of thousands of 19th-century Armenians — whom Mr. Kerry cannot bring himself to declare victims of genocide in the 20th century (although he did so for many years when he was a mere Senator). So earlier references to Yazidi extermination have to be left out of the Kerry narrative of history. The current Kerry mantra for the Armenian Genocide is “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”
Clinton is going to be no help in all this. She regularly condemned the Armenian genocide until she became Secretary of State to Barack Obama and discovered that the frightful persecution of the 1915 Christians — a teaching forum for future Nazis who witnessed the genocide as young German army officers and later put their lessons into practice against the Jews — was now “a matter of historical debate.” Donald Trump has not yet entered this particular blood-boltered ‘debate’ although his Trump hotel in Azerbaijan — a country which, like Turkey and (to its shame) Israel, denies the Armenian genocide — suggests that we shall be hearing from him soon.
Much of the rest of the world — governments and parliaments of 29 countries up to last year — have recognized the Armenian Genocide. For 20 years, The Independent has regularly referred to the Armenian Holocaust — with a capital ‘H’, the very same word (‘Shoah’ in Hebrew) used by many ordinary Israelis to describe the slaughter. But not the Americans.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose Sukhoi jet had of course not yet been shot down by the Turks, attended the official genocide memorial day in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, declaring the genocide a fact of history — to the fury of the Turks — while President Obama skulked in Washington, still too fearful of offending his NATO ally whose airbases — ironically built, in many cases, on lands stolen from murdered Armenians — were so important to the US Air Force which was already supposedly destroying Isis.
All in all, then a pretty mess. Kerry tells us that Isis is “genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions…” as if the destruction of the Armenian people in 1915 was not — and is perfectly happy to label the dark forces of the ‘Islamic Caliphate’ as genocidal themselves — which they clearly are. But it raises another frightful question. Since we know that Isis sells Syrian and Iraqi oil to the Turks — Russian bomber pilots have seen miles of Isis oil convoys running to the horizon towards Turkey — and since Turkish journalists have been imprisoned for reporting on secret Turkish arms transfers to Islamists in Syria — the Americans are, in effect, blaming Isis for the genocide of a hundred thousand or more human beings while being too frightened to label the Armenian massacres of a million and a half souls as genocide lest it offend Isis’ sinister chums in Turkey.
It’s not difficult to accuse the bad guys of genocide — Colin Powell had no problem over Darfur in 2004 — but shouldn’t we stand up to the real bullies who prevent us honoring the memory of those million and a half Christians who were treated just as Isis treats the Yazidis and Christians and Shia today: the Turkish government and the Turkish army and the Turkish institutes of state? And all this at a time when an increasing number of brave Turks are themselves acknowledging the Turkish genocide of 1915?
Forget it: 75 million visas to Turkey in response to their $3-billion European bailout to block those refugees is enough to keep the Armenian mass graves of 1915 well and truly closed. Just ask John Kerry.
(This column originally appeared in the March 26 edition of The Independent, where Robert Fisk is a columnist.)