Ronald G. Suny


Why are we so ready to turn to historical analogies like Munich in 1938 and raise the rhetorical heat to the level of fascism and genocide? Do such charged words work as explanation? Such language debases the real examples in our shared pasts of fascism and genocide.

Finland and Sweden are neutral countries not beholden to the strategic compromises that the United States and NATO are forced to make to hold the alliance together. Both Scandinavian countries have to date been free to take a moral position on Turkey’s position on Kurdish rights and have officially protested the repressions of dissidents, academics, journalists and minority groups. Meanwhile, NATO countries have equivocated before their fellow member, agreeing to label the PKK a terrorist organization. So where does this all leave Finland and Sweden’s application for NATO membership?

The devastating war in Ukraine potentially threatens everyone on the globe. That threat comes not only from possible expansion of the killing, not simply from nuclear or chemical or biological weapons, but from the example that unrepresentative governments and monied elites are prepared to use any means necessary to prevent the evolution of freedom and a more egalitarian social democracy.

Armenians like Jews are a historic people with a complex and fraught history who have suffered the indignities and cruelties of empires that attempted to destroy them. Armenians were dispersed from their original homeland, and like Jews lived for centuries in diaspora communities struggling to maintain their language and culture.

Authoritarian leaders suffer from peculiar forms of isolation and dependence. Living and operating remote from the interchanges with diverse sources of information, authoritarian leaders are segregated from knowledge of their own country and people. Information flows upward slowly, usually through police channels, and is filtered by the satraps surrounding the leader.

The United States can be proud of its liberal ideals of human rights, democracy, equality, and tolerance of difference that it inherited from the European Enlightenment. But when it attempts to export those ideals to other countries, particularly when it does so with bayonets, tanks, drones and missiles, its idealistic civilizing mission is bound to fail.

Is there a way out? The struggle is clearly more difficult in authoritarian countries, and it must take the path of increasing democratic possibilities.

Many of my friends and colleagues ask me, why are Turks and their government unable to recognize what happened in 1915 as a genocide? Why can they not simply acknowledge the factual truth that the ruthless Young Turk government that ruled in the final years of the Ottoman Empire carried out a brutal ethnic cleansing and mass murder of their Armenian and Assyrian subjects in a frenzied time of imagined danger to their regime?