I never thought the day would come. But here it is! Being an Armenian — like playing women’s basketball at Rutgers, losing money on Enron, and contracting AIDS in Africa before it — is now relevant and topical. Hell, yes. I feel so damn temporarily important, and I wouldn’t trade it for having sold steroids to sluggers or resisted arrest in Los Angeles or, for that matter, having rented storefront from Barney Frank. Bask, fellow Armenians! Bask. Ours is the world and all that’s in it — and, which is more, we’ll have a hairy son.
Lest you’ve been comatose or going to history class at Princeton, the source of the spotlight is Congress’s resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915 as “genocide.” Turkey still insists it was merely a transportation malfunction, in which 1.5 million Armenians mysteriously vanished as piles of human carcasses appeared in their place.
Observers may find the issue inherently dull at first sight. Be patient. You don’t want to miss the massive collateral amusement — whether it’s Islamic Turkey taking postmodern relativism to its logical conclusion, competitors in the victim business afraid of losing market-share, arch unilateralists waxing worrisome over the self-esteem of a pathetically dependent ally, or truth-trumpeting moralists suddenly blowing dry in the name of diplomacy. Progressives have a meta-political reason to like the Armenian issue: it always results in an equal distribution of hypocrisy.
Add a few drops of Bush blood and you get a media frenzy that far outdoes anything surrounding the issue in its cyclical past. Jon Stewart gave it two segments on the Daily Show. The blogosphere is very enjoyably in thrall. And for the most trenchant criticism of the resolution, see Garin Hovannisian’s piece in the Washington Times.
Even if Congress ends up restraining the resolution, this should be considered a victory for the tireless Armenian advocacy brigade. Awareness — of the international insult-to-injury of denial — is all they can really expect. “Who today,” Hitler asked his elite generals nine days before invading Poland, “speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Our next tyrant will have to find some other fodder for his pep-talk.
Any achievement beyond this level of exposure would be purely symbolic. No moderately reasonable person can fail to identify the historical event as genocide. Unless, of course, he’s playing dumb — either because he’s grown used to it as a writer for the Nation, or because he’s on the Turkish dole.
Did you know the Armenian issue has actually been a hot topic in the Anglo-American world once before? Herbert Hoover, reflecting on 1919, said “the name Armenia was in the front of the American mind… known to the American schoolchild only a little less than England.” Ravaged survivors became a cause celebre of roarin’ do-gooders. Pride bonus: no government funding was involved. Calvin Coolidge spoke fondly of the “private enterprise” from 1919 to 1929 that raised today’s equivalent of over $1 billion in charity for Armenians.
Virginia Woolf even used the Armenian issue as a device in the character development of Mrs. Dalloway.
“Armenians,” he said; or perhaps it was “Albanians….
He was already halfway to the House of Commons, to his Armenians, his Albanians, having settled her on the sofa, looking at his roses. And people would say, “Clarissa Dalloway is spoilt.” She cared much more for her roses than for the Armenians. Hunted out of existence, maimed, frozen, the victims of cruelty and injustice (she had heard Richard say so over and over again) — no, she could feel nothing for the Albanians, or was it the Armenians? but she loved her roses (didn’t that help the Armenians?) — the only flowers she could bear to see cut.
Mrs. Dalloway’s cavalier confusion of the two A-ians reveals her socialite shallowness. Perhaps today’s issue can be used by a working novelist (Kristin Gore?) to develop one of her characters. Then it can be referred to in 2097, when being Armenian is cool again, thanks to some historically-conscious teamsters who lobby Congress to finally recognize the cinematic contributions of Rueben Mamoulian.
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