Last October James Rogan, a Republican congressman from California, and manager of the impeachment campaign against Clinton, faced the prospect of a tight re-election battle. His district had been targeted by the Democrats. Crucial to the outcome was the largest concentration of Armenian Americans in the US. To garner their 23,000 votes, Rogan - whose only-ever excursion outside the country was a trip to Armenia - proposed a non-binding Congressional resolution condemning the genocide of 1915. The outcome was a minor international crisis. The Turkish Government was enraged and threatened terrible things if the motion was carried - among them, the closure of Nato bases, crippling Allied surveillance flights over Iraq; the blocking of billion-dollar oil and arms deals; a Turkish rapprochement with Iraq and Iran. Clinton was the heaviest of the hitters deployed to stop the resolution's progress through Congress. But by then the European Parliament had passed a similar motion and so had others. In Britain, a New Labour storm has recently blown up over the new Holocaust Day commemorations and whether the Armenians were to be included. After the usual 'consultation exercise' and under the auspices of a 'steering group', the Home Office first decided that for some mysterious reason only genocides which took place after 1940 were to be mentioned. Then Armenians in the UK protested and there was a sudden change of heart. The wish to affirm Britain's 'multi-ethnic' character - the avowed purpose of the new ceremony - has brought Whitehall, like Washington, face to face with the complexities of late Ottoman history.
LRB 8 February 2001 | PDF Download