Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wasted Opportunity

Never one to shy away from diplomatic drama, the French recently passed a law making the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide a crime. In response, the Turks countered by calling attention to French massacres in Algeria in the 1950s and 60s.

Let us state a fact: the Armenian genocide happened. There is no question about it, and in that respect, the French legislature is correct in labeling the denial of the genocide a crime (think of it as a libel law on a larger scale). After all, it is a crime in Germany to deny the Holocaust. Therefore, the French National Assembly is not acting without precedent.

Turkey's retaliation, calling attention to French crimes in Algeria, is equally truthful. Indeed, the French committed awful crimes in Algeria during the rebellion there, including mass murder.

Now what? We have two sides reminding each other of past atrocities-- and neither side is willing to take responsibility for its respective actions.

This is childish. Instead of comparing who has the bigger diplomatic stick, I offer an alternative: Admit past mistakes. Learn from them. Educate.

Imagine if Sarkozy and Erdogan came together for a press conference, alerting the press that they intended to address the recent diplomatic row. The two stand at their podiums, with their national flags draped behind them. Microphones are clipped to lapels. Notes are shuffled and arranged. Then, the unthinkable happens: both men admit that their respective countries have made terrible mistakes in the past; that they have done terrible things and affected the lives of countless people. They stand before the press, and state, definitively, that they are sorry for the past actions of their people.

After extensive consultations, they have decided that the best and most effective way of honoring the dead and remembering those past mistakes is not to continue slinging barbs at each other, but to educate future generations about what happened. By telling the truth, we hope to move forward. Therefore, with equal funding from both the Turkish and the French governments, a new International Center for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity will open. This new organization will work towards educating their respective societies about these crimes, and identifying crimes against humanity in our own time. Through education and action, the Center hopes to prevent the mistakes of the past.

Alas, this is just a dream. They'll probably pull their diplomats out of each other's countries and, like feuding children, refuse to talk to each other. After some time passes, nobody remembers the feud and it becomes a footnote in history-- in much the same way that the Armenian genocide and the French conduct in Algeria is remembered by a few and forgotten by most. What a wasted opportunity.

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