Editorial: CURING THE CHECHEN MADNESS
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
The internationalization of the Chechen conflict was dramatically brough= t home again Sunday when Chechen gunmen seized a Swiss-owned luxury hotel i= n Istanbul; after tense hours of standoff, 13 Chechen "soldiers" were taken=
into custody, and the hostages they held were freed unharmed. Although t= his was not the first time violence in Russia's war-torn rebel state spille= d into other countries, it was the first to encroach upon the everday world= of Western tourists in a truly international city. Since it is likely not= to to be the last time, either, it also dramatizes the need for the hands-= off attitude of Western governments to change before Chechen violence visit= s them.
Ironically, President Bush has an opportunity today [April 24, 2001], = when he addresses the Armenian genocide of a century ago, to show the way. = But how should change begin?
First, some background.
By ending the takeover of one of Istanbul's most luxurious hotels before= any lives were heedlessly lost, the Chechen rebels signalled that they do = understand the conventions of Western protest -- although not that such pro= tests are usually unarmed -- and leave open the possibility that they may n= ot be so slow to embrace bloodshed as a form of protest in the future.
The Istanbul incident comes after its same Turkish leader of pro-Chechen= Muslims took 400 passengers on a Bosporus River ferry hostage for four day= s in 1996, and the hijacking of a Russian jet to Saudi Arabia last month, w= hen more than 170 passengers were held until negotiations won their release= ; three people died in that incident.
Both events were aimed at calling attention to Russia's conduct of the= brutal civil war in Chechnya, a primarily Muslim region that is ethnically= and spiritually at odds with its Russian government and has been fighting = for independence since 1994.
Russia's "disproportionate" violence against the Chechen forces was no= ted last week by the United Nations, but that hasn't changed anything yet.=
How can Western governments assist the cause of peace in Chechnya? It i= s not as though they have not been trying in a variety of ways, and all of = their efforts have been using appropriate diplomacy instead of attempting t= o arm the Chechen rebels or aid the Russian side.
That is particularly wise on the part of Turkey, a staunch and reliabl= e democratically of the United States in the Middle East, whose wisdom come= s at some cost; Chechnya's rebellion is widely supported there, so the gove= rnment's restraint costs it popular -- read political -- support.
The United States can be grateful to Turkey and other Middle East powers= that have held off providing high-profile assistance to the Chechens. On = Tuesday, April 24, however, the Bush Administration has been asked to side = with another ethnic group against Turkey in recognizing the Armenian genoci= de carried out by Turks almost a century ago.
President Bush has been asked by Armenian leaders to condemn Turkey's fa= ilure to accept responsibility for the genocide, and he probably would appr= eciate the opportunity to clear the air on this tendentious topic. But doi= ng so will undoubtedly offend Turkey at a time when its restraint and leade= rship in the Chechen crisis is critical not only to containing the conflict= but to preventing the spread of Chechen terrorism to the West.
Some age-= old verities ought to guide the President's words. One would be that the U= nited States played no causative role in the Armenian genocide, and in the = modern scheme of things undoubtedly would have actively tried to prevent it= .
"The sympathy for Armenia among our people has sprung from untainted= consciences," President Woodrow Wilson told Congress in 1920, when the U.S= . accepted the role of arbitrator of some of the thorniest international = disputes concerning the newly-founded Republic of Armenia that followed the= collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the end of World War I.
Due to Turkish sensitivities and her important role in U.S. strategic p= olicy, only one president since -- Ronald Reagan in 1981 -- has referred ex= plicitly to "genocide" in describing the 1915 massacre of 1,500,000 Armenia= n men, women and children. That fact shames us, I think, however necessary = it may have seemed. I think it pains Armenians that even that mention was m= ade in the context of the Holocaust and the first declaration of the annual= Day of Remembrance.
Yet, as President Reagan indicated in 1981, the greater aim of U.S. pol= icy must always be to prevent future acts of genocide. As Reagan said, "Li= ke the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodi= ans which followed it -- and like too many other such persecutions of too m= any other peoples -- the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten."
Like it or not, the Chechen quagmire and its fragile balance of forces= lends itself to the possibility of yet another attempt to destroy an entir= e people. So rather than focus on the role of Turkey in the Armenian genoc= ide, which is thoroughly documented and widely acknowledged by all but Turk= ish historians, the President may do well to look at genocide in its histor= ical context -- at the Irish famine, Armenia, the Jewish Holocaust and Koso= vo, at the destruction of Native American tribes in the American West, at t= he 1947 India-Pakistan conflict, at Cambodia, Rwanda and at the impulse to = genocide still at work in Northern Ireland and the Israeli-Palestinian conf= lict. Then he must reject it forcefully as the most evil, crude and primiti= ve expression of the darkest side of human nature.
Indeed, there must come a time when the tireless efforts of Jewish survi= vors of the Nazi genocide bear their fullest fruit in the worldwide recogni= tion that the potential for genocide lies within every nation's heart, and = that it must be fought and conquered there. Only that recognition can truly= honor all its victims throughout history.
While it may seem inconsequential to accept our share of responsibility = for the destructive urges of the human heart before taking on a present or = potential new act of genocide, in fact a peace offensive based on anything = else is doomed to fail.
We cannot hope to build the house of peace on a cracked foundation. Th= e rage of Chechnya will wither our will and stain our reputation as a human= itarian nation if we merely turn aside, whimper and watch. Like Kosovo, th= e presence of genocide demands a response that is moral, international, int= elligent, effective and committed to a peaceful end.
The best possible promise the President can keep with the Armenianpeople= and American history is to vow with them, "Never again!" That isthe attitu= de that ought to inform future Western peacekeeping efforts inChechnya, and= the path to a cure for a recurring madness.