Congress Cannot Legislate History

By Byrd, Robert C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 1990 | Go to article overview

Congress Cannot Legislate History


Byrd, Robert C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


I opposed consideration of the "Armenian Genocide" resolution earlier this year because I believed the Senate was treading on dangerous ground, and I will oppose any similar resolution in the future. Though this resolution was commemorative in nature, its ramifications, if passed, would have been far-reaching.

The first of my three principal objections concentrated on the continuing historical debate surrounding this tragic episode. Simply put, historians do not agree on what happened in the Anatolia region of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. Scholarly research continues and that is how the facts should be verified, not through legislative mandate. Elected officials cannot legislate history.

My second objection concerned the major foreign policy implications embodied in the resolution, despite its seemingly innocuous nature. Obviously, I was concerned about the effect such a resolution would have on Turkish-American relations. Turkey is important to the United States because it is a trusted ally, occupying a crucial position on NATO's southern flank.

Additionally, the headlines of recent months have been filled with stories of increased ethnic tension and violence in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Transcaucasus region. Some of these disturbances undoubtedly represent the uprising of an oppressed people yearning for freedom and self-determination. Unfortunately, other cases are a reflection of age-old animosity between peoples desiring the same territory. I was convinced that the resolution would fan the flames of violence and play into the hands of the extremists within those movements.

My final objection, and one of the most compelling arguments in opposition, centered around the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

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