The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response/America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915/"starving Armenians": America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After

By Payaslian, Simon | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response/America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915/"starving Armenians": America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After


Payaslian, Simon, The Middle East Journal


The US and the Armenian Genocide The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response, by Peter Balakian. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2003. xx + 391 pages. Notes top. 433. List of photograph and map acknowledgments to p. 436. Gloss, to p. 439. Bibl. to p. 453. Acknowledgments to p. 457. Index to 475. $26.95.

America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915, ed. by Jay Winter. Cambridge, UK, New York, Port Melbourne, Australia, Madrid, Spain, and Cape Town, South Africa: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xii + 308 pages. Index to p. 317. $36.

"Starving Armenians": America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After, by Merrill D. Peterson. Charlottesville, VA and London, UK: University of Virginia Press, 2004. xiv + 178 pages. Notes to p. 192. Index to p. 199. $24.95.

In a posthumously published article, Thomas A. Bryson, historian of US relations with the Middle East, complained that "there is as yet no single published study that covers the subject" of US foreign policy toward the Armenian Question "in its entirety" and "in proper relationship to the broad scope of America's international relations." "All too often," he added, "the literature has been filiopietistic," written from the perspective of the missionary-philanthropist. "Seldom is the subject presented from the point of view of the interests of the United States."'News of Christian Armenians subjected to deportations and massacred by Muslim Turks, this "filiopietistic" view maintains, so moved American public opinion that missionaries and philanthropists, armed with the indomitable spirit of humanitarianism, generated enormous sums of money for relief aid for the survivors of the genocide between 1915 and 1923. Twenty years after the publication of Bryson's article, the literature on this subject has remained the same. Analyses of this sort fail to evaluate accurately US foreign policy toward the Armenian Question as they focus nearly exclusively on American missionaries and relief aid and in so doing ignore the broader domestic and international issues in, and the wider scholarship on, US diplomatic history in this period.

Offering a more accurate assessment of US responses to genocides in the 20th century, Samantha Power has emphasized that despite abundant "early warnings" in each case, the US government, from the Wilson to the Clinton administration, failed to act. "It is in the realm of domestic politics," Power has contended, "that the battle to stop genocide is lost" as a result of the failure of lawmakers in Congress to act and public opinion and non-governmental groups to influence policy.2 I would add, however, that domestic politics also include policies pertaining to corporate interests, industrialization, and economic development, a combination of which historically have, at least from the perspective of industrialists and policymakers, necessitated government promotion and protection of American interests abroad and which have taken precedence over humanitarian considerations.

The administration of Woodrow Wilson - his rhetoric of moralism notwithstanding - was no exception. By 1913, when the Wilson administration entered the White House, American missionaries and commercial interests, with the support of the Departments of State and the Navy, had for nearly a century been shaping US foreign policy toward the Middle East.3 The administration cultivated close government-business relations and, continuing the policies of Open Door and Dollar Diplomacy of its predecessors, sought to maintain friendly relations with the Young Turk leaders in Constantinople.4 The history of US economic policy and its implications for the US responses to the Armenian Question and the Genocide, however, are ignored by the three volumes reviewed here.

Peter Balakian's The Burning Tigris is concerned primarily with public rather than US policy responses to the Armenian massacres of the 189Os and to the Genocide, and only in the penultimate chapter reviews US economic (i. …

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