Politicizing history serves no useful purpose

The Swedish parliament voted a few days ago that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago was genocide. It followed a decision by a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that approved a nonbinding measure condemning the 1915 killings.

Turks today can not be expected to take responsibility for what the Ottoman Turks did a century ago. If they are, then Swedes and Americans can also be held accountable for what happened in Sweden and the US before we were even born.

Why should today’s politicians vote on what happened in another part of the world almost a hundred years ago? What purpose does it serve? How can todays politicians believe they are able to judge historic events in another part of the world and even vote on what took place? What good does it do? Do they really think they are able to objectively judge something that happened a century ago? Members of parliament were not elected to vote on what happened in other parts of the world throughout history but to steer the country they serve, and the world, towards a prosperous future.

Seems that the vote took place because the opposition in Sweden wanted to cater to groups of immigrants to get their votes in the autumn elections. However, it still makes no sense since the leader of the opposition at the same time declares her support for Turkey joining the European Union. Considering the amount of immigrants in Sweden from Iraq and the Balkans presumably the next step will be parliament voting on events that took place in those parts of the world a hundred years ago? What do contemporary Swedish politicians know about that? How can that kind of opportunism be justified? Isn’t there a limit to how far politicians go to get more votes? Historic events in other parts of the world are not part of contemporary Swedish politics.

Genocide is horrendous. But numerous atrocities have been committed throughout history all over the world, unfortunately. The Vikings were no saints, for instance.

Today’s politicians are neither capable of voting on historic events nor is it their job to do so.
What relevance has the 1915 killings to politics in Sweden and the US today? What has already happened can not be changed the only things that politicians can influence is what happens from now on. And it is on such issues that today’s politicians are elected to vote.

Few ,if any, of the current population of Turkey were born when the killings took place, they didn’t commit those atrocities and can not be expected to take responsibility for what Ottoman Turks did a century ago. I certainly don’t want to take the blame for what happened before I was born, for instance neutral Sweden turning a blind eye to the Nazis during the second world war. How would Sweden feel if the Turkish parliament voted on condemning something that happened in Sweden a hundred years ago?

The only thing the votes have achieved is tension with Turkey. In fact so bad Swedish companies have had contracts and business meetings in Turkey cancelled. And for what? Getting a few more votes for the left wing opposition. How does it serve Sweden and the Swedes that Swedish companies lose money which could have a detrimental affect on creating new jobs? Even the Swedish government is against the vote and Prime Minster Reinfeldt made a call to that affect to Turkish PM Erdogan. That the foreign ministers of Sweden and Turkey held a joint press conference condemning the vote is good. Hopefully the fact that the Swedish government stands up and condemns such a vote will put an end to politicising history? If not, we will have to start electing historians for parliament.

photo: Mehrad HM – flickr

18 thoughts on “Politicizing history serves no useful purpose

  1. A few yeas ago I was reading an account by a British army officer who was travelling in Armenia in about 1919 – just after the First World War. I can't recall the details now but he came to the conclusion that there had never been any massacres at all because he could not find any sign of them at all. And he was there pretty much at the time so maybe he knew what he was talking about.

  2. Catarina,
    I am inclined to focus on one specific point in this message: "Do they really think they are able to objectively judge something that happened a century ago?" This happens everyday in America through racism of all sorts. In that regard…. to answer your specific question…. YES. Of course, it is ridiculous by all means, but 'they' (people in general) really do think that they can objectively judge the present based on the attitudes of the past. While I agree that politicians should only focus on the reality of 'today' and 'tomorrow' their interest are also to retain their political position, even if it means using history as a tool of manipulation.

  3. Hello Catarina,
    Re: "Politicizing history serves no useful purpose."
    You views reflects, as usual, your very clear and objective thinking.
    You are absolutely correct, politicizing history serves no useful purpose, and, besides, it does not change history either. But it can unnecessarily harm the present and possibly the future, by creating misunderstanding and mistrust between peoples, who otherwise have no ill-feelings towards each other. What a disservice to international understanding and harmony!
    What is particularly sad is that, these short-sighted politicians are irreversibly damaging their own credibility, and in the process, are undermining the greater interests of their respective nations, by appeasing an immigrant minority to get some votes. They are, unwittingly — but recklessly and irresponsibly— sacrificing the broader interests of their own nations, just for a few immigrant votes.

    S. Zafar Iqbal

  4. Comments continued from above:

    Catarina,
    As I said , I agree that politicizing history serves no useful purpose, and, creates misunderstanding and mistrust between peoples, who otherwise have no ill-feelings towards each other. This is clear disservice to international peace and harmony!

    It is obvious from their behavior that these politicians lack character and conscience. It appears, they would not hesitate to sell their souls to get a few more votes in return.

    If it weren't an insulting slur to the prostitutes, I would have called these politicians as such. But I have a lot more respect for the former to refer the latter as “political prostitutes”. Shame on these politicians.

    And Catarina, more power to you!

    S. Zafar Iqbal

  5. And in the US, Texas politicians are rewriting high school American history textbooks, cutting Thomas Jefferson to make room for Newt Gingrich. I hope the new FCC plan passes through Congress to extend broadband throughout the country so that the brainwashed have opportunities to do reality checks.

  6. By your same reasoning, why should the present Turkish government make a case against the Armenian genocide? It is past history that concerned Ottoman Turkey so are they politicizing, too? Why do not you make this point?

    The real issue of subtance is today's Islamist Turkey and the EU for which your article seems to be obfuscating.

    Turkey is an integral part of the Middle East and Central Asia with an Islamic culture. Polls show that the overwhelming majority Turks are hostile to the West and strongly identify with the Muslim world. Trying to force Turkey into the Western mold through the EU does not seem a very rational policy. Further Turkey is so large and Europe already has such an immense problem with Muslim immigration that will not assimilate. Already with 27 member states the EU has become a mini UN with all the vices.

    1. Interesting points Irini. However, the issue is merely if history should be politicized or not i.e. used by politicians to get more votes. I don't think it should be. What's your opinion?

  7. Further, you seem to ignore that the present Islamist regime in Turkey has been systematically gaming the EU by using it as leverage to quash its domestic political enemies, gain a monopoly of power and flirt with tyrannical, theocratic and terror-sponsoring regimes in the area. It is not even clear that the present Turkish government really wants to join the EU as a full political member.

    One thing is certain: the EU is not a make or break issue with Turkey. It is biggest trading partner is Russia. Its geographical position is Asia. It is already in the EU customs zone.

    What is striking is the general level of ignorance and naivety in Western capitals about Turkey and Turkish history much less the policies of the present Islamist government that rules Turkey.

  8. I agree, Catarina – I don't understand what is to be gained by this vote in Sweden, or the current attempts to do the same thing in the US Congress. This happened 5 generations ago, and nobody involved can be brought to book (they're all long dead), so there is no point.

    All it does is create a rift between the West and a potentially strong Islamic ally.

    I don't get it.

  9. The US has a long history of oppression. We came up with a concept known as affirmative action which was intended to give a generation of people a better shot at colleges and jobs with the theory being that they would embrace the opportunities presented and serve as role models for the next generation. Others complained that seats in colleges and jobs should not be taken by less qualified applicants because the better qualified person should not be punished for acts committed long before they were born.

    Another conflict came when we tried fix segregation “with all due deliberate speed.” That meant that schools should be integrated but did not say when. More than 2 decades passed and many schools were not integrated.

    Condemning the US for these atrocities may look good. However, it would be better to fix the problems that were created and to learn how to avoid repeating these mistakes in the future.

    1. David in case you misunderstood, please let me clarify that the US isn't being condemned for the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman Turks are. The fact that they are long gone doesn't seem to matter.

  10. Catarina, I wasn’t of the opinion that the US was being condemned. To the contrary, I find that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Moreover, the throwing of the stones does not offer a solution. It is just political rhetoric that solves nothing.

    In addition, I was pointing out that the US has done many bad things that happened over 100 years ago.

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