Michael Crowley: K Street Cashes in on the 1915 Armenian Genocide

[Michael Crowley is a senior editor at The New Republic. ]

As a rising St. Louis politician in the mid-1970s, Richard Gephardt was among a dynamic group of aldermen dubbed "The Young Turks." So perhaps it's not surprising that, 30 years later, the former Democratic minority leader of the House of Representatives has aged into an Old Turk. This spring, Gephardt has been busy promoting his new favorite cause--not universal health care or Iraq, but the Republic of Turkey, which now pays his lobbying firm, DLA Piper, $100,000 per month for his services. Thus far, Gephardt's achievements have included arranging high-level meetings for Turkish dignitaries, among them one between members of the Turkish parliament and House Democratic leaders James Clyburn and Rahm Emanuel; helping Turkey's U.S. ambassador win an audience with a skeptical Nancy Pelosi; and, finally, circulating a slim paperback volume, titled "An Appeal to Reason," that denies the existence of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Few people would place the Armenian genocide on their top ten--or even top 1,000--list of the day's pressing issues. In fact, many Americans would likely be at a loss to explain who or what the Armenians are, much less what happened to them 90 years ago. Not so in Washington. For the past several years, U.S. representatives, lobbyists, and foreign emissaries have been locked in a vicious struggle over a resolution in Congress that would officially deem as genocide the massacre of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish government has fought this effort with the zeal of Ataturk--enlisting a multimillion-dollar brigade of former congressmen and slick flacks, as well as a coterie of American Jews surprisingly willing to downplay talk of genocide. But the Armenian-American community has impressive political clout--enough that a majority of House members have now co-sponsored the resolution. And that means a ferocious final showdown is looming, one so charged that this arcane historical dispute could even interfere with the war in Iraq.

Even more striking than the historic Turkish-Armenian hatred festering in the halls of Congress, however, is the way Washington's political elites are cashing in on it. Take Gephardt. While the Turks and Armenians have a long historical memory, Gephardt has an exceedingly short one. A few years ago, he was a working-class populist who cast himself as a tribune of the underdog--including the Armenians. Back in 1998, Gephardt attended a memorial event hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America at which, according to a spokeswoman for the group, "he spoke about the importance of recognizing the genocide." Two years later, Gephardt was one of three House Democrats who co-signed a letter to thenHouse Speaker Dennis Hastert urging Hastert to schedule an immediate vote on a genocide resolution. "We implore you," the letter read, arguing that Armenian-Americans "have waited long enough for Congress to recognize the horrible genocide." Today, few people are doing more than Gephardt to ensure that the genocide bill goes nowhere.

It's one thing to flip-flop on, say, tax cuts or asbestos reform. But, when it comes to genocide, you would hope for high principle to carry the day. In Washington, however, the Armenian genocide industry is in full bloom. And Dick Gephardt's shilling isn't even the half of it....

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