April in the Caucasus: US recognition of the Armenian genocide4 min read
24 April 2021 will mark the 106th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. To this day, Turkey vehemently denies any responsibility in the mass killing of its Armenian and other minority populations at the start of the 20th century.
Despite Turkey eschewing culpability, the Armenian genocide has been recognized by tens of nations across the world, including Russia and France. One notable absence on this list is the United States, home to the world’s third largest Armenian diaspora population.
Many Armenian-Americans are the direct descendants of genocide survivors. Notwithstanding considerable Armenian lobbying power, the road to recognition remains incomplete in America. 49 of the 50 states have recognized the Armenian genocide, as has the US Congress, yet no American president has ever uttered the word genocide to describe the murderous campaign executed by the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1923.
President Joe Biden made it a campaign promise to recognize the Armenian genocide. As the date of commemoration draws near, will he make good on this promise and stand up to genocide denial?
Promises not made, promises not kept
In the United States, many view recognizing the Armenian genocide as a move which would further jeopardize an already complex geopolitical situation as US-Turkey relations have been on a downward spiral. It took a turn for the worse in 2019 after Ankara launched an offensive in northeastern Syria and purchased Russian S-400 missile systems. When the US Senate considered recognizing the Armenian genocide, Senator Kevin Cramer blocked its recognition, stressing it would not be wise to further enganger an already precarious relationship, adding “At the right time, we may pass it.”
Even as Senator Cramer voiced his objections, the US Senate voted to recognize the Armenian genocide. The Trump administration, however, chose not to sign onto the recognition. Unsurprising, as Trump was never known for caring about human rights but he never made it a campaign promise to recognize the genocide. Trump is also rather chummy with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who he has called a “friend” and “a hell of a leader” which is an odd way to spell dictator.
Trump’s decision not to follow through on recognition was also a calculated political move.
When any nation considers recognizing the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government threatens severe economic and diplomatic consequences, insisting Turkey “will never accept the accusations of genocide.”
Erdogan threatened that if the Trump administration were to recognize the genocide he would be forced to consider closing strategic U.S. military bases in Incirlik and Kurecik. To some, such a drastic move by Turkey seems unlikely; however, in 1998 when the US State Department released eyewitness accounts describing how thousands of innocent Armenians were butchered and a bill was introduced in the Senate to recognize the genocide, Turkey blocked US Navy ships from strategically important waters and banned military training operations on their territory.
Erdogan has also previously threatened that if the United States were to recognize the Armenian killings as a genocide, his government would label the mass killings of Native Americans as genocide. To this threat, I say please do! The United States should also recognize the litany of crimes that have been committed against Native Americans in addition to crimes committed by other states.
Will he or won’t he?
When campaigning for the White House, Barack Obama promised to recognize the Armenian genocide, yet during an eight year tenure the Obama administration, for whom Joe Biden served as vice president, failed to deliver on this campaign promise. Top aides came out years later to express their regret on the situation.
President Biden has insisted that his administration will not be another “Obama term” and that his cabinet will chart a different foreign policy path. On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to recognize the genocide and insiders say he will fulfil this promise.
Armenians have used every kit in the tool box to fight against Turkey’s denial of the genocide because denial is the final stage of genocide. Should Joe Biden choose to be on the right side of history, saying the g-word would be a clear rebuke of genocidal policies and Armenians will not have to fight for what should be taken as truth in the United States: the Armenian genocide happened.