US recognizes Armenian genocide, prompting Turkish anger

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, DC, April 23, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Jim Watson)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, DC, April 23, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Jim Watson)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - The Biden administration officially recognized the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman government in 1915 as genocide.

The White House statement proclaiming those murders as “genocide” was denounced by the Turkish government, but welcomed by Armenia’s.

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” the White House statement began.

“Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople” (present-day Istanbul), by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination,” it continued.

“And we remember, so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms,” it affirmed.

“We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” the statement said, as the White House made clear it was not referring to the current Turkish leadership.

Ankara was, nonetheless incensed. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the US ambassador to protest, describing the statement as “a wound in relations that is difficult to repair.” 

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, rejected it, attributing it to domestic US politics. “We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past,” he tweeted. “Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice.”

Armenia, not surprisingly, expressed the opposite view. Its president, Armen Sarkissian, welcomed the US statement, affirming, “The process of international recognition and condemnation of the Armenian genocide will contribute to the prevention of genocide as a crime against humanity and elimination of impunity around the world.”

Ronald Reagan was the last US president to describe the wholesale murder of Armenians as genocide. Since then, US presidents have deferred to Ankara.

However, human rights have a central place in the new US administration’s foreign policy, and Biden has long been critical of the Turkish president.

In December 2019, in a video interview with The New York Times, which was released the following August, Joe Biden, as a presidential candidate, had tough words for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Biden described Erdogan as an “autocrat,” saying that he was “very concerned” about Turkey, while criticizing Erdogan’s policy toward the Kurds.

Biden, Erdogan Agree to Meet

Biden and Erdogan, spoke for the first time in Biden’s presidency on Friday. According to the White House readout of their conversation, Biden conveyed “his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.”

The two leaders agreed to meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit scheduled for June 14 “to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues.”

The US readout of the conversation mentioned no specific issues in dispute between the two parties. But according to the Turkish readout, “Erdogan underscored that resolving such issues as FETO’s (Fethullah Gulen’s organization) presence in the US and US support for the PKK-PYD terrorist organization in Syria”—reference to the Kurdish group that leads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s main ally in the fight against ISIS there— “was important to advance Turkish-American relations.”

Positive Impact on Turkish Domestic Politics?

Dr. Aykan Erdemir, Senior Director of the Turkey Program at Washington’s Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former Turkish parliamentarian, suggested to Kurdistan 24 that the US designation of the Armenian massacre as a genocide might well have a positive impact within Turkey.

“Many assume that Biden’s use of the term Armenian genocide will provoke anti-American sentiment across the Turkish political spectrum,” Erdemir said.

“Such a perspective,” however, “fails to see the ongoing change of attitudes toward Ottoman policies among Turkey’s citizenry. Turkey’s second-largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), for example, has issued a statement urging Turkey to come to terms with the Armenian genocide and warned that Turkey’s culture of impunity has led to the ‘pervasive spread of discrimination and hate crimes,’” Erdemir continued.

“There are also other Turkish citizens,” he added, “whether they use the term genocide or not, who take an equally critical look at the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Ottoman ruling elite and their accomplices. This should be a reminder that although a significant majority of Turkish citizens will not welcome Biden’s choice of words, there is also a growing number of Turkish individuals at home and among the diaspora who would like to move beyond polemics over terminology and devote their energies toward reconciliation, making amends, and building peace.”

“They might see Biden’s statement as an opportunity to begin to devote their energies to a more positive agenda,” Erdemir concluded, “based on empathy and mutual understanding.”

Editing by John J. Catherine