Beyond US Recognition of the Armenian Genocide

For years, the U.S. Department of State has urged Presidents and Congress not to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Many reasons are given, but the real reason is that the threat of recognition was a valuable weapon to be used against the Turkish government. Recognition of the Armenian Genocide was not the sole tool, but it was an effective tool with little real cost to the U.S. government. In that sense, the Armenian American community served a valuable role in continuing to raise the issue in Congress.

The landscape has changed

However, since 2000, the rapid increase in American public consciousness of the Armenian Genocide has changed the landscape. Ironically, the intense coverage of the Congressional resolutions—which has led directly to increased awareness and acceptance—was largely due to the extreme reactions of the Turkish government.

The current environment is a fascinating study in unintended consequences.

For years, one justification for U.S. recognition is that it would be beneficial to democracy building in Turkey and, thus, to the people of Turkey. Yet, successive, autocratic Turkish governments have aggressively blocked all efforts at U.S. recognition, even at the expense of other Turkish interests. The increased focus generated by such irrational responses to Congressional resolutions has led to the increased acceptance of the Armenian Genocide in public circles, which reduces the effectiveness of the State Department in extracting concessions from Turkey. Evidence of this first developed in 2003, but the ever-changing demands by Turkey before opening the border to Armenia is also telling.

The government in Ankara understands full well that official U.S. recognition of the Genocide is insignificant in the context of the current worldwide acceptance. Why should Turkey make concessions when the Armenian Genocide is no longer questioned. Thus, the party wielding leverage has changed.

Interestingly, it does not appear that the U.S. has grasped this reason for the change in Turkish attitudes.

For all the criticism from a broad range of analysts, international recognition of the Armenian Genocide has been the catalyst to developments over the last decade. But it has run its course and further efforts solely to achieve what has already been accomplished yields at best diminishing returns and at worst is counterproductive. For the moment, I am discussing recognition in the context of international implications, there are still very real and important domestic reasons for U.S. recognition of the Genocide.

Time to move forward

It is time to understand that recognition has been achieved. We should not waste time, energy or resources on those that continue to deny or refuse to acknowledge. They can be exposed and their denial attributed to a personal or professional agenda . This is not the first call for a discussion of what next after recognition, but I am pointing out that we are already there.

It is now time to discuss what options are available for redress. We must start pressing for reparations and restitution. There are thousands of Armenian structures in Turkey that are being ignored and the government of Turkey must respond. There is Armenian individual and property rights that have been trampled on before and after the Genocide and to this day. There is the fact that Turkey explicitly still desires to end the independent existence of Armenia.

I am only mentioning some items in passing, but these and other aspects should be the focus of congressional resolutions and international efforts.

We must recapture the initiative for justice.

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George Aghjayan

George Aghjayan is the Director of the Armenian Historical Archives and the chair of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee of the Eastern United States. Aghjayan graduated with honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Mathematics. He achieved Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries in 1996. After a career in both insurance and structured finance, Aghjayan retired in 2014 to concentrate on Armenian related research and projects. His primary area of focus is the demographics and geography of western Armenia as well as a keen interest in the hidden Armenians living there today. Other topics he has written and lectured on include Armenian genealogy and genocide denial. He is a frequent contributor to the Armenian Weekly and Houshamadyan.org, and the creator and curator westernarmenia.weebly.com, a website dedicated to the preservation of Armenian culture in Western Armenia.
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4 Comments

  1. The problem with post-recognition efforts is that Armenians are not ready to “start pressing for reparations and restitution.” As you point out no diasporan organizations are actively campaigning to make headway on these issues for reasons I have never clearly understood. The Armenian government does not express any desire to address the issue of reparations, as it has no preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey (the negotiations for which already seem to be failing). Until Armenians on a united front are willing to discuss and work towards realizing the transfer of reparations and restitution, no post-recognition progress will be made. In fact, assuming that the US finally accepts the Armenian genocide, all potential efforts could perhaps come to a complete standstill. Armenians cannot afford to be stuck in a “now what” situation. US recognition of the Genocide should not be an end-all solution.

  2. Let’s face it, in this world, it’s a rare person indeed who stands up for what is right and trusts that if they do the chips will fall where they may. No, everything is weighed out politically.

    Most people, including most US politicians, have yet to grow a pair.

  3. In recent weeks, Turkish and odar media reps have noticed that comments about land reparations have cropped up after a long, dormant period with no mention of it. It is not hard to imagine what they will say if and when there is no talk of reparations at all: not only the usual blasphemy that such claims are supposedly unjustified, but that by their very silence on the matter, Armenians have obviously relinquished territorial claims and can never, ever reintroduce or advocate for them!

  4. I am finally reading a statement that echos what I’ve been saying to friends for the past couple of years.  I have yet to hear a compelling argument or reason why we should continue with the drive to have a president use the word genocide or have the US congress pass a resolution.  It appears we are stuck on the word.  What is the end game and is this (clamoring for recognition…) the best way to get there?

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