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.