“Genocide,” I read, thinking, “He said the word!” Joe Biden is the second US president to do so in office with regards to the Armenian Genocide, the first since Ronald Reagan 30 years ago, and the first to issue such a formal statement on April 24th. This is very good news. The truth, that is, is always a good thing, and it’s the hope of all freedom-loving Americans that truth-speaking will become a regular practice for our leadership in foreign relations.
Foreign relations, indeed! Many are wondering the consequences of this statement for US-Turkish relations. After a more thorough read, the President, perhaps cunningly, didn’t implicate Turkey in his statement. As the heir to the ashes and blood-spilled soil of the Ottoman Empire, wouldn’t holding Turkey accountable, in word if not in deed, appropriately honor the lives of those who continue to be forgotten by Turkey? And wouldn’t naming Turkey enforce some sort of accountability of its continual oppression of a myriad of ethnic groups, Armenians included? Thus, we are left without designation of who today is culpable for this genocide. In other words, Armenians have their desired verdict, but it appears the guilty party may have skipped the trial. At least, it’ll take more work to implicate today‘s Turkey.
Let’s make no mistake: Biden’s “Ottoman-era” designation is a concession to Turkey and a temporary appeasement to Armenians. In the international legal proceedings that attempted to bring justice to the Holocaust, it was crucial to hold the state of Germany responsible for reconciling the sins of the Third Reich. Biden’s declaration makes the calculation that by not implicating Turkey, the US can not only refrain from holding Turkey accountable for religious, ethnic, or cultural oppression, repression, and genocide within its own borders, it potentially releases the US from having any role in brokering reconciliation between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, the tiny country and heir to the loss of that genocide, which continues to bear so much of Turkey’s oppression. Dr. Taner Akçam in A Shameful Act and Fatma Müge Göçek in Denial of Violence outline how today’s Turkey is culpable for genocide and its denial, while Fatma Ülgen presents a great thesis, ”Sabiha Gök̨cen’s 80-year-old secret”: Kemalist nation formation and the Ottoman Armenians” on how modern Turkey’s foundation by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was based upon Ottoman-era anti-Armenian principles and policies. This reluctance was demonstrated last year in the US’ failure to mitigate heavy Turkish military support of Azerbaijan in the brutal war and ethnic cleansing of the ancient Armenian enclave of Artsakh, continued holding of POWs, destruction of cultural and spiritual heritage and terrorizing attacks upon Karabakh Armenians as late as last week.
President Biden’s proclamation is a huge step in the right direction. Alas, “Turkey is guilty of Genocide” and many other heart-rending slogans will continue to be chanted in the US until words are met with action in our country’s relationship with Turkey.