Armenia, Turkey react to White House’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide

Tsitsernakaberd, April 24, 2021

Armenia welcomed the long-awaited recognition of the Armenian Genocide by President Joe Biden while commemorating the catastrophic event’s 106th anniversary on Saturday, April 24th. 

In remembrance statements, Armenian political leaders noted the revival of century-old anti-Armenian xenophobic threats, evidenced by the recent Artsakh War. “The Second Karabakh War, the Azeri-Turkish aggression which sought to annihilate the Armenian trace in Artsakh, Turkey’s expansionist foreign policy, and the territorial aspirations towards Armenia came to evidence the revival of their genocidal ideology,” wrote PM Nikol Pashinyan. “Armenophobia is in the essence of Pan-Turkism, and today we can see its most disgusting manifestations in Azerbaijan as fostered by the authorities of that country.”

In a letter of gratitude to President Biden, PM Pashinyan wrote that acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide not only pays tribute to its victims, but also prevents the recurrence of similar crimes against humanity. “The recognition of the Genocide is a matter of truth, historical justice and security to the Republic of Armenia, especially in the light of the events that took place in our region last year,” he wrote

President Armen Sarkissian, who quietly probed Biden about running for office back in 2019 at the Munich Security Conference, tweeted a photo of that viral exchange on Saturday and described President Biden’s recognition as a “courageous and inspiring act.” 

Both President Sarkissian and PM Pashinyan also upheld the necessity of recognition and condemnation to ensure lasting peace and stability in the South Caucasus region. “We will never question the fact of the Armenian Genocide,” Pashinyan asserted.

The two leaders joined tens of thousands of Armenians in marching to Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex on Saturday, laying flowers to honor the memories of the estimated 1.5 million victims of the genocide. Breaking with tradition, Catholicos Karekin II and high-ranking clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church visited Tsitsernakaberd at a different time than the political assembly and held a traditional prayer service by the eternal flame. The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin has been embroiled in a dispute with the Office of the Prime Minister since the Catholicos vocalized his support for the opposition movement mobilizing for Pashinyan’s resignation. 

This year marked the 20th anniversary of France’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide. French Senate speaker Gerard Larcher and a secretary of state from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) Jean Baptiste-Lemoyne attended the commemorations in Yerevan. Larcher stressed that the remembrance has a “painful context” following the brutal Turkish-Azerbaijani attacks on Artsakh, which the French Senate adopted a resolution to recognize as an independent republic last November.

The Turkish government, joined by the country’s four primary political parties (President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the Republican People’s Party, the Nationalist Movement Party and the Good Party) unilaterally rejected the White House’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The MoFA of Turkey condemned President Biden’s statement as the product of “pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups.” 

Only the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey has called for the establishment of justice for the Armenian Genocide in the lands in which it took place. “The great crime went unpunished [and] discrimination and hate crimes became commonplace,” the statement reads. According to the HDP, the Armenian Genocide symbolizes the “politics of massacre” toward the Greek, Syriac, Chaldean, Kurdish, Alevi and Yazidi minorities of Turkey, and confronting this genocidal mechanism is the “sine qua non of a common life together.” HDP Deputy Garo Paylan—a descendant of Genocide survivors—is now receiving threats of a “Talaat Pasha experience” from colleagues in the National Assembly for proposing a law that would formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. “The remnant of the mentality that destroyed my people says ‘we do it again,’” tweeted Paylan in response to Ümit Özdağ. 

In a weekend letter to Istanbul’s Armenian Patriarch Sahak Mashalian, President Erdogan expressed his readiness to “develop” Armenian-Turkish relations “on the basis of the principles of good neighborliness and mutual respect.” In 1993, Ankara shut down the Armenian-Turkish border in solidarity with Azerbaijan during the first Artsakh War. 

In response, Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan told the press that the Turkish government has conveyed similar messages in the past without any outcome. He referenced the Armenian-Turkish protocols signed in 2009 on the normalization of relations, which the Turkish government ultimately refused to ratify because of the unresolved Artsakh conflict. “We attach importance not only to words, but also actions,” Ayvazyan declared.

Pashinyan, for his part, noted that Armenia is open to “regional dialogue” with Turkey, yet that dialogue “cannot be engaged from a position of strength.” “It can only succeed if underpinned by the principle of equality,” he wrote. 

The MoFA of Azerbaijan supported its Turkish neighbor and released a statement denouncing the US President’s April 24 statement. Azerbaijani authorities also expressed their ire in response to a letter from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic censuring the military “Trophy Park” recently inaugurated in Baku and urging President Ilham Aliyev to “take a firm stance against any rhetoric or actions which lead to triggering animosity or hatred.” “This kind of display can only further intensify and strengthen long-standing hostile sentiments and hate speech, and multiply and promote manifestations of intolerance,” she warned. She confirmed her willingness to travel to Azerbaijan at the earliest convenience, requesting unimpeded access to Artsakh for international humanitarian and human rights actors, which the government of Azerbaijan has systematically denied. 

In the domestic arena, PM Pashinyan has announced his resignation, triggering the process of holding early parliamentary elections. Pashinyan will continue to carry out his duties as acting prime minister until June 20, when snap elections will be held. 

Since the end of the war, an opposition movement led by the Homeland Salvation Movement, a coalition of parties including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), has been demanding his resignation, viewing him as the responsible party for Armenia’s defeat. Their calls have been joined by the Mother See of the Holy Etchmiadzin, the Holy See of Cilicia, top military brass and the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.  

While popular protests have failed to force the PM to renounce his post, on March 18 his office announced that it would participate in early elections. According to the Armenian Constitution, the National Assembly has two opportunities to nominate a new candidate in case the PM resigns or the office becomes vacant. If the National Assembly twice fails to nominate a new candidate, then the National Assembly is dissolved, prompting extraordinary parliamentary elections. The two opposition parliamentary factions—Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia—have assured the ruling My Step alliance that they will not nominate other prime ministerial candidates during this two-week period. 

The PM said he is giving people the chance to “decide the future of Armenia’s government in free, fair and competitive elections.” “The people must be given the opportunity to have their say, to give an evaluation of the past and the present, and make decisions regarding the future,” he upheld. “Snap elections are being held to create that opportunity.” He has stated that he will respect the outcome of the election and step down if he is not reelected. 

Earlier the ARF had refused to participate in early elections overseen by the present administration, instead advocating for the creation of an interim government that would guide the country out of its current crises and organize early elections. However, last week, the party reversed this stance, joining the Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties as well as former President Robert Kocharyan in fielding prime ministerial candidates.

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is a staff writer for the Armenian Weekly. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hetq and the Daily Californian. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Peace and Conflict Studies and Armenian Language and Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a human rights journalist and feminist poet. Her first poetry collection, Journey to Tatev, will be published with Girls on Key Press in spring of 2021.

4 Comments

  1. In response to Biden’s recognition of the genocide, Erdogan proclaimed that Turkey now recognizes US genocide against its indigenous population.

    When I heard that, I thought “You mean they didn’t already?”

  2. Let’s not kid ourselves.

    The “recognition” was neither a gift to Armenians nor an act in service of truth or human rights so far as the Administration is concerned. It was instead a carefully designed message to Turkey. That message may be a slap at an autocrat in bed with ISIS, and 100 other insults and attacks on this country. Had Turkey been a slightly better ally, the promised recognition would not have occurred.

    I am grateful in memory of my grandparents and countless millions of Assyrian, Armenian, Greek, and Chaldean grandparents and those who never had a chance to have a surviving child because their lives were destroyed by a smiling Turkish enemy.

  3. I have a story to tell. My father Vartan Tashjian was born in Marash, Turkey in 1983. In 1916 he was recruited in the Ottoman Army and sent to Jerusalem, Palestine to flight against the British forces of General Alemby. In late 2018 the Ottoman forces were defeated and WWII ended. My father immediately returns to Marash to join his families. He faced the grave reality: his parents; brother; wife and 4 year old son were all massacred without a trace and his family home was given to a strange Turkish family. Devastated, Distroyed & Humiliated he returns to Jerusalem like an orfen with hundreds of other orfens. I am his son from his second marriage. Need I say more. This is a typical story of the Ottoman atrocities.

    • 1983? Sebouh, which year was your father born? 1883? 1903? If so, my grandfather V. Palasian was also born in Marash in 1903! Was your father also from the Kişifli village?

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