US Genocide Recognition and the Assault on Armenia’s Sovereignty

Our good nature as a people has often led to self-criticism of political naivety. The long awaited official recognition of the Armenian Genocide was welcomed by a large majority of the American Armenian community as a significant victory in the century-long journey toward justice. It was simply a matter of pride as Americans that our country was on the right side of the issue. After all, the United States is the most powerful nation in the world and a benchmark for democracy. Turkey has spent millions of dollars in influence peddling to prevent that day from happening, and their cousins to the east have spent millions buying influence for their criminal ways. What was there not to be happy about? The frustration of decades was over…perhaps. Something did not feel right. The official recognition statement was not made in a political vacuum. The Genocide may have happened over 100 years ago, but its impact on the Armenian nation has significance today. There is a diaspora because of the Genocide. There are far fewer Armenians on this earth today as a result of the crime. An entire Western Armenian civilization was lost, and billions of communal and personal property were stolen to fund the Turkish Republic of 1923. The most immediate impact is the continuance of genocidal threat on the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh by the descendants of the villains in the last century.  Recognizing the Genocide is not about correcting a historical footnote. It is another step on the path of justice. It is about the future and not simply covering historical tracks.

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, Wilmington, Del., September 4, 2020 (Flickr: Adam Schultz/Biden for President)

When President Biden made his official announcement on April 24, there was thunderous applause from the vast majority of our diaspora and a wave of caution from an informed minority. The most immediate concern with the statement was not with the use of the term “genocide” (actually twice), but a sentence in the text: “We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.” Our community responded with a variety of expressions from grateful for the official acknowledgement to concern over the aforementioned quote. The expected tsunami of Turkish reactions never happened. There were the standard denial statements and how this would damage US/Turkish relations (as if they were in great shape). There was also the obligatory recalling of the US ambassador for the meaningless statement of disappointment (mostly for the benefit of the media). That was basically it.

For years, we have been programmed to think that the United States would not recognize the Genocide out of fear of what it would do to the “relationship,” be that NATO, US interests in the Middle East, Incirlik or other points of concern. Based on the hype, one would think a major disruption of the economic and military relationship would be experienced. That was the excuse. We know from experience that the Turkish bluster is bigger than the bite. The same threats were made when France and others recognized the truth, and those economic relationships expanded. It is clear now that there was more in play. The statement basically says that the United States acknowledges the veracity and truth of the Genocide. It also says that America does not blame the Republic of Turkey for the crime. This is more of a political statement rather than a legal one as most certainly the Republic of Turkey is considered the successor government to the Ottoman Empire and their complicity is clear from the decades of propaganda, revisionism and outright lies to support a narrative that it never happened. Clearly, the Biden administration was trying to please both sides, but that is nearly impossible with such a contentious issue. Instead, the Armenians are questioning the content of the statement based on the current political environment. It diluted and complicated what should have been clarity.

The latter portion of the statement declares that the intent is not to assign blame but rather to ensure that “what happened” never happens again. The Biden administration has already acknowledged that “what happened” was genocide which is a crime according to the UN Convention of which Turkey is a signature. If the intent is to ensure that “what happened” (Genocide) never happens again, then one could logically conclude that it should be reflected in US policy. The exact opposite has happened. While the very statement recognizing the Genocide was being assembled, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken signed an extension of a waiver to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act of 1992, which allowed for continued military aid to Azerbaijan. The justification contained blanket statements on fighting international terrorism, assisting in operational readiness of the US Armed forces, border security for Azerbaijan and that it will not hamper efforts for peace with Armenia or be used offensively towards Armenia. Regardless of obvious alternative motivations, the facts are overwhelming in support of the violations of 907 by Azerbaijan. This was purely a political consideration. On the matter of international terrorism, Azerbaijan is guilty of importing thousands of terrorists to fight the Armenians. Relative to “border security,” Azerbaijan is guilty of violating the sovereign and internationally recognized borders of Armenia. Secretary Blinken should be allocating those funds to protect Armenia’s border against the criminal Azeri regime. This is absurd and reflects a policy of attempting to separate 1915 from today. The problem is that they are inseparable. The United States needs to understand that the oppression from the Turkic regimes has been continuous from the Ittihadists, Kemal, Erdogan and the repulsive treatment of Armenians in Baku, Nakhichevan and Artsakh. The thread is common, and the examples are endless. This policy is completely inconsistent with the desire to “ensure that what happened never happens again.”

This also helps to explain the rather tepid response of the Turkish government to the recognition. They have warned of dire consequences for decades. I am certain they are not happy with the recognition of the Genocide, but by putting it in a completely historical context and basically dismissing the accountability of the events, they have softened the impact to the Turks. In addition, continuing the money flow to Azerbaijan makes a mockery of the criteria for the waiver. It is incredibly sad that a country like Armenia is under attack by a criminal regime that is financially supported by the United States. We received empty words, and Azerbaijan received financial support. It seems that those who were wary of the statement were not simply partisan zealots, but understood the political duplicity of this matter. Armenians received  empathy for the past, and the Turks received a de facto exoneration. It doesn’t diminish the value of the formal acknowledgment of the Genocide, but it clearly puts it in a different context.

Armenia is struggling for its survival. The recognition of the genocide is a noble cause, but it is meaningless if Armenia loses its sovereignty and the Turks complete their evil intentions of making us a stateless people. We must not allow others to decouple the RoA/Artsakh struggle from the crime of the Genocide. We cannot accept eliminating blame and focusing on preventing a recurrence as political rhetoric lacking any substantive policy. The Armenian nation has earned the right to be respected and not forced into a subordinate role. If the Biden administration intends, as they have articulated, to focus more on human rights in their foreign policy, then this obvious inconsistency in rhetoric versus practice must be corrected. Focusing on human rights cannot include financial aid to a repressive regime such as Azerbaijan that violates borders, murders prisoners, refuses to comply with humanitarian protocols and has persecuted its own people. They have learned a great deal from big brother Turkey which has violated the sovereignty of nearly every neighbor in the region. If the Biden administration wants to be recognized for a blended foreign policy, then start with the Azeri/Turkish alliance that is a major threat to peace in the region. Providing aid to Azerbaijan will be interpreted as a “green light” by them for their despicable criminal actions over the last year.

As an indigenous people who have struggled mightily to become a democracy in a difficult neighborhood, Armenia has the right to expect more from Russia and the West. The demands of the Armenians are no greater than any other nation: to live in peace and prosperity. I am happy to see the United States on the growing list of countries that recognize “what happened” was genocide, but there is no middle ground between good and evil. The entire peace and nation building network of the UN, CSTO, NATO, EU and the OSCE has proven to be unable or unwilling to prevent tragedies. There are few, if any, implications for nations who violate the rights of others. These organizations have become so politicized that they are literally gridlocked into irrelevance. They issue updates, proclamations, urging calm and ‘please withdraw to your border’ statements, while Armenia is surrounded and the Azeris add to a new set of crimes they brazenly display. We must have higher expectations of countries like our United States that they will not succumb to the political wrangling of those who are despotic and greedy. The recognition of the Genocide will always have diminished value as long there are policies that support rogue nations that have no respect for the rules of sovereignty and world civilization. Bring full value to the genocide recognition by ending the section 907 waiver, removing Azeri troops from Armenia, return our POWs and reach a just solution to Artsakh through the OSCE. Mr. President, do not turn your back on the noble and peaceful Armenian nation by increasing the threat to their survival.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.
Stepan Piligian

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  1. Another good and timely article from Piligian. Thank you.
    The US recognition of the Armenian Genocide was a historic moment for us and humanity but it must not blind us to the fact that Blinken’s recent financial aid to the Azeris who don’t really need it is a blatent contradiction of their mission statement for democracy. The US Armenians should bring political pressure to reverse this decision in favour of aid to Armenia.

    • On this matter, as seen every night on the evening news, The United States can only be involved in one country at a time. Armenia is not that one country.

  2. When people ask me what am I in terms of nationality my respond is American but Armenian by heritage. However, after reading Mr. Piligian article I am embarrassed to be both. One because my America is becoming a worthless protector (what Minsk group?) and two faced. Second what has Armenia been thinking in for the last 30 years in terms of protecting itself. I wish I had read this before thanking President Biden for his recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

  3. What I don’t get is that over 100 members of the United States House of Representatives sent a detailed letter of six specific policy priorities of the Armenian Caucus to the United States Secretary of State and United States Secretary of Defense. This letter was answered nearly 3 months letter in a dismissive fashion by the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs who just so happens to be of Turkish descent. The six policy priorities were largely ignored. Shouldn’t our congressional representatives who signed this letter feel insulted and outraged that they were essentially blown off? The two individuals who the letter was addressed to didn’t even have the courtesy to respond. If nearly one fourth of the United States House of Representatives can get blown off by a subordinate member of the State Department what does that say about our representative government? Who is the State Department accoutable to?

  4. Where is Armenia’s “Iron Dome”? Is the United States not interested in the last surviving Christian nation in the middle east? How about spending a few million to save this enclave President Biden? Are there any people more challenged than us? Are we going to be abandoned just as Georgia and Ukraine were? Lip service will not save these people. Not this time.

  5. According to the Voice of America, this is what Biden said to the reporters after Monday, June 14 NATO summit: “We think that there are no issues between U.S. and Turkey relationship that are unsolvable and that areas of cooperation for us are richer and larger than problems”. Does Biden really care about Armenia and Armenians?

  6. I hope one day our naive Armenian nation, both in the Diaspora and in the homeland, will wake up and realize that Armenians don’t have and never have had any genuine friends in this world. We must stop relying on others to do this and that for us. We must wise up and take our destiny into our own hands through a united front and dictate to the world our demands by our collective strength instead of relying on third parties to look after our interests. They won’t! All the nations we look up to are only after their own self-interests and they will use and abuse our genuine concerns to that end. They are experts in manipulation and giving lip service, without any concrete steps and actions, to appease us by giving us the illusion that they are doing something. They aren’t! They will make empty speeches and play political Ping-Pong with our past and present tragedies and at the end of the day they won’t lift a finger to put their money where their mouths are because their current and long-term interests lie not with us but with our enemies on both sides of the homeland.

    Despite genocidal and terrorist Turkey’s collaboration with their traditional Russian adversary, they will continue to keep fascist and oppressive Turkey in their NATO alliance, while preaching democracy to the rest of the world, because they need despotic Turkish leaders consent to use their assets, i.e. their military bases and geo-political importance in the region in today’s occupied Western Armenia, to control and to have a foot-hold in the Middle East. As for criminal Azerbaijan invented artificially on illegally seized Armenian territories a century ago, they need to secure their energy companies multi-billion dollar investments in the Caspian oil and gas to pump into Europe through Turkified Georgia and terrorist Turkey. Think about it folks. Why does or why should the United States send tax payer money as aid to criminal Azerbaijan when they themselves make enough petrodollars to buy deadly weapons every single year, to kill Armenians and destroy their cultural heritage, and according to their terrorist leadership, weapons worth more than the entire Armenia’s annual state budget while the Armenian lobby in the United States has to fight tooth and nail to secure humanitarian aid to landlocked and blockaded Armenia and Artsakh equal to a fraction of “aid” given to terrorist Azerbaijan? It does not make any sense. But apparently it makes a lot of sense to them to these western empty and double-talkers because their national interests lie with terrorist Turkey and criminal Azerbaijan and not with Armenia.

    These hypocrites showed their true faces by their passive approach and inaction in the last terroristic 44-day war imposed on the Armenians by combined forces of genocidal Turkey and artificial Azerbaijan along with thousands of fatherless Islamist Jihadist paid-mercenaries imported from Syria and tens of billions of petrodollars worth of deadly weapons and UAVs (drones) purchased from former Soviet despots and hypocritical and morally bankrupt Israel. They sat back and watched their NATO ally terrorist Turkey use NATO assets to kill and destroy our homeland. The only thing they cared about and received guarantees from the naïve Armenians was not to hit and destroy the oil and gas pipelines supplying energy to Europe! Wake up Armenians! Stop being so gullible. Ultimately we and only we can and are responsible for guaranteeing our security. Not even our so-called military” ally” Russia! We must militarize the entire country with deadly and modern technology. That is the only way our enemies will respect us and their terrorist hands off our homeland. It is time to acquire nuclear weapons!

  7. The calculated phrasing in the G word statement of ‘What Happened’ was not used as a question to explore its very intent but a close-ended statement to excuse and finalize our Hai Tahd … it harkens back to the title of Hillary Clinton’s book when she lost the presidency … again, as a defense to not own an agent’s place in that history but to deflect as a victim of it.

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