Biden Declares Armenian Genocide a Genocide

The President has overturned decades of US foreign policy and alienated a NATO ally for, well, reasons.

President Joe Biden takes notes doing a G7 Leaders' Virtual Meeting Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in the White House Situation Room.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Yesterday, more than a century after the fact, President Biden issued a statement declaring the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire during World War I a genocide. It reads, in full:

Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.

Of those who survived, most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States. With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community. Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.

Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future—toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security. Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.

The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.

As long-ago OTB front pager Robert Garcia Targorda reminded us in 2005, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation soon after taking office in 1981 designating April 26 through May 3 as an annual Day of Remembrance and called it what it was:

Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

Subsequently, however, because of strong objections from our NATO ally Turkey, for whom this is understandably a sore subject, we have been Remembering the genocide without explicitly calling it one. As Doug Mataconis reminded us annually for a time, candidate Barack Obama promised to revert to calling the genocide a genocide if elected but, alas, was talked out of it. As Doug observed when Pope Francis called out the genocide in 2015, “it’s good to see someone actually speaking the truth about this matter. Now, if only there were American leaders willing to do the same thing”

While I haven’t written about it with much frequency, I disagree. While calling a spade a spade is my preferred policy on just about all matters, this is a case of needlessly poking a finger in the eye of an important government to appease a minor domestic constituency. I, therefore, lean toward the post-1981 practice and believe Biden has made an unforced error. As I wrote for New Atlanticist back in 2010 when Congress passed one of its near-annual proclamations on the matter:

It’s difficult to gauge who’s being sillier here: The Turks for being unable to admit that which has been obvious to everyone else for decades or the U.S. Congress for banging this drum every year over an incident that transpired nearly a century ago and that has zero bearing on the United States except that bringing it up alienates an important ally. If forced to choose, I’d take the latter.  While domestic politics plays an important role in explaining the idiocy in both Ankara and Washington, it’s decidedly more pressing there than here.

Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at New America Foundation, is exactly right when he calls the vote a “triumph of diaspora politics over serious foreign policy.”

[…]

While one would prefer politicians to keep their campaign promises, one has to make exception for damned fool promises.   It’s doubtless a shame that, as [Alex] Massie laments, “Just about the only time that wee country gets a mention in Washington is when the perennial Recognize-the-Genocide issue comes up.”  But it seems to me that it would be far more profitable for both the Armenians and Americans alike to focus our energies on solving problems of the current millennium.

In the intervening 11 years, we’ve moved well past the century mark of the controversy, making the fight even more meaningless. On the other hand, angering Ankara is less of a concern now than it was then, as the Erdogan regime has become increasingly dictatorial and Islamist—and an ally in name only.

At Vox, Cameron Peters explains “Why Biden’s statement recognizing the Armenian genocide is a big deal.”

President Joe Biden became the first US president to formally refer to atrocities committed against Armenians as a “genocide” on Saturday, 106 years after the 1915 start of an eight-year-long campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Ottoman Empire that left between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians dead.

Previous presidents have refrained from using the word “genocide” in connection with the mass atrocities committed against the Armenian people in the early 20th century, and Turkey categorically denies that a genocide took place. So Biden’s declaration marks a major break from precedent, and could signal an increase in tensions with Turkey, a longtime US and NATO ally.

Again, not strictly true: Reagan used the word in his 1981 proclamation. And, as Peters notes, President Trump stumbled in to doing so as well, although later declined to sign onto Congress’ formal declaration.

The move is the fulfillment of a campaign promise for Biden, who pledged on April 24 last year to recognize the genocide if elected. It also comes on a symbolic date: April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, a holiday observed in Armenia and by members of the Armenian diaspora.

And it’s emblematic of the Biden administration’s desire to center human rights in its foreign policy agenda, even at the cost of worsening relations with Turkey.

I’m situational on the prioritizing of human rights over other policy interests but generally agree that it’s the right thing to do. But this is an administration that refuses to call out the Saudis for their brutal murder of a journalist for an American paper. Grandstanding over something that happened over a century ago by an empire that ceased to exist soon afterward improves human rights not a single whit.

Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ahead of the official US announcement. It was the first conversation between the two allied leaders since Biden took office more than three months ago, which some regional experts have taken as a sign of cooling relations between the countries.According to a readout of the call released by the White House, the leaders agreed to hold a bilateral meeting “on the margins of the NATO Summit in June.” And according to news reports — but not the readout — Biden told Erdogan of his intentions to recognize the genocide.

Saturday’s statement officially recognizing the genocide nonetheless elicited a harsh response from Turkey.

“We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the US regarding the events of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups on April 24,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday that called on Biden to “correct this grave mistake.”

“This statement of the US … will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people, and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual friendship and trust,” the foreign ministry said.

Now, I’m not sure how much further US-Turkish relations can deteriorate at this point. Which seems to be Biden’s position as well.

As a candidate, Biden labeled Erdogan an “autocrat” in an interview with the New York Times, and last month his administration condemned ”significant human rights issues” in modern-day Turkey, including the jailing and alleged torture of journalists, activists, and political dissidents.

While it’s unclear exactly what the fallout from Saturday’s announcement will look like, other factors have already chilled the US-Turkey relationship. In December of last year, for example, shortly before Biden took office, the US imposed sanctions on Turkey for purchasing Russian military hardware. In 2019, the US also removed Turkey from its joint F-35 stealth fighter program over the same purchase.

[…]

On Saturday, former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who is also Biden’s nominee to run the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, argued that the decision was an important step in pushing back on Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism.

“Turkey is a powerful country in a critical region,” Power wrote on Twitter. “It is part of NATO. Our relationship matters. But President Erdogan’s success in blackmailing & bullying the US (and other countries) not to recognize the Armenian Genocide likely emboldened him as he grew more repressive.”

I’ll buy that it signaled to him that the United States valued the relationship enough that he thought he could get away with these things. But it’s not at all clear what this proclamation gets us.

Former Ambassador Dan Fried, writing at POLITICO (“Inside America’s Long Handwringing Over the Armenian Genocide“) lays out his case. Basically, he argues, the existing policy wasn’t working.

Why the long delay? Why did the U.S., champion of human rights, resist use of “the g-word” for so long? When I worked on this issue, my colleagues and I knew the facts of the killings. We did not deny that they were genocide. But we did not use genocide to describe them. We used terms like atrocities, mass killings, slaughter, and mass murder. Strong terms all, but not genocide.

There were two reasons why the U.S. took that position. One, long championed in the U.S. government, had to do with relations with Turkey, a staunch NATO ally during the Cold War and after. Turkey regarded any U.S. use of the word genocide as a redline in relations and made clear that using the term would trigger a harsh reaction. Given U.S. interests in relations with Turkey, particularly military and security relations, such Turkish warnings carried weight. Besides, the U.S. had for decades maintained its close alliance with Turkey despite that country’s authoritarian bent, including a pattern of military rule. The U.S. didn’t much like that but had learned to live with it. In that context, putting the bilateral relationship under stress for the sake of recognizing the Armenian Genocide, something some in the U.S. government regarded as a historical dispute, was simply not seen as worth it.

[…]

The U.S. government saw an opportunity for Turkey to make peace with its neighbors and at home emerging in the early years of the 21st century. And it wanted to give Turkey the opportunity to own its history, not to have to react to a U.S. government statement acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.

Starting in 2001, non-governmental Turks and Armenians joined in a reconciliation effort to try to deal with the past and build a better future. In 2002, the new AK Party swept to power in free elections and promised a deepened democracy and “zero problems with neighbors,” as the Turkish saying then went. Soon, the Turkish Foreign Ministry opened a confidential channel to Armenia, with Swiss help and quiet U.S. support, to pave the way for reconciliation, diplomatic relations, an open border, and a commission of historians to examine the past, including “The Great Calamity,” as the Armenian Genocide is often called in the Armenian language. By 2008, the Turks and Armenian negotiators had reached agreement on a text; by 2009, thanks to the able efforts of the Obama administration, they had signed it.

But in the end Turkey — by far the stronger country — could not bring itself to ratify the agreement or otherwise act to reconcile with Armenia. Even though Turkish President Erdogan himself acknowledged in 2014 that the Ottoman treatment of the Armenians was “inhumane,” Turkey did not then or later open its border to Armenia.

[…]

The Biden administration, with its stress on democracy and human rights as fundamentals, knew the record: years of efforts to urge the Turkish government to reach out to Armenia and to deal honestly with the Ottoman historical legacy. They would not return to the realist school calculation of the past. And temporary forbearance to encourage Turkey to do the right thing had run its course. So, they decided — finally — to do the right thing.

There will be a price in U.S.-Turkish relations. Hopefully, that will be temporary and not too costly. The US-Turkish relationship remains important. But a line has been crossed. The U.S. will no longer have to engage in elaborate linguistic contortions to remain honest with history and truth while maintaining its immediate interests with Turkey and the region. The Biden team has made a tough, potentially costly, but correct decision.

There’s a bizarre juvenilism in Turkey’s refusal to fully acknowledge its past. But, frankly, I’m not sure that it much matters whether they move from “atrocity” to “genocide.” Armenia is a country with a population roughly that of Mississippi and a GDP estimated as somewhere between that of Mauritius and the Bahamas. Assuaging their feelings over the events of the early 20th Century surely shouldn’t be a priority of US foreign policy.

FILED UNDER: Joe Biden, Turkey, US Politics, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Turkey escaped condemnation post WWII because they were part of the anti-communist coalition, though a military dictatorship. The country’s politics liberalized and became democratic and still an ally. Erdogan is returning to authoritarianism and possibly dictatorship. Turkey is no longer an ally and has shown itself to be a troublemaker in the middle east.

    Then there are the Kurds. Whatever the issues Turkey has with its Kurdish minority, the country has shown a willingness to expand its repression of the Kurdish people by moving on the Syrian Kurds and is there any doubt that Erdogan would move against the Iraqi Kurds if he believed he would get away with it?

    For Turkey, Erdogan”s chickens are coming home to roost.

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  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    When a bully says, ‘this is my red line,’ it’s almost always a good idea to step right over it. If you don’t, the red line might encroach further. If you do, you’ve demonstrated the bully’s impotence.

    Erdogan is a thug, a mini-Putin, a smarter Trump. His insistence on buying Russian air defense systems crossed our red line. I hope the days of allowing tail to wag dog in the Middle East, are coming to an end. Enough with arrogant clients like Netanyahu, MBS and Erdogan. The three of them belong in prison.

    I never supported Ronald Reagan, but I was thrilled when he just went right out and spoke the undiplomatic truth about the Soviets, because they were an evil empire. Truth first.

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  3. Kingdaddy says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I agree, and I would go a step further beyond protecting the Kurds as part of the context for the Biden Administration’s move. If Turkey wants to be part of Europe or NATO, or heck, if it doesn’t want to be increasingly marginalized, it needs to follow some basic civilized principles, such as grappling with its own dark past. Which is what great nations do, however imperfectly (Germany and Nazism, Britain and Ireland, Spain and fascism, etc.). Replacing “atrocity” with “genocide” may be a minor change, as James argues. But trivial changes should be trivial to make, particularly for events that happened a century or more ago. You can’t keep ignoring the deeply disturbing reasons why they can’t. (For further reference, see how some in the American South still can’t say that the cassus belli of the Civil War was slavery.)

    Sure, there are times when diplomacy requires avoiding national sensitivities. But relations with Turkey are going nowhere. The Erdogan regime is moving further away, not toward, becoming the sort of nation that would grapple with its own past. Instead, it is using the sort of nationalist paranoia that led to the Armenian genocide to justify its continued attack on the Kurds. Avoiding the “G” word isn’t going to change that. There is no alternative leadership in the wings ready to oust Erdogan, thank us for our semantic restraint, and give us a comradely wink as they move back on a path to greater security, economic, and cultural integration with the West. In that reality, stating the obvious and moving on is not the worst option by far.

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  4. Kingdaddy says:

    I also applaud the Biden Administration’s willingness to make tough choices that re-define the strategic landscape. I’m very concerned about what will happen next in Afghanistan, but I also fear US national security being governed by inertia. The moral high ground has been the basis of much of America’s soft power, despite the many outrages and mistakes we have made that diminish that luster. The US government needs to be free to say, this was genocide, these settlements are wrong, your two systems “policy” was BS, and other important statements of principle. It is morally necessary, and also a practical matter of diminishing the leverage that other countries have over us.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    I considered mentioning that Erdogan moved on the Syrian Kurds after the Former Guy removed US troops who were advising them. Erdogan’s fear, likely justifiable, was the the Syrian Kurds would join the Iraqi Kurds as a defacto state. But Turkish insecurity isn’t a justification for the brutal subjugation of peoples who aren’t even citizens of Turkey, nor have resided in its historic borders. (I know the Ottoman Empire, but empire implies beyond a nations historic borders.)

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Erdogan is a thug, a mini-Putin, a smarter Trump. His insistence on buying Russian air defense systems crossed our red line. I hope the days of allowing tail to wag dog in the Middle East, are coming to an end. Enough with arrogant clients like Netanyahu, MBS and Erdogan. The three of them belong in prison.

    Yup

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This move has little to do with what happened 100 years ago and everything to do with what has been happening in the last 5-10 years and how we are going to proceed regards Turkey in the near future. You recognize this James when you say,

    Now, I’m not sure how much further US-Turkish relations can deteriorate at this point. Which seems to be Biden’s position as well.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Right. I’m less concerned about offending Turkish sensibilities noe than I was a decade ago. And I’m even sympathetic to the points made by @Michael Reynolds and @Kingdaddy above. I’m not sure there’s all that much benefit in the move but harming relations with an important ally that has long since stopped behaving as one is less of a risk now.

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  8. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: That’s profoundly childish as an analysis. Stepping over red lines simply to be a blusterer to prove a point is reactive nonsense.

    One should look to national interest – which rather escapes me what the American national interest is in pushing Erdogan’s Turkey further towards a NATO exit and into Russian arms, which this does, all over

    @Kingdaddy: Bollocks. What national past?

    The Armenian massacres were hardly the acts of Turks…. they were the acts of Ottoman militias under the last-gasp Ottomans, the “three Pashas”, Ottoman militias in the Armenian populated zones in the East that were heavily – indeed majority in all likelihood Kurdish in linguistic ethnicity (the dominant-in-the-east Kurdish language agricutural groups rather murderously hating the Armenians for various reasons, upon which late Ottoman ethno-religious tensions mapped), although in Ottoman terms linguistic ethnic identity was not particularly meaningful. That was something that Attaturk would create by bootstrapping on the collapse of the Ottoman state and the reaction to the Allied powers carving up Anatolia.

    What this silly act (which America other than having a blundered hand in the post WWI arrangements, has rather f-all to do with) is, is rather nothing more than a domestic political sop to your Armenian-American lobby with some reflexive American referencing back to your great WWII moral reference mythos. Silly posturing.

    —-
    The Kurdish history here makes it all the more bizarre relative to Americans commenting as here where you go pounding on about the Turkish state proper’s nasty history with the Kurds, where the Kurdish language tribes of the East were part of the backbone of the last Reactionary gasp of Ottoman (not Turkish) state, and queerly enough the Attaturk driven Turkish ethnic nationalism collided head on with the Kurdish tribes Ottoman supremacism identity).

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:

    That’s profoundly childish as an analysis. Stepping over red lines simply to be a blusterer to prove a point is reactive nonsense.

    One should look to national interest – which rather escapes me what the American national interest is in pushing Erdogan’s Turkey further towards a NATO exit and into Russian arms, which this does, all over.

    No, it’s not childish, it’s about power, and power is our national interest. In this instance it’s about not allowing a superpower to be bullied by a pipsqueak, because that’s not how power is maintained. We are a quasi empire with both interests and, not coincidentally, military outposts all over the world – an empire in relative decline as we lose our unique superpower status. If we let ourselves be pushed around by Turkey, (or by Israel, or by the Saudis), why should China take us seriously on Taiwan or the Straits of Malacca? Why should Russia think we’re serious about Donbas or the Baltic states? And who’s next with a ‘red line’, Kenya? Costa Rica?

    This isn’t us throwing our weight around, this is us not cringing in a corner every time one of our supposed allies tries to dictate to us.

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  10. drj says:

    @Lounsbury:

    One should look to national interest

    Valid point. But how is it not in the US’s national interest to start pushing back against a nominal client who has done its best fucking up US national policy goals in recent years?

    pushing Erdogan’s Turkey further towards a NATO exit and into Russian arms, which this does, all over

    Fortunately, the Biden administration appears to know more about the Tuskish position vis-à-vis Russia than you.

    The Turks are currently meddling in Russia’s backyard. They are (once again – just as in the heady days after Brest-Litovsk) expressing a desire to exercise hegemony over the “outside Turks” in former Soviet Central Asia.

    They also made possible Azerbaijan’s recent victory over Armenia (which is a Russian client) thus upsetting the regional balance of power and making Russia look increasingly irrelevant.

    There is simply no way that Turkey and Russia will come to an permanent understanding. Not as long as Erdogan is in power and Turkey continues to have aspirations of regional dominancy.

    I’m pretty sure the Biden administration knows this.

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  11. Lounsbury says:

    @drj: I rather doubt that….
    Yes Erdogan indulges in some pan Turkism but it’s hardly primary to him, versus his old-Ottoman fetish, and Sunni conservatism orientation (the rather more fundamental clashing point between Erdogan and Putin and more relevant to the current calculations, not the secular Pan Turkism of the traditional Turkish republican right). The problem with you Americans, you look at a few decades and think you understand a region and a movement.

    The Armenian sore point aside, over which Putin is entirely reptilian – although Armenia is of course a traditional Russian client if one of only modest strategic interest, mostly as a pressure point in the Caucuses and re the Turkish Republic.

    Whereas a cold-blooded understanding about the Aegean and eastern Med is a point Putin can be calculating about – not needing the Turkish Republic to be an ally, Putin can achieve quite a lot by merely splitting the Republic more away from NATO and achieving a degree of operational neutrality. Entirely like his East European strategy.

    As for “permanent understanding…” there is no such thing in power politics, there are merely alignments of interest of longer and shorter durations.

    @Michael Reynolds: Adolescent reactive blustering as a childish understanding of Empire does not make for sustainable Empire.

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  12. I’d argue that you can draw a direct line from the Armenian Genocide to other mass atrocities in the 20th Century such as Stalin’s Genocide by starvation campaign against Ukrainians by Stalin and the Holocaust.

    As for the Turkd they need to face the truth about their own history. Although it is worth noting that it wasn’t Turkey that committed genocide, it was the OtOttoman Empire

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Adolescent reactive blustering as a childish understanding of Empire does not make for sustainable Empire.

    Insults are not rational arguments.

    Tolerate unreasonable red lines and you get more such red lines, not fewer. As I’m sure you know, there’s quite a bit of tension between Turkey and Greece over fishing rights and territorial waters. What do we do when Erdogan moves against Greece? As mentioned above, Turkey has a hard-on for the Kurds. What do we do if Erdogan starts ethnic cleansing of Turkish Kurds? What if he decides to forbid passage for US or NATO ships into the Black Sea? What exactly are we getting from this supposed ally that would require us to bend the knee?

    The S-400 was a slap in the face, a loud ‘fuck you.’ Turkey’s obnoxious demands for Gülen and its accusations that we were behind the coup attempt, ditto. What interest in your opinion is served by letting Erdogan insult us?

    Empires are not built or maintained by weak nations. American power – military, economic, diplomatic and soft – is the necessary foundation on which our quasi empire rests. Allow some jumped-up thug in Ankara to dictate how we categorize a historical fact? No. We’re not Britain yet, we’re still the United States, we still have real power.

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  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    There’s a bizarre juvenilism in Turkey’s refusal to fully acknowledge its past.

    If Biden issued a proclamation declaring a day of remembrance for US’s genocide of Native Americans, how do you think the Republicans would react?

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I had that very sentence copied so I could scroll down and make this same (rough) point.

    But, I don’t think it would just be the Republicans who get upset. I think it would hurt Democrats across the board. People like their myths (nationalist, religious, whatever), and get angry and resentful when you criticize them.

    This is why we tend to claim that Washington was a good, kind slave owner. A product of his time, but ahead of it. Sure, his fake teeth were made from slave teeth, but he treated them like his children. Think of him like the tooth fairy.

    And, of course, Jefferson loved his slaves.

    Now, if there is a nationalist government in Turkey, does bruising the myths of that nationalism make sense?

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Lounsbury: Joe Biden:

    Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.

    So Joe repeatedly refers to the Ottoman empire, and Erdogan is throwing a pissy fit. It appears the Turks disagree with your historical analysis.

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  17. JohnSF says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Thing is, the Armenian genocide wasn’t a wholly novel approach for the Ottomans.
    Mass slaughter and terror had occurred repeatedly in the Balkans in response to nationalist revolts, in Greece, Bulgaria etc.
    The Ottomans were not pleasant when crossed.
    (And sometimes used local ethno-religous tensions eg Kurds vs Armenians, sometimes could not control them)
    For that matter, there’s the other bit of ethnic cleansing in the post-WW1 period,
    The expulsion of the Greeks from Ionia and Istanbul.
    This is an issue that still really irks some Greeks: the expulsion of the Greek population from the lands that were half of old Greece, where they had lived for some two thousand years, and nobody gives a damn.

    OTOH a lot of Turks also got massacred in the Balkan wars, or at best expropriated and expelled.

    Eurasian history 101: nasty people doin’ nasty things.

    @Sleeping Dog:

    …empire implies beyond a nations historic borders…

    The entire concept of “a nations historic borders” rapidly gets really fuzzy once you actually look at the history of Eurasia in general, and the Near East in particular.

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  18. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “What do we do …. if he decides to forbid passage for US or NATO ships into the Black Sea?”

    You have a big, BIGproblem.

    Which may make it worth sending a message to Erdogan via this issue, to make it clear that there are limits to the patience of the US.

    However, were Turkey to actually to close the Straits, see the Eastern Question in the 19th Century and the Gallipoli Expedition.
    War with Turkey to open the Straits?
    Ooh boy.
    Best avoided.

    The thing is, Erdogan’s current calculus is probably that in the Near/Mid East US needs Turkey more than Turkey need US, leaving him free to manoeuvre between US-Russia-Iran-Israel-Arabia.

    They key thing is to remind him that Turkey faces massive dangers from Russia, Iran, or a “jihadised” Arabia.
    The US can support Turkey against such threats, but is not compelled to; as with the British in the 19th Century, Turkey is the one that need the alliance.
    .
    So, Biden’s actions are rational.
    The question though, is Erdogan rational?

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  19. JohnSF says:

    BTW-
    One explanation for Turkish sensitivity re. Armenian massacres I have heard from some Greeks:
    If they concede fault re. that, surely they must re. the ethnic cleansing of Ionia.
    And that is something no Turkish government could ever concede.

    Or maybe that is just of concern only to some Greeks? Dunno.

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  20. dazedandconfused says:

    May not be about the Armenians at all, it may be about sending Erdogan a message.
    Kemalist Turkey is as dead as a beaver hat, it’s become something more akin to the Ottomans, judging by their recent behavior. I don’t think their membership in NATO is worth much. NATO is an organization structured for defense against one and only one foe, Russia, and Turkey has been arming themselves with Russian ordinance. Turkey isn’t sure which side they will be on, should worse come to worse. “NATO” in name only.

    They ignored us on the Kurdish issue, they didn’t give a damn what we thought about that. Perhaps we shouldn’t be all carrots with a Turkey that is just another country. Perhaps Turkey needed to know our friendship can’t be taken utterly for granted.

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  21. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF:

    “What do we do …. if he decides to forbid passage for US or NATO ships into the Black Sea?”

    You have a big, BIGproblem.

    Do we? Are we planning on having a war in Crimea or Georgia? I’m pretty sure that our national security goals are to contain Russia, not get into a shooting war with them.

    Access to the Black Sea is not that important.

    Blocking access from the Black Sea might be. However, do we really have an option for blocking it now? Worst case scenario we could mine the entrance to the straight, but the Turks are never going to block it, so I’m not sure a lot changed.

    Turkey is more strategically important for Russia than for us, and even there, Turkey is more of a vulnerability for Russia.

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  22. Kurtz says:

    @Lounsbury:

    is rather nothing more than a domestic political sop to your Armenian-American lobby with some reflexive American referencing back to your great WWII moral reference mythos. Silly posturing.

    I’m not really taking a position on the rest of your post. I don’t have enough background on that particular history. But this part strikes me as silly.

    -The vast majority of Americans of Armenian descent are in urban areas–Democratic strongholds.

    -30-40% of them live in LA, and the population in the rest of Cali out numbers the population in all but two other states.

    -The top four states are: Cali, Mass., NY, and NJ. Michigan and Florida are next, at about 15k and just under 10k respectively. But…

    -I cannot even find objective partisan breakdowns of Armenian or Turkish populations in the US. Which means neither are really considered to be a massive political force.

    To be fair, I didn’t look that hard. But for most data, it’s a simple Google search away. So my guess is that data doesn’t exist.

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  23. Kurtz says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    So Joe repeatedly refers to the Ottoman empire, and Erdogan is throwing a pissy fit. It appears the Turks disagree with your historical analysis.

    This was my thought too.

    ReplyReply
  24. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    To restate a bit: you have a big problem IF you want naval access to the Black Sea.
    Which you may.

    Controlling naval access via the Straits has been a Russian dream for centuries.
    For very good reasons.

    do we really have an option for blocking it now?

    Yes, but in wartime only and with the say-so of the Turks.
    (Which is why, in a serious NATO/Soviet confrontation, the Soviet naval forces in the Med were toast.)
    The Turks might unilaterally block it in certain circumstances, but most likely at the northern end
    Closing or mining the Straits would be a wartime act by whatever party.
    See the Montreux Convention on the Straits; the US is not a signatory but has repeatedly stated it will be observe its terms.

    Are we planning on having a war in Crimea or Georgia

    Probably not. Other’s might though.
    See also Transdniestria, and Ukraine.
    In addition, Romania and Bulgaria are NATO members, and Black Sea transit is of vital interest to them.
    And the Danube/Black Sea route is of major importance to south-east Europe.

    A clear breach between Turkey and NATO has major security ramifications for south-eastern Europe; and so for the US, if it takes those NATO allies interests seriously.
    The prime goal of the US may be containing Russia; but if Bulgaria, say, is left inside the containment zone, Sofia is not going to be happy.

    ReplyReply
  25. Ken_L says:

    This was Biden’s ‘move the embassy to Jerusalem’ moment. A trivial issue that gathered more and more symbolic importance the longer it was allowed to remain unresolved. Both Trump and Biden bit the bullet and made a decision. Erdogan will get over it, just like the Palestinians.

    ReplyReply
  26. dazedandconfused says:

    @Ken_L:

    I’d add that in a similar way Biden’s actions has put the matter to rest for future presidents. It’s unlikely Turkey will re-open this issue by demanding a retraction.

    ReplyReply
  27. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I just hope we have quietly removed the nuclear weapons from Incirlik airbase.

    ReplyReply

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