If Biden says ‘genocide,’ what repercussions will Turkey face?

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Alin Ozinian

Every year the US government marks a remembrance of the “events of 1915” on April 24, but this year could bring a surprise for Armenians. According to various sources, there is a possibility that US President Joe Biden will recognize the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman government during World War I. The Armenian diaspora is hopeful about Biden, and their expectations are high.

“As I’ve heard from the White House, that President Biden is going to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenians under the Ottomans’ rule as a genocide,” American political scientist Ian Bremer said on GZERO Media.

The genocide has been recorded by historians as the systematic killing and deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire before and during World War I. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, nearly 1.5 million Armenians were reportedly dead.

During his election campaign Biden promised he would make the move if elected, and Vice President Kamala Harris was co-sponsor of a 2019 Senate resolution to recognize the genocide of Armenians.

Turkish Minute spoke with Yetvart Danzikyan, editor-in-chief of the Agos Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper. Danzikyan thinks if Biden recognizes the Armenian genocide it would not have a positive effect on Turkey’s recognition of the genocide. On the contrary the government of Turkey, which has denied the genocide for years, will come up with new arguments to convince the Turkish public that it was not genocide.

“When European countries recognized the Armenian genocide, different Turkish governments, no matter which one, interpreted these kinds of developments as games of the ‘Armenian lobby’ or as ‘evil Western steps’ that aimed to politically punish Turkey,” said Danzikyan.

US-Turkish relations have been in the spotlight since the Democrats took over the White House and both houses of Congress. Just a few days after his nomination by President Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Turkey as a “so-called” ally, sparking a huge reaction. On top of this Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still waiting for a phone call from President Biden.

It is no secret that former President Donald Trump had a friendly relationship with Erdoğan, even as US-Turkey relations were in trouble, but it is obvious that Biden is openly critical of Erdoğan and didn’t hesitate to call him an “autocrat” before the presidential election.

According to Eren Keskin, a lawyer and prominent human rights defender in Turkey, the Armenian genocide was the first and biggest genocide of the 20th century, and it is unfair that Biden will “decide” whether this was a genocide or not.

“Rightist and leftist politicians and other political groups in Turkey capitalize on the Turkish nationalist ideology. Genocide denial was the founding basis of the Turkish Republic in 1923. If Biden, president of the world’s most powerful country, uses the word ‘genocide,’ there will be major developments in the world and in Turkey. But with the US step Turkey, unfortunately, will not try to deal with its past and open a new page in the recognition of the Armenian genocide. On the other hand, anti-Americanism will grow even more because with the exception of the Peoples’ Democratic Party [HDP], most of the parties use a common discourse towards the US,” Keskin told Turkish Minute in a phone interview.

In March a bipartisan coalition of 38 senators led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez urged Biden to officially recognize the genocide. “We join the Armenian community in the US and around the world in honoring the memory of these victims, and we stand firmly against attempts to pretend that this intentional, organized effort to destroy the Armenian people was anything other than a genocide,” the senators wrote in a letter to President Biden.

“Administrations of both parties have been silent on the truth of the Armenian Genocide. We urge you to break this pattern of complicity by officially recognizing that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide,” the senators added.

Aris Nalcı, a Turkish-Armenian journalist based in Brussels, thinks Turkey does not care what other countries call the events of 1915. But people in Turkey, even Turkish-Armenians, have a very important issue to understand.

“Diaspora Armenians whose families were killed in the genocide and who now who reside in various parts of the world no longer want to live in this denial. Diaspora Armenians cannot tolerate the denial of their own history and identity in the countries they live in. They are insulted by the denial of genocide in Turkey, and they fight for genocide recognition in the countries they’re citizens of. In short, this recognition is important for them,” Nalcı said during a phone interview.

Up to the present 30 countries including France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Switzerland have recognized the Armenian genocide. Turkey admits that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I but disputes the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated or that they constitute genocide.

According to Nalcı, Biden’s possible step to call the events genocide will in the short term lead to violence, aggression and hatred towards the Armenian minority in Turkey. “We will see Turkish-Armenians on TV. Turkey will force them to deny the genocide and say, ‘They have always lived freely in Turkey without any oppression,’ but in the long term, we can see progress on genocide recognition in Turkey because, with Biden’s recognition, people in Turkey will see that various countries, even US, accept this crime and call it genocide. So Turkey is all alone in denying it,” he said.

The resolution recognizing the events of 1915 as genocide was first passed by the US House of Representatives and then by the Senate, with a unanimous vote in 2019 during the 116th term of the Congress. It was a great victory for the powerful Armenian diaspora, which had been fighting for this result in the US for years. Forty-nine out of 50 US states as well as the District of Columbia have recognized the Armenian genocide.

Keskin thinks the biggest obstacle to the recognition of the Armenian genocide in Turkey is the issue of compensation.

“The process of compensation could begin right after recognition, that’s the biggest fear of all parties in Turkey. That’s why all the political factions are coalescing when it comes to the Armenian genocide. If the genocide is recognized in Turkey, the state establishment and the state ideology will fall apart. That’s the reason Turkey would never agree to discuss its genocide of the Armenians and other Christians. Not only the Justice and Development Party [AKP] government but also the opposition have internalized the official ideology so deeply,” said Keskin.

This is not the first time a US president has promised to officially recognize the Armenian genocide. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had promised to do so. Clinton, like Obama, had vowed during his election campaign to recognize the Armenian genocide but failed to keep his promise during his years in office. However, the tradition of making a statement on April 24 of every year began with Clinton.

44th President Obama made did not use the term genocide as expected but took a new step and used the expression “Meds Yeghern,” which means “great crime” in Armenian, in his statements.

According to Nalcı, Turkey always confronts its history with the help of external pressure from foreign countries. but for recognition of the Armenian genocide, they need political will.

“Turkey can recognize the Armenian genocide only as an outcome of its process of democratization. First, they should choose the path to live equally and in peace with all the people in the country, especially with the Kurds. However, it is unlikely we’ll see that any time soon,” he said.

The 45th president, Trump, was criticized by Armenian-Americans for not using the word genocide in his April 24 statements. If Biden lives up to the expectations, he will be the first US president to recognize the genocide of Armenians.

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