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THE HARD WORK STARTS NOW
“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”
With these words President Biden ended decades of appeasing Turkey over the issue of genocide recognition. Although this move had been promised during the 2020 campaign, although it has been telegraphed for over a month, although Biden himself told Erdogan he was going to do it a day earlier, there was still much angst up until the moment the White House released its statement.
To label this recognition “overdue” reveals how bland the English language is. The memory of those lost to the 30 year Genocide of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians — described in detail in Benny Morris’s and Dror Ze’evi’s brilliant book — was consistently dishonored by the stubborn and immoral refusal of Administration after Administration to recognize this crime. They each had all the cover they needed — the International Association of Genocide Scholars, parliaments and governments around the world recognized the Armenian Genocide with little if any consequence conning out of Ankara. President Obama performed rhetorical gymnastics — using the words “the first mass atrocity” and noting that his personal views had not changed.
Still, too many adhered to the belief that Turkey was so important to the American foreign policy that they allowed Turkey to impose a “Gag Rule” — even resulting in the dismissal of the US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, for supporting the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In the face of such consistent pusillanimity, Ankara almost has to be forgiven for its strident — albeit incorrect — belief that the US needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the US.
This long time combination of cynical political expediency and cowardice was not suddenly replaced with political courage — yet. President Biden’s stance towards Turkey both during the campaign and in his first 100 days give credence to those who have long argued that but for President Obama, then Vice President Biden would have been tougher on Turkey.
Still, the US-Turkey relationship is on much different footing in 2021 than it was in 2016. Starting in 2014, even the Obama Administration was beginning to express serious concerns about the reliability of Turkey as an ally. Today, there really is no question. In a Washington where the Senate recognized the Armenian Genocide unanimously, where Turkey was ejected from an F35 program in which it was a key production cog, where CAATSA sanctions were imposed on Turkey, and in which the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act was passed, this latest move made complete sense. There are few Americans today that accept the premise that the US needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the US.
Maybe the Armenian Genocide was destined to be recognized this year. After all, it is the Biden Administration that has committed to making human rights a central part of American foreign policy. What better way to signal that than to abandon the precedent of looking the other way when an American ally is involved?
But much more must be done. The same week recognition came, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report and detailed the lasting legacy of the 30 years Genocide — continued religious oppression against Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Assyrian Christians as well as other religious minorities. It has almost been a year since Turkey converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque against international outcry and against the very UNESCO conventions it benefits from, and there has been no solid pushback. And Turkey doubles down on its genocide denial, protesting Greece’s commemoration of the Greek Genocide and sending its official Foreign Ministry trolls to tweet that the Greek Genocide is a hoax.
Germany became a responsible member of the community of nations and a leader in Europe when it came to terms with its World War II era crimes. No amount of negotiations, trade, appeasement will transform Turkey into a reliable and stable regional and global actor if it does not reckon with its crimes. Trying to make Ankara happy by avoiding the designation “genocide” or not using the terms “invasion” and “occupation” have only made Turkey more irresponsible and revanchist.
We have fortunate timing when it comes to Greek-American contributions to the hard work ahead. If Cyprus talks are going to resume, the rule of law must be sacrosanct, and Turkey’s oppression of Christianity in occupied Cyprus must be reckoned with. With May 19 approaching, we must detail how the experience of the Greeks (and Assyrians) show that the Armenian Genocide was not merely an exception to the rule. And we should be incorporating a comprehensive teaching of the Greek Genocide into every Greek school and Sunday school, a memorial in every Greek Orthodox Parish. Finally, with the upcoming visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch, we cannot miss the opportunity to emphasize his plight as a continuation of the same genocide.
The millions of victims of this 30 year Genocide received some measure of vindication on April 24th, 2021. But to honor their memories, we must end the legacy of that Genocide.