WASHINGTON DC—Almost one hundred years since an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks, the United States has yet to officially recognize the act as genocide.
Current US President Barack Obama in his 2008 election campaign vowed to label the tragedy “genocide." But as president, he has failed to recognize and use the term genocide.
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region (ANCA-WR) has been working to get through the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act that was introduced by a group of bi-partisan Democratic and Republican Congressmen.
The resolution asks the Obama administration to acknowledge the Armenian genocide as a precursor to improving Turkish-Armenian relations.
“It’s a different approach to the age old question,” ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan told Armenpress. “There needs to be a just acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide by the Obama Administration. Without a clear and just resolution to the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians, a lasting peace between the Turkish and Armenian people is near impossible.”
Without a clear and just resolution to the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians, a lasting peace between the Turkish and Armenian people is near impossible.
Gregory Aftandilian, a specialist and senior fellow at the Center for National Policy in Washington, said the US is afraid of jeopardizing strategic US-Turkish ties, because Turkey has made it clear it will affect the bilateral relationship.
“Whenever this issue is raised in the US Congress the Turkish government puts pressure on people related to the defense industry and many US defense contractors actively lobby members of Capitol Hill to oppose the genocide resolution,” Aftandilian told Rudaw.
He said business interests, lobbyists and individuals such as ex-secretaries of Defense or State get mobilized against this act of denial. He described that as a “shameful exercise.”
Aftandilian said that the US National Archives in Washington DC have collected extensive evidence on the Armenian genocide and that US diplomats at the time described it as, “race extermination,” since the word genocide was not coined by then.
The American National Committee of America and Armenian Assembly of America, two active lobbying groups, have lobbied the US congress and individual states for the recognition of the Armenian genocide. Their efforts have led to 42 US states recognizing the Armenian Genocide legislation.
“If Turkey was smart enough it would’ve said these acts were committed by Ottomans and not the modern Turkish state and come clean,” said Aftandilian. “But in reality it is a big psychological issue for them as they don’t want to admit their ancestors committed these crimes.”
He said he has met many Germans who can’t understand the Turkish denial since Germans have come to terms with the holocaust, acknowledged the crime and moved forward as a society.
“There is some talk that if Turkey recognizes this crime it will be liable for reparations. But to me that is not the issue, as the mass majority of Armenians are not after reparations but simply seek the acknowledgement of this crime,” said Aftandilian.
Dr. Peter Balakian, an expert on the Armenian genocide and professor of humanities at Colgate University in New York, says that passing bills and resolutions by foreign countries wouldn’t change the fact that a genocide had taken place.
“This issue has been clearly established by historical records and a complete and consensual assessment of scholars of genocide; and also by the man who coined the word genocide and conceived of the idea of genocide as a crime in international law, Raphael Lemkin,” Balakian told Rudaw.
If Turkey was smart enough it would’ve said these acts were committed by Ottomans and not the modern Turkish state and come clean,
In his view, when other states pass these bills they are both reaffirming the consensual historical record and also expressing redress to the Turkish government’s denial.
Balakian said that, with its constant denial, Turkey has in fact raised more awareness to the genocide.
“International state resolutions are a response to the Turkish government going around the world trying to undermine these historic events, interfering with its representation, and falsifying the records,” he said. “If it was not for such actions by the Turkish government there would be no need for these resolutions.”
On the US reluctance to recognize the Armenian genocide, he said, “I don’t find that US legislators and presidents are denying the truth about the ethical reality of the Armenian genocide.
“What I find is that they need the courage to stand up to the Turkish government on this issue and they need to spend a little time and energy exerting an ethical redress to Turkey’s denial,” he added.
Balakian said that the United States should act as it did during the killings when it got involved in rescue and relief efforts to save Armenian victims.
“The US’s role during that time was heroic in many ways,” he said.
For the US State Department it is not worth aggravating Turkey because of its strategic partnership with Washington in the Middle East.
It would be a great step forward for Turkey to be able to deal with this past crime;
Balakian said that the State Department “could certainly stand up to a little discomfort for a few months as other countries like France, Greece and Poland did when they passed the Armenian genocide resolutions.”
Balakian, who is also a writer and poet, said that other countries have had similar bitter realities about their past to face, and that Turkey is not alone in this.
“The Soviet Union, the US and other countries have created their own false narratives about their pasts,” he said. “But as countries mature and become more democratic and open they push past the big lie syndrome, and Turkey is capable of doing so as well.”
Balakian believes that recognizing the genocide would benefit Turkey itself as much as it would give closure to the Armenians.
“It would be a great step forward for Turkey to be able to deal with this past crime; it would raise Turkey’s status in the eyes of the world,” he explained.
Dr. Gregory Stanton, former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and the author of The Eight Stages of Genocide, said that the US State Department and one president after another consider maintaining good relations with Turkey more important than telling the truth about the Armenian Genocide.
“The main obstacle for many years during the Cold War was that the US needed Turkey as an ally against the Soviet Union,” said Stanton. “Today, Turkey is an important ally against Arab terrorists in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.”
Another reason, said Stanton, is that Turkey is a member of NATO, and has one of the largest US airbases at Incirlik in southeastern Turkey, which has been vital for supplying US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The main lobbying groups behind the denial of the Armenian genocide are financed directly by the government of Turkey. They hire high-priced Washington lawyers and lobbyists to beat back recognition of the truth about the Armenian Genocide by the US government,” he said.
It is part of the nation-building project of Turkey to deny that it committed the Armenian Genocide,
Stanton said that there are more people of Armenian descent in the US than Turks. Therefore, “It may seem a bit strange that the US favors Turkey over Armenia.”
“But US foreign policy is made in the Executive Branch, so even though some Congressmen and women support Armenia, the State Department has managed to kill every resolution on the Armenian genocide before it ever got to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote,” he explained.
Stanton said that The International Association of Genocide Scholars, whose membership includes all the major scholars on genocide in the world, has repeatedly voted unanimously that the massacres of the Armenians would be defined today as genocide under the Genocide Convention.
“According to the Turkish historian, Taner Akcam, who probably understands the reasons for Turkey's denial better than anyone, the father of the modern Turkish nation, Kemal Ataturk, was himself involved in policies that denied the massacres, and he fostered the myth that everyone in Turkey is ethnically Turkish,” said Stanton.
“Akcam says that it is part of the nation-building project of Turkey to deny that it committed the Armenian Genocide,” according to Stanton.
He said that for many years, the US had a similar denial of the genocides committed by some presidents in the White House against Native Americans, most importantly by president Andrew Jackson.
“But we have finally come to accept these crimes against humanity as indicators that we Americans, like all human beings, have committed such crimes, including genocide,” Stanton said. “Someday, we hope that Turkey will admit that the Ottoman Young Turk regime committed the Armenian genocide, as well as terrible crimes against Kurds.”