People visit the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. Photographer: Karen Minasyan/AFP via Getty Images
For decades, measures recognizing the Armenian genocide have stalled in the U.S. Congress, held back by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes the mass killings of Armenians a century ago. Historically seen an interesting move that infuriated Turkey and dealt a blow to the already problematic ties between Ankara and Washington. Congressional aides said the White House does not want the legislation to move ahead while it negotiates with Ankara on sensitive issues.
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that turkey’s attitude on the Armenian issue has been clear from the beginning. “We will never accept the accusations of genocide,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish government does not deny that many Armenians were killed by the Ottoman military, but disputes the death toll, and emphasizes that there were deaths on both sides during the War. Turkish authorities hold the position that the deaths incurred by Armenians as a whole were the result of the turmoil of World War I and that the Ottoman Empire was fighting against Russia, Armenian volunteer units, and the Armenian militia. However, the Armenians had neither a police force nor an army.
Mr. Erdogan is trying to run from the black history of Turkey by certainly affirming that his country does not recognize the decision, describing it as having no value for Turkey, and pledging that his country’s parliament would respond to the decision of the US House of Representatives.
The systematic mass extermination
The Armenian Genocide was the systematic mass extermination and expulsion of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians within the Ottoman Empire (most of whom were citizens) by the Ottoman government from approximately 1914 to 1923. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases—the killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labor, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian Desert.
Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Most Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide. Several international organizations have conducted studies of the atrocities, each, in turn, determining that the term ‘genocide’ aptly describes the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915–16.
The nationalist ideology of the Turks, which developed at the beginning of the twentieth century, from which racial and religious racism arose, incited the Ottoman Turks to change their perception of minorities and modify their position towards them, and, accordingly, to undertake mass liquidations of these minorities.
Recognition of the Armenian genocide
With the passage of years since the “massacres of the Armenians”, the British were the first to discuss these events, as they entered Istanbul on November 13, 1919, as they arrested a number of Turkish leaders for trial. However, most of the accused escaped or disappeared and were sentenced to death in absence. Only the mayor of Yozgat was executed.
After decades, 20 countries and 42 American states officially recognized the massacres as a historical event, and some international organizations officially recognized the “Armenian genocide”, such as the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the World Council of Churches, and the Human Rights Organization, Turkey insists that the cause of the Armenian massacre were the result of war and displacement, and paragraph 301 of Turkish law was passed in 2005 criminalizing the recognition of massacres in Turkey. It is reported that there are more than 135 memorials, distributed over 25 countries, in memory of the “genocide” of the Armenians. To Erdogan the mass killing is no more than collateral damage.
Erdogan emphasized that the archives of his country are open to anyone who wants to know “the truth” about the Armenian issue. “Displacement is one thing, massacres are another thing, and the world must realize that our archive is open to anyone who wants to know the truth,” Anatolia news agency quoted Erdogan as saying.
Turkey and the Assyrian genocide
The Turkish government continues to deny other massacres, for example the Assyrian Genocide. The Assyrian nation is one of the world’s most ancient. As an ethnic and religious minority in the Middle East, the Assyrians have long suffered from riots and persecution. During World War I, the Turks murdered hundreds of thousands of Assyrians; between one half and two third of all Assyrians living in the Ottoman Empire. Assyrians were subjected to massacres and displacement, which forced them to leave their areas of origin in present-day Turkey, towards neighboring countries: Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and others. Many Assyrians say they are descended from Babylonians and Arameans.
The Assyrian genocide took place in the same context as the Armenian and Greek genocides. They were part of a policy of “Pan-Islamism” and “holy war” (Jihad) that the Ottoman regime enacted against the Christian minorities within the Empire: Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians. The Ottoman Empire’s Turkish military forces—in conjunction with armed Islamic militias (among them Kurds, Circassians, and Chechens)—carried out the genocide. The genocide took place mostly in 1915, and was called the “Year of the Sword.”
Estimates on the overall death toll vary. Providing detailed statistics of the various estimates of the Churches’ population after the genocide, David Gaunt (Professor emeritus in history, Center for Baltic and East European Studies) accepts the figure of 275,000 deaths as reported by the Assyrian delegation at the Treaty of Lausanne and ventures that the death toll would be around 300,000 because of uncounted Assyrian-inhabited areas. Rudolph Rummel, who was a professor political science, gave the number of Christian deaths in Assyrian-populated regions of Turkey as 102,000 and adds to this the killing of around 47,000 Assyrians in Persia.
There are several reasons for the Turkish government’s denial including the preservation of national identity, but also territorial concerns (called “Sevres Syndrome“). Turkey’s territorial concerns are exacerbated by Armenia’s refusal to recognize Turkey’s eastern borders. Another reason is the demand for reparations. Armenian diaspora groups have in recent years become more focused on financial reparations. The Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group has released a study that was partly funded by Armenian advocacy organizations which include various recommendations for how to calculate a possible reparations package. Genocide scholar Henry C. Theriault who chaired the panel has said that the question of reparations is “obviously a pretty central one”. The Turkish government’s position is that reparations do not need to be paid for the events of 1915. Human rights historians have said that recognition by Turkey would undermine any legal defense Turkey might have to future compensation claims.
Many Turkish journalists have viewed the issue of recognition as “an imposition on the Turkish state and society, one that would solely benefit the Armenians”. In one editorial a Turkish journalist wrote “If you once acknowledge, then see what will happen next? From demands for restitution to land…”.
The U.S. Congress wants to sanction Turkey
The U.S. Congress has been united in its opposition to Turkey’s recent policy actions. They have also moved to punish Turkey over its Oct. 9 incursion into Syria. A U.S. Senate committee backed legislation on Wednesday to impose sanctions on Turkey, pushing Trump to take a harder line on the issue, as many lawmakers blame Trump for giving a green light to Ankara for its military offensive.
On Thursday, the US House of Representatives approved the “Pentagon” budget for 2020, which is estimated at 738 billion US dollars, after 377 deputies voted in favor of it, in exchange for the rejection of 48 of them.
The budget document provides for a ban on the delivery of Turkey’s F-35 fighters because of its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
The document also calls for sanctions against Turkey within the framework of the “Katsa” law, and demands that Turkey be removed from the project of manufacturing F-35 fighters. To become law, that legislation would have to pass the House of Representatives, which passed its own Turkish sanctions bill by an overwhelming 403-16 vote in October and be signed by Trump.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has repeated a retaliation threat against any US sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of a Russian S400 missiles system. Speaking at a conference in Qatar’s capital, Doha, Cavusoglu said on Saturday that Turkey would not cancel its deal with Russia over the S-400 missile system “whatever the consequences”.
Moreover, Erdogan repeatedly said Turkey has no intention of dropping the Russian S-400 air defense missile systems it has bought, which the United States says pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and therefore cannot be integrated into NATO defenses, crushing any hopes for progress.
Erdogan crushing any hopes for progress
Over the years, Presidents of the United States issued statements on April 24th of each year to commemorate the genocide, and until now no president has used the term genocide on a public occasion except for former President Ronald Reagan who used it during a public event, a party The Holocaust Museum opened in Washington in 1981. Trump has used the phrase “Great Crime” twice since he took office.
The decision of the US House of Representatives to formally recognize the massacres of Armenians was not only a strong blow to Turkey, but a historic decision that awakened the nightmare that has chased Turkish rulers for nearly 100 years.
Erdogan’s internal and external policy has placed Turkey in a range of problems everywhere, with deteriorating relations with the European Union, and the war against the Kurds and the safe zone in Syria, plus the gas crisis with Egypt and the war in Libya, added to it are the internal opposition problems led by dissidents from his ruling party. Nonetheless, the Turkish president does not even seem close to changing his dictatorial approach.