President Biden: Use the G-Word

Armenian American community members and their allies gathered at the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles
Armenian American community members and their allies gathered at the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles

Armenian American community members and their allies gathered at the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles

BY DR. DIKRAN M. KALIGIAN

Last September Turkey’s autocratic ruler, Recep Erdogan, joined Azerbaijan in an unprovoked invasion of one of the few democratic states of the former Soviet Union. Rather than condemn this bloody attack on the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh by an ostensible NATO ally, the Trump Administration turned a blind eye to a war that included Turkey dropping cluster bombs on Armenian civilians, torturing POWs, and importing jihadi mercenaries from Syria, all violations of international law.

The Biden Administration has the opportunity to regain the moral high ground now by taking a simple step that will undo decades of kowtowing to Turkey’s blackmail while showing that violations of human rights and international law carry consequences: recognize the Armenian Genocide in his April 24th statement

For years, both Republican and Democratic administrations have performed verbal gymnastics to avoid using the word genocide in their annual statements marking the murder of over 1.5 million Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians in the Ottoman Turkish Empire from 1915-1923. All in the vain hope that by helping them cover up the unambiguous historical record, Turkey would act like an ally and support US foreign policy aims.

Yet Turkey’s response has been the opposite. When Donald Trump abruptly withdrew US troops from Syria, Turkish troops attacked and killed hundreds of Kurds, America’s only reliable ally in that country. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest of this battlefield betrayal. Earlier during Syria’s civil war, Turkey gave free passage to Al Qaeda militias to cross the border, commit atrocious attacks on civilians, then return to have their wounded cared for in Turkish hospitals. Turkish troops have regularly violated the sovereignty of Iraq, have occupied Northern Cyprus since 1974, and have repeatedly provoked confrontations with America’s ally Greece.

The repeated failure by the US State and Defense Departments to hold the Turkish government accountable has given President Erdogan a sense of impunity: he feels he can literally get away with murder. In that way, he is very much the heir to Talaat Pasha, the principal leader of the Young Turk party that ruled the Ottoman Empire and gave the orders to annihilate its Armenian population. It was US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau who cabled the State Department that “a campaign of race extermination is in progress” after he confronted Talaat during one of their face-to-face meetings.

The Turkish government spends tens of millions of dollars each year in an international campaign of genocide denial, unique among nations. Here in the US, Congress, colleges and universities, the courts, the media, and state boards of education have all been inundated with Turkish propaganda trying to sell the original Big Lie: that the deaths of 1.5 million souls was an accident of war and not a deliberate crime against humanity.

Despite this, the U.S. Senate and House, 49 states, 30 countries, and the International Assoc. of Genocide Scholars have all stood up for historical truth and insisted on recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Now it is time for a US President to do the same.

Genocide Studies scholars, international law experts, and the man who wrote the UN Genocide Convention, Raphael Lemkin, all agree: the only way to prevent future genocides and crimes against humanity is to properly acknowledge and punish past cases. For as long as the authoritarian government in Turkey avoids accountability and profits from the crimes of its predecessors, current and future genocide perpetrators will believe that they too can get away with it.

The Republic of Turkey was founded on the bones of those the Ottoman Empire slaughtered. Its economy was founded on the farms, orchards, businesses, schools, homes, and belongings of those they drove into the deserts to die. The citizens of Turkey will never know their true history and Turkey’s neighbors will never be secure until the veil of genocide denial is ripped away forever. President Biden: use the G-word.

Dr. Dikran M. Kaligian teaches history at Worcester State and previously taught at Clark University and Regis, Westfield State, and Wheaton colleges. He is past chairperson of the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region and Managing Editor of the Armenian Review. He received his Ph. D. in history from Boston College. His book, “Armenian Organization and Ideology under Ottoman Rule, 1908-1914” was published in 2009 by Transaction Publishing.

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