Biden Becomes First US President To Say The Armenian Genocide Happened, Which It Obviously Did
On this day, in 1915, Talaat Pasha, one of the leaders of the Ottoman Empire's "Committee of Union and Progress" (CUP) — better known as the Young Turks — ordered the systemic mass arrests of hundreds of Armenian community leaders and intellectuals, most of whom were not so much arrested as killed. A month later, the government would approve his "Deportation Plan," to remove all the Armenians from Anatolia (an area that makes up the majority of modern day Turkey), sending 800,000 to 1.2 million of them on foot to the Syrian desert, where they were then placed in concentration camps. Most of them would be killed as well, either on the way there or in 1916 when another massacre was ordered. Historians estimate that around 1 million Armenians were killed by leaders of the Ottoman Empire and CUP from 1915-17.
That is, surely, what any reasonable person would call a genocide. And today, on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, Joe Biden became the first United States President to do so. The US now joins the majority of Europe — with the notable exceptions of the U.K. and Ukraine — in acknowledging it.
Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.
Of those who survived, most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States. With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community. Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.
Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future—toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security. Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.
The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.
This is actually a pretty big deal. There's a reason other presidents have not officially recognized the Armenian Genocide and that is because Turkey does not recognize it and has basically said, for decades, that any country that does recognize will be on their shit list — which was not a thing the US wanted. Turkey was a useful geopolitical ally to Western countries (and the World Bank/IMF) during the Cold War and the "War on Terror," so they were pretty much allowed to do whatever the hell they wanted without anyone going "Hey, it seems like those prisons are pretty bad, guys."
While the Turkish government admits that they "deported" Armenians during that time, they claim this was a reasonable response to "Armenian violence," that the overall number of Armenians killed has been inflated and that there was never any purposeful genocide. This runs contrary to actual statements and documents from Talaat Pasha and other CUP officials, who were often very explicit in stating their desire to annihilate the Armenian people.
"In their communications - both with Istanbul and with one another - the governors did not see the need to use vague language or euphemisms in referring to the annihilation of the Armenians, but spoke of it openly, even offering a number of tangible ideas regarding how such an extermination could or should be carried out," said historian Taner Akcam, a prominent scholar of the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkish government's response has not been exactly warm.
[Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan has been adamant in not referring to the World War I-era events as genocide, and in 2019, Erdogan spokesperson Fahrettin Altun said any such recognition would "endanger the future of [U.S.-Turkish] bilateral relations." In 2014, the Turkish president called the events "inhumane."
"Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties. If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told broadcaster Haberturk on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
"Lies do not only distort history, they also claim innocent lives," Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted Saturday. "We have not forgotten and will never forget our colleagues martyred by Armenian terror!"
It is hardly as though Turkey has had an unblemished human rights record since then, so it's unclear what the government believes it is accomplishing by continuing to try to gaslight the world on this. They have certainly no problem with everyone knowing they torture people. They do not exactly have a rep to protect.
Former Turkish President/Dictator Turgut Ozal (who certainly had some problems of his own) didn't seem to know either, noting that the country's insistence on denying that the Armenian Genocide happening was harming their relationships with other countries.
What happens if we compromise with the Armenians and end this issue? What if we officially recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide and face up to our past? Let's take the initiative and find the truth. Let's pay the political and economic price, if necessary.
That probably would have been the reasonable thing to do. Eventually, hopefully, there is going to be no country left willing to pretend this never happened for fear of hurting Turkey's feelings and they will either have to get over it or have no allies.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse