US calls 1915 ‘Armenian genocide,’ Turkey furious
U.S. President Joe Biden declared that his country recognizes April 24 as the day of remembrance of the Armenian genocide. Thus, he has become the second U.S. President to call the 1915 Armenian deportation and the massacres that followed the “Armenian genocide”. Earlier in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan had called the 1915 deportation the “Armenian genocide.”
The first reactions to the statement came from Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and President Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın.
Turkey “strongly condemned” the U.S. decision, naming it null. Ankara has asked Biden take back his decision. Main opposition Republİcan People’S Party (CHP) spokesperson Faik Öztrak also condemned the United States, but said that this was a result of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) government’s “short-sighted foreign policy”.
Biden had not responded to Erdoğan’s congratulatory phone call for about six months, before calling him on April 23, the day before he recognized the genocide, and the two leaders agreed to meet at the NATO summit in June.
Neither the Turkish Presidency nor the White House gave any clue that Biden would recognize the genocide the next day. However, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had told reporters on April 21 that the White House would likely have “more to say” about the issue on April 24. The Turkish media concluded that “the U.S. would recognize the genocide.”
Only after that Bloomberg, the U.S. economy broadcaster that has acted as a media diplomacy channel between Turkey and the U.S. reported that Biden had told Erdoğan that he would recognize the genocide. Finally, he did so.
Ottomans detail in the Biden message
A detail about the Ottoman in Biden’s April 24 message is interesting. First of all, he particularly emphasizes that the incidents happened “in the Ottoman era”. However, the Armenian diaspora wants also the Turkish Republic to be seen as responsible for the 1915 massacres. “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,” read the White House statement, implying that modern Turkey is not responsible of the massacres. Second, by emphasizing the name of Istanbul as the Ottoman capital Constantinople, it again impies that the mentioned period should be left behind. Third, “Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future,” it said perhaps pointing to an intent not extend the matter any longer.
Whether Biden wants to extend the issue or not, Erdoğan’s foreign policy has taken a serious blow, especially in terms of domestic policy.
On the other hand, this attitude of Biden seems to be the first test of Ibrahim Kalın’s proposal in Bloomberg’s interview last month to maintain relations with the United States as well as Russia, that is, not to allow disagreement points to block cooperation points. Will Erdoğan be able to continue the Turkey-U.S relations as if nothing has happened wit Biden despite the decision on the Armenian genocide?
Let’s take a closer look.
Armenian issue in Turkey-US relations
The issue of US presidents recognizing April 24 as Remembrance Day has hun over Tukey like the sword of Damocles since the Turkish military operation in Cyprus in 1974.
For years, Turkey has worked to prevent the U.S. presidents to call the 1915 killings a “genocide” and do not Turkey be held responsible for the tragedy during World War II, in the final era of the Ottoman Empire, giving political and military compromises to Washington in this regard.
What does it mean to be held responsible? Let’s explain briefly: If the U.S. president names the incidents “genocide”, this can provide a basis for lawsuits to be filed against Turkey in terms of U.S. law. The descendants of the Armenians who had insured houses, workplaces or other assets in Turkey at that time can place compensation suits.
Yes, Reagan had called the 1915 events “genocide” earlier, but this did not result in any lawsuit. Diplomatic sources say these cases were blocked by the Pentagon at the time. Because it was right after the Sept. 12, 1980, military coup in Turkey and Reagan’s predecessor.
Jimmy Carter had promised the coup leader, Kenan Evren, to ease Turkey’s foreign and domestic matters in exchange of Ankara’s approval for Greece’s return to the military wing of NATO.
Since George Bush, U.S. presidents have found a cunning way to say genocide without using the word “genocide.” They called it “Meds Yeghern” in Armenian, which means “the Great Catastrophe”; This is exactly what Armenians call the 1915 incidents. As a matter of fact, Biden used the term “Meds Yeghern” as well as the English word “genocide.”
However, what Biden did was keeping his election promise.
And what will Erdoğan do? Will he call back the newly appointed Washington Ambassador Murat Mercan to Ankara for consultations in reaction to Biden? The pro-government media might call it a strong reaction but everyone knows that this does not mean much in today’s diplomacy. Will he level down diplomatic ties like he did with Egypt and Israel, or asks the U.S. Ambassador to leave the country? Will he cancel the NATO meeting with Biden in June? Will he free hashhash production like late prime minister Bülent Ecevit did in the past? Will he close the İncirlik military air base like Süleyman Demirel, another late prime minister and president di? Or will he order a second batch of S-400 missiles from Russia?
On the other hand, what does it mean, “We will meet in NATO in June”? It means that Turkey will remain in NATO, and the presidents of the two countries will meet regardless of what happens about the Armenian memorial day or the S-400 missiles issue.
“It has no effect for us”
As a matter of fact, Russia had called the 1915 events “Armenian genocide” years ago and this did not prevent political and military relations with Moscow from reaching an unprecedented extent. Or with Germany, with France… The U.S. became the 30th country to declare the 1915 deportation as the Armenian genocide. The number may increase after this decision of the U.S.
From this point of view, it was seen beforehand that if Biden pronounced “genocide” in English, Erdoğan could choose to get out of it by saying “it is null for us.” The insurance cases are something to think about later. The AKP’s general approach applies here. In the same respect, the U.S. has lost a significant leverage against Turkey.
It is not possible to say the same for domestic politics. This situation hurts Erdoğan in domestic politics, it will be seen as a severe defeat, and the opposition will do its best to make it be seen that way. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said a few days earlier that if Biden named the incidents a genocide then “this would implicate all citizens of Turkey are responsible.” Also a similar message by İYİ Party (Good Party) made a similar statement, leaving no room for Erdoğan to blame the opposition. Only Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) considers the 1915 events as the Armenian genocide.
Why April 24?
April 24, 1915, it known for the date that Talat Pasha, the Ottoman official whose seat refers to today’s Interior Minister, sent a telegram order to deport and exile civilian Armenians, who were Ottoman citizens, in reaction to the armed forces of the Armenian Dashnak Party that cooperated with the Russian occupation army.
Actually, that telegram is dated April 27. It was published after the February siege of Van of the Russian army with the help of Dashnaks, which would result in an occupation. But when Armenian committee centers were closed and arrests began in Istanbul on April 24, the Armenian Patriarchate notified the situation to Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president at the time. For this reason, the Armenian diaspora considered April 24 as the day that the incidents started. Armenian sources say that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred during the forceful deportation, while Turkish sources say that 600 thousand people were killed in mutual massacres. Turkish governments, including Erdoğan’s, have suggested for years the opening of the archives and letting historians find the truth but keeping this matter in the political arena allows pressures on Turkey. On the other hand, due to Dashnak aggression, the punishment of the Armenian civilians and incredible numbers of deaths are in question.
In the meantime, we have to face our history politically.
But now, the issue is that ties with the U.S. has come to a turning point.