24 April 2021   Leave a comment

US President Biden has made an important statement recognizing the Armenian genocide in 1915. The statement was direct and unequivocal:

“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.”

The term Meds Yeghern roughly translates as “Great Evil Crime” and it is a phrase that has been used by previous US Presidents to avoid the use of the word “genocide” in order to assuage Turkish sensibilities which flatly denies that a genocide occurred (US President Reagan actually did use the word genocide, but subsequent Presidents avoided the term).. Biden’s use of the word genocide, a word coined in 1944 to describe the Holocaust tragedy, is a first for the US.

Turkey insists that the deaths of the Armenians was not intentional and therefore does not qualify as genocide. Turkey’s position was that Armenians in the then Ottoman Empire were Christians and therefore identified more closely with other powers, notably the Russians who were fighting against Germany with which the Ottomans were aligned. The Ottomans regarded the Armenians as a Fifth Column who could not be trusted. The Washington Post provides some of the historical context:

“When World War I broke out, Armenians found themselves physically on both sides of the battlefront between the Ottomans and the Russians. The Ottoman government drafted Armenian men to fight, but when the military suffered heavy losses, it blamed them on Armenians, accusing them of collaborating with the enemy. The Armenian soldiers were disarmed and murdered by Ottoman troops.

“On April 24, 1915, the government arrested about 250 Armenian leaders and intellectuals. This is seen by many as the beginning of the massacre, and April 24 now marks Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

“In the following months, most of those Armenian leaders were killed. The military forced Armenian villagers from their homes and on long, cruel marches to concentrations camps in what is now northern Syria and Iraq. Many of them died along the way; others died in the camps of starvation and thirst. Meanwhile, irregular forces and locals rounded up Armenians in their villages and slaughtered them. Historians estimate that between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died.

“The few survivors were often forced to convert to Islam, and Armenian orphans were adopted by Muslim families. The empty homes and businesses were also given to Muslims, some of whom had recently been forced out of the Balkans.

“At this point in the war, the United States was still neutral. Henry Morgenthau Sr. was the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and witnessed many of the atrocities. In a July 16, 1915, cable, he told the State Department: ‘It appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress.’”

President Biden is scheduled to meet with Turkish President Erdogan in June and the US declaration will unquestionably sour US-Turkish relations. But those relations were already in bad shape and it is not at all clear that Erdogan wishes to repair the damage. Turkish activities in Syria and Libya, as well as its relations with Russia and its treatment of the Kurds in the region, are all inconsistent with US interests. Turkey may be a member of NATO but one would be hard-pressed to label Turkey as a loyal US ally.

Posted April 24, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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