By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
After the United States avoided the issue for forty years, ever since Pres. Ronald Reagan mentioned the Armenian Genocide in a Presidential Proclamation, Pres. Joe Biden used the term Armenian Genocide, despite the gag-rule imposed on the United States government by the denialist rulers of the Republic of Turkey! For good measure, Pres. Biden used the word genocide not once, but twice, in his “Statement on Armenian Remembrance Day.”
Last year, when Biden was a presidential candidate, he promised to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. But, since Armenian-Americans were deceived so many times by previous presidents who had not kept their campaign promises, they were cautiously optimistic about Biden’s commitment.
Even though the United States had repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide starting from 1951 when the U.S government submitted an official document to the World Court; the House of Representatives adopted three resolutions in 1975, 1984, and 2019; the U.S. Senate adopted unanimously a resolution in 2019; and Pres. Reagan issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981, Pres. Biden’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide in 2021 is a major step forward with several positive consequences:
1) As the mass murder of 1.5 million people is a very emotional issue, the descendants of Armenian Genocide victims felt a deep sense of satisfaction that the genocide suffered by their ancestors is formally and correctly acknowledged by the President of the United States.
2) This most recent and authoritative acknowledgment by the American President will enable U.S. Courts to go forward with lawsuits making claims by Armenians on genocide era-demands from the government of Turkey. In the past, such lawsuits were dismissed by Federal judges who claimed (wrongly) that since the U.S. government had not acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, individual states like California could not pass laws allowing these lawsuits to proceed. Nevertheless, if the courts decide that Pres. Biden’s statement on the Armenian Genocide is not sufficient to allow the filing of such lawsuits, then Armenian-Americans would be obliged to push for the adoption of a proposed law, not a commemorative resolution, which needs to be adopted by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President into law. That should be the final word on fulfilling the legal requirements for filing lawsuits against Turkey.
3) As the United States is a superpower, pronouncements by the President have a major effect on other countries — particularly Great Britain, Australia and Israel. Therefore, it is expected that several countries would follow suit in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
4) Pres. Biden’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide comes at a particularly sensitive time for Armenians worldwide following the disastrous defeat in last fall’s Artsakh War by the hands of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Islamic Jihadist mercenaries. Pres. Biden’s April 24 statement will boost the spirits of Armenians and could create an atmosphere of goodwill by world powers towards the just resolution of Artsakh’s status and the protection of its population.
5) The struggle for genocide recognition is also a political battle by the country that perpetrated that mass crime on one hand and the descendants of the victims on the other. The Government of Turkey, as in past years, did everything in its power to prevent the United States from acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. Turkey paid millions of dollars to American lobbying organizations to deny the genocide, pressured and threatened the United States with dire consequences should it acknowledge the genocide. Nevertheless, Turkey suffered a devastating political blow. Turkey’s arrogant President, thinking that no country can go against his wishes, was sternly put in his place by the President of the United States. I am sure Pres. Erdogan spent a sleepless night after Pres. Biden called him on April 23, advising him of his decision to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Hopefully, the humiliated Erdogan understood that the world does not rotate around Turkey.
Let us now see what the Turkish government may do in retaliation. Will it temporarily recall its Ambassador from Washington, threaten to cut off commercial ties, or block the U.S. Government from using the Incirlik airbase in Turkey? I hope Erdogan will take all of these steps and many more. With such actions, Turkey will exacerbate U.S.-Turkish relations, provide worldwide publicity to the Armenian Genocide, and drive its failing economy into bankruptcy. This could lead to internal turmoil and the eventual removal of Erdogan from the presidency during the next election, if not sooner. Interestingly, in a lengthy televised speech to the Turkish nation late at night on April 26, besides his usual lies on the Armenian Genocide, Erdogan dared not announce any actions against the United States in retaliation to Biden’s April 24 statement. Thus, Erdogan displayed his utter humiliation and impotence.
As usual, not having been able to bully the United States to abandon its plans to recognize the Genocide, Turkish leaders are now resorting to their usual tricks by stating that the U.S. recognition does not mean anything. If it meant nothing, why did Turkey spend millions of dollars on lobbyists for several decades and pressure the U.S. government, threatening dire consequences?
Rather than continuing the lies and denials for over a century, it would be much better for Turkey to simply acknowledge the crimes of its predecessors, ask for forgiveness, and make amends for the horrendous damages caused to the Armenian people. Turkey would do well to follow the example of Germany after the Holocaust. Germany apologized for Hitler’s mass crimes, erected memorials for the Holocaust victims and paid billions of dollars in reparations. This is what a civilized nation does when its leaders commit a grave crime.
In the meantime, Armenians in the Diaspora and Armenia should pursue their demands through legal channels by filing multiple lawsuits against Turkey in various country courts and the European Court of Human Rights, seeking restitution for the damages caused by the Genocide. The Government of Armenia, on the other hand, should take Turkey to the International Court of Justice (World Court), where only governments have standing to file lawsuits.
Finally, this is the appropriate moment to remember and acknowledge a great friend of Armenians, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans, whose diplomatic career was cut short in 2006 after he told the truth about the Armenian Genocide during a visit to California. It would be only proper for the Biden Administration to appoint John Evans as the next U.S. Ambassador to Armenia. This is the least the U.S. government could do, after the President issues an official apology to him.