October 16, 2021

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What does the US official designation of the Armenian genocide mean?

What does the US official designation of the Armenian genocide mean?

April 24 is a day of deep sorrow for ethnic Armenians around the world, marking the date in 1915 when officials from the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of present-day Turkey, rounded up and killed hundreds of Armenian community leaders in what today it is Istanbul, then called Constantinople. This triggered a cascade of catastrophic events that resulted in the deaths of around 1.5 million Armenians.

This far-reaching but deeply intimate trauma has echoed from generation to generation, including the great Armenian diaspora in Southern California. As every year, Saturday will be solemnly observed in Armenia and by the diaspora around the world as the Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.

This year’s commemoration, however, could be a historic first, accompanied by an American president who formally placed that crucial designation – genocide – on the mass atrocities systematically committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenian people.

Other countries such as Italy and Germany, which is home to a large ethnic Turkish population, have adopted this terminology in recent years, praising NATO ally Turkey. The United States has opposed it so far, but President Biden seems ready to take a step that the Armenian community and many congressional supporters consider painfully overdue.

Here’s a look at a boiling issue and what a change in the official US stance could mean.

What is genocide and how is the word used in an international context?

It was only in 1946 that genocide, a term put together from the Greek genos, which means race or tribe, and Latin cide, for the murder – was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly as a crime under international law, galvanized by the infliction of the Holocaust by the Nazis on the Jewish people. Codified by the UN convention two years later, genocide is somewhat narrowly defined in international law, but its main elements revolve around the intention to wipe out a particular group of people on the basis of national, ethnic identity , racial or religious.

Armenians have fought for decades to have the designation applied to the massacre that began 106 years ago. Over the years, a growing number of historians have slowed down their support for the designation, and dozens of countries have accepted the Armenian genocide as rooted in historical facts.

If Biden carries out a promised campaign to recognize genocide, including it as part of the overall White House emphasis on the importance of human rights around the world, his administration would become the 30th government to do so.

Congress passed a non-binding resolution in 2019 recognizing the Armenian genocide.

What is Turkey’s position on the designation of genocide?

A vehement objection. Turkey acknowledges the widespread deaths in what it calls fighting between Ottomans, who were mainly Muslims, and Armenians, mostly Christians, but insists that the acts did not intentionally constitute genocide. Turkey claims that many of the deaths were due to starvation and disease during a forced mass exodus as World War I broke out and the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, not the direct result of the deadly strength of the Ottoman troops. The Turkish government also disputes the Armenian death toll commonly cited by historians, about 1.5 million.

As reports circulated this week that Biden should have formalized the designation, Turkey has expressed new angry protests. The latest came in a statement released Thursday, which quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying that Turkey would fight against “the so-called lie of the Armenian genocide” and those who “support this slander on the basis of political calculations”.

How could Biden’s designation of genocide affect US-Turkey ties?

Even at this early stage, the Erdogan-Biden relationship is far more interesting than what the Turkish leader enjoyed with former President Trump. On the issue of genocide, Trump, like other U.S. presidents before him, was reluctant to jeopardize ties with Turkey, which has been an often recalcitrant but important U.S. partner in the Middle East, especially during the decades-long war in Syria. .

But there have long been severe tensions in bilateral relations, some stemming from Erdogan’s harshly authoritarian measures after a coup attempt in 2016. The Turkish government remains angry that the United States provides a refuge for religious elder Fethullah. Gulen, accused by Erdogan of fomenting the coup. attempt, and the Turkish leader caused consternation in Washington with the purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system, seen by the Pentagon as a threat to NATO security. The deal led to US sanctions against Ankara.

European allies also reacted with dismay when Erdogan canceled Turkey’s ratification of a Council of Europe treaty on violence against women in March. That move has rekindled Western disapproval of the plight of women in a conservative society where gender-based violence is rampant and women’s equality remains a distant prospect.

While a formal U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide would be largely symbolic, Turkey could potentially make its displeasure clear by obstructing U.S. naval access to the Black Sea via the Bosphorus or by complicating U.S. operations in the sprawling Turkish airbase of. Incirlik.

What did the Biden administration say about the president’s plans for a statement on Saturday?

As small as possible. On Wednesday and Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki deflected questions about Biden’s intentions. Prior to his election, Biden said he would do the genocide designation, but some previous US leaders said the same thing about the candidates, and then backtracked once in office.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price acknowledged the possibility of a Turkish reaction against a US statement. “As friends, as allies, when we have disagreements, we raise them. We discuss it, “he said.” And there’s no wallpaper on them. “

Biden is under particular pressure from some prominent lawmakers in his own party, including the congressman. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who has long supported the cause of the Armenians. Schiff and others point out that, like the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide fades a little more from direct living memory as fewer people remain alive each year who experienced the horrific events or their short-term consequences.

Times writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.