Biden to recognize Armenian genocide

Biden “is expected to formally recognize the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I as an act of genocide,” Reuters reported on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 (read story here), noting this is “likely to infuriate Turkey and further strain already frayed ties between the two NATO allies.”

During World War I, the Ottoman Empire (centered around modern-day Turkey) was allied with Germany, and systematically massacred an estimated 1.5 million Armenians (read about the genocide here and here; there are many books available, a recent book based on scholarly research is here). Ever since, Turkey has been in denial about the fact it was a deliberate and state-sponsored genocide — and, more than a century later, still is.

For years, the U.S. has avoided calling that sub-bloodbath of the World War 1 bloodbath what it was, because Turkey is touchy about it, and is a strategically important country. It has a border with Russia, and the U.S. maintains a major presence at a key NATO air base there (read about it here) which has been used for launching airstrikes against ISIS, among others, and where a number of U.S. nuclear weapons are kept.

But the country is now ruled by a rightwing strongman (read about him here), whose human rights abuses and weapons purchases from Russia have grated on U.S. nerves (read about that here and here); while on his part, Turkish ruler Erdogan reacted angrily when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2019 condemning the Armenian genocide (read about that here).  He responded that America has “no right to give lessons to Turkey.”

Reuters said, “The move would be largely symbolic but would mean breaking away from decades of carefully calibrated language from the White House and come at a time when Ankara and Washington are already at loggerheads.”

Symbolism matters — it can inflame white-hot passions — and to casual observers, this might look like the U.S. punishing Turkey for its recent actions under Erdogan’s government. But there are deeper politics involved. In the U.S., there’s an active Armenian lobby, and Democrats have long wanted to call the systematic killings of Armenians a genocide. Most of the world already does (see map here). Biden’s movement on the issue represents not just an end to the charade and dancing around the issue, but a nod to an ethnic constituency within his party.

Photo: An Armenian woman dies during a death march through the desert

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