The United States Recognizes the Armenian Genocide

Ahmed Farooq, International Law Officer

23 Apr 2021

It has been said that, starting in 1915, Ottoman authorities launched a systematic campaign to displace and kill up to an estimated million Armenians for siding with Russia during World War I. Turkey has historically refused to recognize the atrocities committed as “genocide”, citing a much lower estimated number of killed Armenians while also stating that the killings did not represent an intent against a targeted minority group, thereby not meeting the standard definition of genocide. The narrative of denial also deeply and successfully permeates Turkish society where a clear majority does not believe that the killings constitute genocide.
Internationally, the narrative has also held weight as only twenty-nine countries recognize the Armenian genocide, before the US joined their ranks. So why has the US recognized the genocide now? Over the years, the Oval office has notoriously skirted around mentioning the killings as genocide through carefully crafted press releases, with Obama even reneging on a promise he made during election to recognize the genocide. Under pre-Biden administrations, Turkey as a key NATO ally could not be offended—President Erdogan was known to have a history of cancelling trade agreements with countries who recognize the genocide.
Fast forward to the present and relations between Washington and Ankara are at an all-time low because, on the one hand, the latter purchased a Russian anti-aircraft system, and US prosecutors indicted a Turkish state lender, Halkbank, for helping Iranians evade American sanctions. Domestic tides within the US have also shifted, meaning that the Biden administration can recognize the Armenian genocide without grave political repercussions. In 2019, Congress had already passed resolutions during Trump’s era categorizing the killings as genocide, therefore, a formal recognition by the President actually does not go against the political grain. As the US battles against systemic racism in its own turf, a symbolic recognition of the Armenian genocide also signals to the world the US’s commitment to upholding human rights and recognizing state atrocities.

While it cannot be denied that recognition of the Armenian genocide by the US has also been dictated by political convenience, internationally, this is a win for the Armenian lobbies that have tried time and again for the recognition of this piece of global history.

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