The Ottoman Turks, who murdered 1.5 million ethnic Armenians, are long gone. But the memory of the inhuman treatment of Armenians during a forced “relocation” during World War I will never be cleansed.
For most of the last 100 years, there have been calls for the United States to recognize this Turkish crime against humanity. But geopolitics and the NATO alliance kept the United States from doing what was right and declaring the massacres genocide.
Indeed, most presidents — including Donald Trump — wanted to accuse the Turks of genocide. But sitting astride one of the most strategic waterways in the world — the Bosphorus Strait — and having the second-largest armed forces in NATO behind only the United States, Turkey was just too vital an ally to upset.
Turkey has always maintained that it was a tragedy so many Armenians died, but it wasn’t intentional and therefore could not be genocide. Documents and eyewitness testimony debunk that notion.
Now, Joe Biden will risk the wrath of Turkey’s Islamist dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and will call the massacres what they were: a clear genocide by Muslim Turks against Christian Armenians.
In recent years, ties between the U.S. and Turkey, a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have deteriorated over Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air-defense system, as well as over human and civil rights issues under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and over Turkey’s role in several regional conflicts.
Under pressure from Congress, the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Turkish government entities over the acquisition of the S-400, which Pentagon officials said could be used to collect intelligence on the F-35 stealth jet fighters Turkey was due to buy, and removed Ankara from participation in the U.S.-led F-35 stealth jet fighter program.
President Erdogan and many in Turkey think that designating the massacre an Armenian genocide is grossly unfair and prejudiced against Turkey because it’s a Muslim country. History says otherwise.
Talat Pasha, the nominal political leader of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, said in a conversation with Dr. Mordtmann of the German Embassy in June 1915:
Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate its internal foes, i.e., the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention. What on earth do you want? The question is settled. There are no more Armenians.
Turkey’s options in response could be serious:
If Mr. Biden formally uses the “genocide” term, analysts said Ankara could respond by calling attention to the treatment of Native Americans by European settlers; mounting a diplomatic protest; or, though more unlikely, barring the U.S. from the use of the country’s Incirlik air base.
Turkey also could create informal barriers to imports from the U.S., said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of Edam, a think tank in Istanbul. The response would likely take into account that many Turkish citizens share the government’s view of history, said Mr. Ulgen.
Our base in Incirlik stores nuclear weapons, although it’s not likely that Erdogan would make a play for them.
Calling the Turkish massacres of Armenians genocide would automatically trigger a series of actions by the U.S. government as far as restricting travel for some government officials and possibly some financial restrictions as well. But the Turkish government and people would see a move by Biden to charge Turkey with crimes against humanity as a blow to its sovereignty.
And Biden would have the undying thanks of the Armenian people.