On the Armenian issue
While different in many ways, presidents George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama chose to approach at least one extremely important issue the same way: U.S.-Turkey relations. Despite making extensive campaign promises to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide, once in the Oval Office both men let fear of spoiling relations with Turkey prevent them from doing so. Now, however, we have a new president, and a new chance for redemption. President Donald Trump has the opportunity to go down in history on the right side of justice, simply by acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.
In 1915, the Turkish government began to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Between the beginning of these actions and the end of the mass deportations and murders, approximately 1.5 of the 2 million Armenians living in Turkey were dead. Today, despite multiple other nations’ recognition of the event as genocide, it is still illegal in Turkey to discuss the scope or enormity of these events. From a purely humanitarian perspective, this is complete insanity. To try to sweep an event of this scale under the rug is not just impossible, but extremely disrespectful to those who suffered.
The United States has never truly, officially, recognized the Armenian. Former president Jimmy Carter was the first to use the term ‘genocide’ to describe the event in 1978, calling it one of the greatest tragedies to ever befall any group of people. Ronald Reagan also demonstrated support for the cause, proclaiming in 1981 that the U.S. was aware of a criminal government’s (the Ottoman Empire) inhuman acts of genocide, and declaring that the Turkish government needed to acknowledge this past and repent for it. Even going so far as to acknowledge an eternal debt of all mankind towards those who experience such horrors, Reagan oversaw the introduction of a resolution to create a day of memory to the Armenian Genocide. But when Turkey threatened an end to the Turkish-American Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement (among other measures), the U.S. capitulated in order to maintain Turkish military bases (striking distance from Greece where there were tensions at the time).
President-elect Donald Trump has the opportunity to re-define and improve this situation, and it’s an opportunity that he should take. Campaigning and as a leader who will protect American interests, it’s vital that President Trump not let the Turkish government interfere in U.S. internal affairs – especially considering that recognition of the Armenian Genocide has never interfered with other countries’ relationships with Turkey. Although traditionally officials in Ankara have threatened a deterioration in relations with nations who recognize the Armenian Genocide, historically this has been more talk than anything else. Russian recognition of the event, while officially opposed, hasn’t significantly impacted the development of political and economic ties between the nations. French recognition of the Armenian Genocide also came without any relevant consequences.
There is absolutely no reason for the United States to be afraid of threats from Turkey or its U.S. lobbyists. While it would be understandably easy for President Trump to follow in the footsteps of Bush and Obama, it is critical at this juncture that he have the heart and bravery to restore historical justice and recognize the Armenian Genocide as what it is.