WASHINGTON – More than a century after the Ottoman Empire murdered around 1.5 million Armenian civilians, President Biden is preparing to declare the atrocities an act of genocide, officials familiar with the internal debate say . The action would mean that the US commitment to human rights outweighs the risk of further unraveling the US alliance with Turkey.
Mr Biden is expected to announce the symbolic designation on Saturday, the 106th anniversary of the start of what historians call a systematic death march and a year that modern Turkey’s predecessors began during World War I. do so, although Ronald Reagan made reference to the Armenian genocide in a 1981 written statement on the Holocaust, and the House and Senate approved measures in 2019 to make its recognition a formal matter of policy foreigner from the United States.
At least 29 other countries have taken similar steps – mainly in Europe and the Americas, but also in Russia and Syria, Turkey’s political opponents.
A US official familiar with the administration’s discussions said Mr Biden had decided to release the statement, and others in the government and at foreign embassies said it was widely expected.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, declined to comment on Wednesday, except to note that the administration would have “more to say” on the subject on Saturday.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Aivazian said in an interview Wednesday that “recognition by the United States will be a kind of moral beacon for many countries.”
“It’s not about Armenia and Turkey,” Aivazian said. “This is about our obligation to recognize and condemn past, present and future genocide.”
The designation and whether Mr Biden would issue it was seen as a first test of his administration’s relationship with the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The two have had a somewhat trying relationship in the past, unlike the generally warm treatment Mr. Erdogan has received from President Donald J. Trump, and the declaration of genocide could provoke a reaction from Turkey that risks its cooperation in the past. regional military conflicts or diplomatic efforts. Former US presidents withheld from the statement for this very reason, and Mr Biden could yet change his mind about its release.
While Turkey agrees that World War I fighting between Muslim Ottomans and Christian Armenians resulted in widespread deaths, its leaders steadfastly rejected the fact that the murderous campaign that began in 1915 amounted to genocide.
Yet Turkish officials have been bracing for a declaration of genocide since Biden pledged to do so during his presidential campaign, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned earlier this week that it would set back already strained relations. between the two allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“Statements that do not have legal force will not have any benefit, but they will damage ties,” Cavusoglu said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster Haberturk. “If the United States wants to worsen its relationship, the decision is up to them.”
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The legal definition of genocide was not accepted until 1946, and officials and experts said Mr. Biden’s statement would result in no tangible sanctions beyond humiliating Turkey and tainting its history. with an inevitable comparison with the Holocaust.
“We strongly oppose attempts to pretend that this intentional and organized effort to destroy the Armenian people was nothing but genocide,” a bipartisan group of 38 senators wrote in a letter to Mr. Biden on the month. last, urging him to make the statement. . “You correctly stated that US diplomacy and foreign policy must be rooted in our values, including respect for universal rights. These values require us to recognize the truth and do what we can to prevent future genocides and other crimes against humanity. “
Mr Biden appears determined to show that his commitment to human rights – a pillar of his administration’s foreign policy – is worth any setback.
The declaration of genocide signals that the United States is “prepared to take geostrategic blows for our values,” said James F. Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Turkey who has held senior national security positions for the three presidents immediately preceding Mr. Biden.
Mr Jeffrey, now chairman of the Wilson Center Washington Center for the Middle East think tank, said there was little risk that Turkey would look to Russia, Iran or other US adversaries for replace its alliances with the West.
But, he said, Erdogan could easily try to block or delay specific policies to worsen the Biden administration, particularly in Syria, where Turkey’s tenuous ceasefire with Russia has allowed already restricted humanitarian access, and into the Black Sea, to which US warships must first pass through the Bosporus and Dardanelles for support missions in Ukraine.
“It may be more difficult to get Erdogan to agree to specific policies,” Jeffrey said.
He also raised the possibility that Turkey could impose meticulous reviews to slow down non-NATO operations at Incirlik Air Base, a transit station for US forces and equipment in the region. Or, said Jeffrey, Turkey could do something to provoke new sanctions or reimpose suspended ones, such as taking military action against Kurdish fighters allied with US forces against Islamic State in the northeast. from Syria.
Pentagon officials also noted the value of Turkish forces remaining in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops and other coalition troops on September 11; Kabul and Ankara have a long-standing relationship that will allow some troops to stay in Afghanistan after NATO countries leave.
Tensions between Turkey and the United States erupted in December, when the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Ankara for its purchase and then testing of a Russian missile defense system that Western officials say could expose NATO security networks in Moscow. The sanctions were imposed in the last month of Mr. Trump’s presidency, three years after Turkey bought the missile system, and only after Congress demanded them as part of a bill on military spending.
Mr Trump ostensibly promised to help Armenia last fall in its war against Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, noting the politically influential Armenian diaspora in the United States. His administration took a more impartial approach in trying to negotiate a peace deal alongside Russia and France, and ultimately Armenia ceded the disputed territory in the conflict with Azerbaijan, which was supported by the Azerbaijan. Turkey.
In Wednesday’s interview, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Aivazian seized Turkey’s military role in the Nagorno-Karabakh war as an example of what he described as “a source of conflict. ‘growing instability’ in the region and in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
He said the genocide designation would serve as a reminder to the rest of the world if the malicious values are not countered.
“I believe bringing dangerous states back into the international order will make our world a lot safer,” Aivazian said. “And we will see less tragedy, less loss of life, once the United States reaffirms its moral leadership in these turbulent times.”