The powerful chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez started to collect signatures on a bipartisan letter urging President Joe Biden to fully and formally recognise the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) this week.
There are a number of reasons to believe that this may be the year that the president of the United States officially recognises what happened to Armenians in 1915 during the final years of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has treated the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. Congress or past presidents as the most important diplomatic battle of all time, and for decades, spent significant resources to counter such moves.
Pushes for further recognition for the Armenian Genocide, as well as every other anti-Turkish government step in Western capitals, have gained popularity and traction in recent years due to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s and his government’s alienating policies in foreign affairs and anti-democratic steps at home.
The Turkish government witnessed a historic and bipartisan defeat last year when both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed resolutions on the Armenian Genocide with overwhelming majority, despite the fact that the House of Representatives were controlled by the Democrats and the Senate by Republicans.
Whatever problems the Turkish government had, as long as Trump was at the White House, there appeared to be nothing that could seriously harm Erdoğan’s interests in Washington. Trump was stalling sanctions packages, greenlighting Erdoğan’s military interventions, and trying hard to curry other favours such as getting sanction-buster Reza Zarrab released, or the indictment against state-run Halkbank dropped. As Trump lost the elections, all problems resurfaced.
Biden, during his election campaign, made a clear promise “to support a resolution recognising the Armenian Genocide”. As someone who served as the vice president for eight years, he knows well if he broke his promise, he would face pressure from the Congress, particularly from Senator Menendez.
In more than 55 days since his inauguration and four months since he was announced as the president-elect, Biden hasn’t spoken with Erdoğan, nor sent any messages. Neither Biden, nor his Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin responded to their Turkish counterparts’ congratulations. This is not normal in Erdoğan’s experience.
Erdoğan also has no friends left in Washington, D.C. to defend his government’s interests. During the previous administration, which coincided with the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of 2016, Erdoğan was angry with the U.S. government for a number of reasons and did everything to offend most if not all U.S. institutions. He also bought more and more lobbyists to grease the relations instead of bolstering institutional ties. That tactic worked well with Trump, not so much so far for Biden.
The Trump administration’s decision to go ahead and arm the Syrian Kurds in 2017 was also upsetting to Erdoğan because Ankara sees them as terrorists. Even today the Turkish government still calls on the U.S. government to stop partnering with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which include the Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) – to no avail.
Erdoğan came out on top in a constitutional referendum in 2017, which then allowed him to become an executive president in the 2018 elections. At the time, the state-of-emergency declared after the coup attempt was still in place, and Erdoğan reveled in strongly anti-American rhetoric. The Trump administration tolerated all of Erdoğan’s military interventions in Syria, which ran on an “anti-imperialist” and anti-U.S. rhetoric.
Erdoğan’s government also condemned the United States for not extraditing Fethullah Gülen, the leader of an Islamic movement that once was a close ally to Erdoğan.
The Erdoğan government’s shipments of dozens of boxes of documents for the extradition were clumsy and lacked proof, according to U.S. officials who talked about those files over the years. What is more, Erdoğan was already marching on an authoritarian path for years, criminalising all of the opposition as terrorists, losing the image of a coup victim and turning into someone who ruthlessly instrumentalises the post-coup environment to his advantage for a witch-hunt.
Erdoğan, in the last four years, used Trump as a bridge to channel ideas about how the relationship between the two countries should be, whether in Syria or about the criminal proceedings against Halkbank. Erdoğan, for the most part, was successful in getting the U.S. government to accept his conditions.
Turkey became poorer by a third in the last 7 years, while at the same time launching many new wars.
Turkey under Erdogan has become one of the most repressive places on Earth.
According to ANCA, Menendez said, “I hope the President will keep his commitment to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” during the confirmation process for Deputy Secretary of State nominee Wendy Sherman last week.
While Erdoğan’s relationship with the U.S. government and its institutions are at a historic low, there appears no reason at this time for a U.S. President not to break with a Turkish ally like Erdoğan over recognising of the Armenian Genocide.