On April 24, 1915, the regime of the Ottoman Turks began a systematic decimation of the Armenian race, known as the Armenian Genocide. This heinous plot claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians, and belittled the once prosperous land to an insignificant territory in the Middle East. Many Armenians fled to different parts of the world in an event known as the Armenian Diaspora, which stunted the population growth dramatically. To this day, neither the Turkish nor American government has formally acknowledged such an event. Even more concerning though is the fact that such negligence is due to global geopolitical issues, such as access to Middle Eastern countries with profuse amounts of crude oil and energy innovations. However, in the instance of the Holocaust, Germany has recognized its actions and paid reparations of approximately $400 billion.
In order to right this injustice, the United States must formally recognize that genocide occurred, while Turkey, in addition to acknowledging the genocide, must pay reparations to the Republic of Armenia.
The issue of non-recognition can be traced to the complex relations that the United States has with Turkey. During President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, he made a promise to the Armenian community, stating that he would acknowledge the events of 1915. He said, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.” It has been 7 years since, and no recognition has come. While it is important to understand the external factors, the Armenian community has been suffering for 100 years without any form of acknowledgment. As it currently stands, the Republic of Armenia has been reduced to a small territory on the verge of being completely engulfed by Russia and Turkey.
The 2016 presidential election is looming, and President Obama is in the middle of his final term in office. Realistically, one should not expect from him much progress regarding this matter. Nevertheless, candidates will probably follow in Obama’s campaign footsteps and advocate recognition of the Armenian Genocide. By contrast, Mitt Romney never openly put forward a formal plan regarding the Genocide during his campaign. Frankly, it is poor practice to promise something in order to earn the vote of a contingent demographic. In my church, the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, fervor comes over the parishioners when hearing that a presidential candidate will keep the fight for recognition close to his or her heart. Truthfully, these promises sound like nothing more than typical political jargon used to deceive voters.
The political relationship between Turkey and the United States is a deciding factor in the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The American government has even refrained from using the term “genocide” in fear of provoking the Turkish government and its military. Now, maintaining diplomatic ties with Turkey seems to be prudent in the eyes of U.S. officials, given Turkey’s authority in the Middle East region. The United States is reluctant to go against Turkey, since it is an established world power and dominant force in the Middle East. Turkey’s prime location and ability to cut off certain oil routes has forced the United States and European countries to remain close allies. However, an emphasis on green energy and fuel reserves around the world may be able to alleviate U.S. dependency on Middle Eastern oil. On American soil, investing in promising environmentally-friendly technologies may increase our own fuel production and reduce our dependency on foreign energy sources. In turn, the U.S. government will be able to return focus to pertinent issues and revitalize the cause for recognition.
The Armenian community should not seek reparations from the United States as a result of the genocide. It would be irrational to suggest that a third-party nation pay reparations for a heinous crime that it did not commit. By recognizing the Armenian Genocide however, the U.S. can make use of its powerful influence on other countries. As in many other circumstances, countries tend to follow precedents set by the United States. For example, the U.S.’ efforts against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have elicited military action from many other countries, including France, Great Britain, and Australia. This ripple effect can lead to global recognition in the future. It is clear that the U.S. must be a frontrunner in the effort for recognition, as it will prompt allies to consider recognizing the genocide.
Turkey, on the other hand, carries the burden of recognizing the genocide and paying a sum of money to the Republic of Armenia. For nearly four generations, Armenians around the world have been lobbying for the Turkish government to recognize the genocide. However, this task is much easier said than done. Additionally, a whole-hearted acknowledgement is required; the Armenian community deserves more than a simple response from a politico. Furthermore, Turkey must pay for its actions. It is difficult to quantify the amount of money that the Turkish government owes Armenia, though any supplementary financial support would go a long way for a third-world country striving to become prosperous. As a result of Turkey’s actions, Armenia’s growth was stunted, eliminating any possibility of economic development. Many associations such as the Armenian Genocide Benevolent Union and Children of Armenia Sponsorship Program have been established in order to provide assistance to severely impoverished areas within Armenia. Consequently, Armenia is now regarded as an insignificant third-world country.
Oppressed populations such as the Kurds, Somalis, Tibetans, and Armenians suffer from a lack of public recognition regarding the contemptible events that were committed against them. After even the slightest signs of encouragement, vicious trends of political justice seem to follow, stymying the nations’ efforts. Just recently in France, a promising bill in support of Armenian Genocide recognition was halted and eventually tossed out due to political pressure from anti-recognition parties. This is a prime example of how Turkey can impose its political might on lawmakers to suppress support for recognition.
In December 2008, a group of Turkish intellectuals, consisting of journalists, professors, and politicians, launched an online initiative known as the I Apologize Campaign. This campaign focused on promoting awareness of the genocide and served as a form of sympathy for Ottoman-born Armenians. If the Turkish government cannot come to terms with what transpired 99 years ago, perhaps its citizens will be able to kick-start a rush of genocide recognition sentiment. One must understand that there is no need to hate the current generation of Turks. It was the ancestors of the current youth who perpetrated the genocide. Instead of harboring anger towards one another, it would behoove both sides to come together and discuss a plan of action to right the wrongs that have been committed.
However, there is reason for optimism in our struggle. Last year, on the 99th anniversary of the genocide, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, issued a statement in which he stated that the events of 1915 were a “shared pain.” While this was certainly a step in the right direction, it may have been a façade disguising Turkey’s true feelings about recognition. The statement asserts that a “joint historical commission to study the events of 1915” is necessary. Though the intentions behind this statement are unclear, it is apparent that PM Erdoğan took a historic step in the right direction by acknowledging that an incident of homicide occurred.
The centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide marks a pivotal point in Armenians’ efforts. Armenian-Americans have made great progress, and I am confident a resolution will be met. Now, political banter should cease. President Obama should follow through on his promise made six years ago. Nothing can reverse the fateful events which occurred nearly 100 years ago; Armenians have had no closure to comfort them.
After so much effort, Armenia’s autonomy is now in jeopardy. Recognition is a necessity if Armenia is to remain an independent entity. In order to attain recognition, legislators must put humanitarianism before politics. If this occurs, Armenia will be able to achieve due recognition and set a precedent for political negotiations.