Breaking With Predecessors, Biden Declares Mass Killings of Armenians a Genocide

Significant even though many other countries, including Canada, have already done so:

President Biden on Saturday recognized the mass killings of Armenians more than a century ago as genocide, signaling a willingness to test an increasingly frayed relationship with Turkey, long a key regional ally and an important partner within NATO.

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Mr. Biden said in a statement issued on the 106th anniversary of the beginning of a brutal campaign by the former Ottoman Empire that killed 1.5 million people. “And we remember so that we remain ever vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”WHAT TO KNOWAfter years of avoiding the topic, the United States now officially views the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago as genocide.

The declaration by Mr. Biden reflected his administration’s commitment to human rights, a pillar of its foreign policy. It is also a break from Mr. Biden’s predecessors, who were reluctant to anger a country of strategic importance and were wary of driving its leadership toward American adversaries like Russia or Iran.

The Turkish government, as well as human rights activists and ethnic Armenians, gave a muted response to the news, which leaked days in advance, describing the move as largely symbolic. Later on Saturday, the country’s foreign minister summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest the declaration, state media reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly denied that the killings amounted to genocide, had lobbied hard to prevent the announcement, mounting a conference and media campaigns before the anniversary on Saturday.

But in a call on Friday, Mr. Biden told Mr. Erdogan directly that he would be declaring the massacre an act of genocide, according to a person familiar with the discussion who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of the conversation.

A summary of the call provided by the White House said only that the pair had agreed to an “effective management of disagreements.” The Turkish presidency said in a statement that both leaders agreed on the “importance of working together.” They are scheduled to meet at a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in June.

In his statement on Saturday, Mr. Biden acknowledged the Armenians who were forced to rebuild their lives.

“We affirm the history,” he said. “We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has kept Mr. Erdogan at a distance, calling other world leaders — and leaving his Turkish counterpart, who enjoyed a friendly relationship with President Donald J. Trump, waiting for months.

After news broke on Wednesday of the impending announcement, Mr. Erdogan said in a statement that Turkey would “defend the truth against the lie of the so-called ‘Armenian genocide.’”

Mr. Erdogan is widely expected to use the designation to whip up support at home, where he has increasingly adopted a nationalist-Islamist stance to retain his voter base. But political analysts said he was likely to tread carefully with the United States.

Relations between the countries have reached their lowest point in decades, as Mr. Erdogan has turned increasingly combative in his dealings with Washington, particularly after a failed coup in 2016. Mr. Erdogan has blamed the bid to oust him from power on a Turkish cleric living in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania, and by extension on the United States.

Tensions escalated with Turkey’s deal to buy a missile system from Russia in 2017, which prompted the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey in December. Syria, too, has been a flash point. Mr. Erdogan has bitterly criticized the United States military’s support of Kurdish forces in Syria that are affiliated with a group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey, and his own operations there have further tested the Atlantic alliance.

Mr. Erdogan sees Turkey, a country of 80 million and a member of the Group of 20, as a regional power that deserves greater respect on the world stage. That view has fueled a greater geopolitical assertiveness demonstrated in military interventions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Azerbaijan and in exploration for energy in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean last year.

European leaders and members of the Biden administration advocate continued engagement with Mr. Erdogan’s government because Turkey houses millions of Syrian refugees who might otherwise head to Europe. They also point to Turkey’s support for Ukraine and Afghanistan, where it will maintain a small force to train Afghan army and police personnel as the United States and other coalition troops withdraw by Sept. 11.

The White House’s sustained silence toward Mr. Erdogan had been seen as a sign that Mr. Biden did not view Turkey as a priority and intended to manage the relationship at lower levels of the administration.

“They don’t want to have a conflict with him, but they don’t want to be too cozy with him either,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Mr. Erdogan also would not seek to further damage relations over the genocide designation, said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. By one count, at least 29 other countries have taken similar steps.

“In the past, Turkey used to issue all types of threats, but lately the policy toward genocide recognition from allies has been to shrug it off,” she said. “They will issue denouncements, but not go so far as to create a crisis.”

Mr. Unluhisarcikli, like other analysts and human rights defenders, questioned the timing and purpose of the announcement.

“The Turkish government will feel obliged to respond in ways that are consequential for the U.S. and for U.S.-Turkey relationship,” he said.

The Turkish public will see it as evidence of American double standards, and anti-Western forces in Turkey will use it to incite fury, he said.

Both opposition and pro-government leaders attacked the expected designation.

“This is an improper, unfair stance,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party.

Dogu Perincek, the leader of the ultranationalist Patriotic Party, in an open letter to Mr. Biden, questioned his authority to issue such a declaration. “As is known, the genocide against the Jews was adjudicated at an authorized court,” he wrote, “but regarding the 1915 incidents, there is no judicial ruling.”

The killings of Armenians occurred at the end of World War I during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey. Worried that the Christian Armenian population would align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials ordered mass deportations in what many historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century: Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres by soldiers and the police, others in forced exoduses to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death.

Turkey has acknowledged that widespread atrocities occurred during that period, but its leaders have adamantly denied that the killings were genocide.

n the days leading up to Mr. Biden’s announcement, Armenians and human rights activists in Turkey expressed caution, partly because of years of political seesawing over the issue.

“Personally, it is not going to make me excited,” Yetvart Danzikyan, the editor in chief of Agos, an Armenian-Turkish weekly newspaper in Istanbul, said, pointing to a statement President Ronald Reagan issued in 1981 about the Holocaust that mentioned the “genocide of the Armenians” in passing.

Murat Celikkan, a journalist and longtime human rights activist, said the declaration would be good for American-Armenian citizens, but he did not expect it to change attitudes in Turkey or encourage reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.

“It did not change with more than 20 countries officially recognizing it, including Germany,” he said.

In the United States, some Armenian activists welcomed the declaration as a step forward.

“The denial of the genocide has been such a painful chapter,” said Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. “This is a really critical moment in the arc of history, in defense of human rights.”

“The president is standing firmly against basically a century of denial and is charting a new course,” he said.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/24/us/politics/armenia-genocide-joe-biden.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Belgian political parties target Turkish community, and also their votes

A bit odd to criticize expulsions on the basis of denying the Armenian genocide:

On Sunday, Belgium not only held an election for Belgian seats in the European Parliament, but also general elections that will end the caretaker government of Prime Minister Charles Michel. From federal to regional parliaments and also the European Parliament, over 8,000 candidates ran for seats in various bodies. Belgium has over eight million eligible voters, and some regions of the country have a large number of people of Turkish origin. From Christian democrats to socialists, liberals to Greens, many parties nominate Turkish candidates to get Turkish votes. However, any sign of loyalty to their Turkish roots is enough for these candidates to be expelled from their parties or receive harsh intraparty criticism.

Belgian parties have a bad record for embracing diversity and multiculturalism with many cases taking place in previous terms. For instance, Brussels regional parliament member Mahinur Özdemir was expelled from her party, the Humanist Democratic Center (CHD), after she refused to recognize the 1915 incidents as genocide. On the other hand, the far-right New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) parliamentarian Zuhal Demir is regarded favorably in the political sphere, and this perception led her to have a ministerial position in the recently dissolved coalition government. Demir regularly picks on the Muslim community and the Turkish minority in the country and announced that she has dropped her Turkish citizenship. She has also said that the state may opt to use “force” to integrate Muslims into society.

Some similar incidents occurred days before Sunday’s election too. Two candidates running for the federal parliament were slammed by various parties for sending campaign leaflets to Turkish voters in the Turkish language. Both of the candidates are from different regions and different political parties. A spokesperson from the party of Prime Minister Michel described the Turkish leaflets as “an act of separation” and called for urgent cancellation of their distribution. In response to the criticisms, Mahmut Temur of Flemish Open VLD said that his party does not treat others differently and slammed those who criticize him, “Our party isn’t like those who use some people for their ethnic background or sexual orientation first, and then expel them once they are used.”

Recently, Yasin Gül of the Christian Democrats (CD & V) was expelled from his party after a video of him was shared on the internet. In the footage, Gül and a group of Belgian Turks are seen singing an Azeri-Turkic song “Çırpınırdı Karadeniz” (“The Fluttering Black Sea”) and making the Grey Wolves sign. Having a Turkish nationalist view was enough for Gül to be expelled by his party. To prevent such action, Gül said the video was shot two years ago and that his views have changed.

Turkish nationalists have not caused trouble in the country and have faced many attacks by members of the PKK terrorist organization. After a series of propaganda attacks by the Flemish nationalist N-VA, Belgian Turkish Federation Chairman Ömer Zararsız spoke to the Belgian news magazine Knack, saying that he is fed up with the negative coverage of the Grey Wolves and that they want to build bridges, not polarization. “I have a Belgian passport, and I feel at home here. But our heart is also in Turkey.”

Having your heart in Turkey as well is a troubling issue for Belgian politics. You are wanted for the votes that you can grab from your community, but your disagreement over the events of 1915 will lead you to be expelled from your party

Source: Belgian political parties target Turkish community, and also their votes

Turkey commemorates Holocaust, vows to fight antisemitism

Now if the Turkish government could be more open about the Armenian genocide… Also wonder whether this appeared in Turkish-language media or only in English:

Turkey has voiced resolve in continuing its fight against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in a message to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We commemorate with respect millions of people who lost their lives in the Holocaust which is one of the darkest and most painful eras in the history of humanity,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, recalling that Jan. 27 had been chosen by the United Nations to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during World War II.

“As it has done so far, our country will continue to fulfill its responsibility to ensure such atrocities are not experienced again and will continue its fight with determination against phenomena, such as anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia which have unfortunately been observed and strengthened,” the ministry said in a written statement released late Jan. 26.

Source: Turkey commemorates Holocaust, vows to fight anti-Semitism – DIPLOMACY

Turkey’s Century of Denial About an Armenian Genocide – NYTimes.com

Good piece on the ongoing denial by Turkey of the Armenian genocide which recently had its 100th anniversary this year, marked in particular by the Pope’s labelling itself as such and more Turkish denial:

“The Armenian diaspora is trying to instill hatred against Turkey through a worldwide campaign on genocide claims ahead of the centennial anniversary of 1915,” Mr. Erdogan said recently. “If we examine what our nation had to go through over the past 100 to 150 years, we would find far more suffering than what the Armenians went through.”

In a country defined by its divisions, between the secular and the religious, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, the legacy of the Armenian genocide is a unifying issue for Turks. A recent poll conducted by the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul research organization, found that only 9 percent of Turks thought the government should label the atrocities a genocide and apologize for them.

Turkey’s ossified position, so at odds with the historical scholarship, is a legacy of how the Turkish republic was established after World War I. Under its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, society here underwent a process of Turkification: a feat of social engineering based on an erasure of the past and the denial of a multi-ethnic history. The Armenian massacres were wiped from the country’s history, only to emerge for ordinary Turks in the 1970s after an Armenian terrorist campaign against Turkish diplomats.

Even now, Turkish textbooks describe the Armenians as traitors, call the Armenian genocide a lie and say that the Ottoman Turks took “necessary measures” to counter Armenian separatism. A room at the Istanbul Military Museum is devoted to the suffering of Muslims at the hands of Armenian militants.

Turkey’s Century of Denial About an Armenian Genocide – NYTimes.com.