Analysis: All Signs Point to President Biden Recognizing the Armenian Genocide
By Taniel Koushakjian
WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Over the last few months, talk has been swirling around the capital that Joe Biden would unequivocally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in the President’s annual April 24th remembrance day statement. While no U.S. President has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide since President Ronald Reagan in 1981, this time things were different. Any objective observer of Armenian American politics knows that Joe Biden has the longest pro-Armenia record (nearly 40 years) of any President in American history.
While making his position ever more clear on the campaign trail in 2020, the Biden Administration has made a series of moves over the last few months all signaling that America would no longer just “not deny” the Armenian Genocide as some former officials have put it, but that our foreign service officers who represent America abroad would be allowed to speak truthfully about 1915.
The following analysis of events early on in the Biden Administration and over the last few weeks all point to an official statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide coming from the White House on April 24, 2021.
To set the stage for President affirmation, Congress, led by the President’s Democratic party, had a role to play. After all, Congress had just recognized the Armenian Genocide for the first time in modern history with unanimous passage of an Armenian Genocide recognition resolution in the Senate in 2019 and House passage of a similar bill in 2020 by a vote of 405-11.
On March 19th, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) led a letter signed by 38 Senators to President Biden urging him to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
Then, news of a Presidential acknowledgement first broke on March 20th, when Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer tweeted “White House: US will formally recognize Armenian genocide. #AboutTime.” From there momentum began to build and Turkey’s lobbyists and Armenian American advocacy groups began an intense lobbying offensive.
On March 24th, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, the first time senior U.S. and Turkish officials have met since Biden was sworn in as President. The exchange between the two foreign ministers, by all accounts, was rather tense. “Secretary Blinken urged Turkey not to retain the Russian S-400 air defense system, expressed concern over Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, and emphasized the importance of democratic institutions and respect for human rights,” according to a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price.
By this point, President Biden had spoken directly to the head of state of nearly every major U.S. ally, except Turkey. “Erdogan is desperate to secure a phone call with Biden,” Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now Senior Director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24.
Last week, U.S. Ambassador for USAID nominee Samantha Power tweeted about the Armenian Genocide in a tribute to the late Dr. Vartan Gregorian, an icon of the Armenian American community and a descendent of genocide survivors who passed away on April 16.
On Tuesday, April 20, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu cast his government’s final threat in typical Turkish diplomatic fashion stating that America “needs to respect international law,” that such “statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties,” and that “if the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” Reuters reported.
The next day, over 100 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Biden keeping the pressure up on the White House. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times ran headlines reading “Biden Poised to Recognize Massacres of Armenians as Genocide, Officials Say” and “Biden Preparing to Declare That Atrocities Against Armenia Were Genocide,” respectively.
Also on Wednesday, April 21, a less talked about announcement was made when the White House informed Turkey that it had signed a new deal with the eight F-35 producing nations, officially marking the removal of Turkey from the Department of Defense’s next generation stealth fighter jet program, the culmination of a years-long process begrudgingly started by the Trump Administration. Later the same day, Turkey announced it was already in talks to purchase a second regiment of S-400 air defense systems from Russia.
Then on Friday, April 23rd around noon, the White House reported that President Biden had spoken to Prime Minister Erdogan by phone and relayed his “interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.” In response to a question about the President’s call with Erdogan at the State Department Daily Press Briefing at 2:06pm, spokesperson Jalina Porter stated “So at this time, we don’t have anything to read out as far as the Secretary’s call with his Turkish counterpart. But when it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow, and we would have to refer you to the White House.”
This is the first time that a State Department official has accurately referred to the events of 1915 since 2007, when former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John M. Evans publicly (although privately) acknowledged the fact of the genocide and was subsequently fired from his post.
Moments later, at 2:31pm on April 23rd, Bloomberg News reported that Biden had also told Erdogan in the phone call that he will acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in a statement the next day.
It must be stated that these events have take place against the backdrop of an increasingly Islamist Turkey whose actions under the 20 year rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned the once pro-Western NATO ally into a belligerent, autocratic, ISIS-aligned, destabilizing force that now threatens U.S. interests beyond the Middle East.
“Erdogan’s dictatorship renders ineffective Turkish diplomats—including current Ambassador Murat Mercan—who can only speak to the most ardent apologists for Erdogan’s behavior rather than those who stand in opposition. Erdogan has purged many Turkish-American lobby groups so that they reflect only his inner circle rather than Turkey’s (and America’s) broader political and intellectual spectrum. In short, Turkey can lobby but few will answer Mercan’s phone calls, let alone those of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu,” former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute Michael Rubin recently wrote in 19fortyfive.com.
Despite the well known truth of the Armenian Genocide, not to mention the overwhelming body of evidence in the national archives of nearly a dozen countries across the world, and the incredible scholarly works that, in the face of state sponsored genocide denial, have judicially and meticulously made the case, the time has finally come for Armenian Americans to feel the sense of recognition, acceptance, and pride that Diaspora Armenians in other countries around the world have felt knowing that our government hears us, believes us, and is unafraid to stand on the right side of history with us.
From Peace to Hit-Piece: Turkey’s New Lobbying Strategy Against Armenian Americans
By Taniel Koushakjian
On February 22, the Turkish Institute of Progress (TIP) retained Mercury Public Affairs, LLC to lobby on its behalf in Washington, D.C. According to the filing, Mercury will lobby specifically on “Turkish-US relations.” Two days later, Mercury’s Vice Chairman, Adam Ereli, a former U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Spokesperson at the State Department, penned a hit-piece on Armenia entitled “Putin’s Newest Satellite State,” on Forbes’ opinion page. However, Forbes originally neglected to mention the fact that Ereli’s firm is under contract with the anti-Armenian lobby group.
This is not the first time a high-priced Washington lobbyist has used the stroke of the pen to attack Armenian Americans. In 2014, Brenda Shaffer wrote a piece in the New York Times opinion page entitled “Russia’s next land grab.” The title sounds familiar. The story’s byline for Shaffer states that she “is a professor of political science at the University of Haifa and a visiting researcher at Georgetown.” However, Shaffer did not disclose her role as a paid consultant to Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company SOCAR. After the Times realized they had been duped, the editor’s rightly appended the story with the following statement: “This Op-Ed, about tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, did not disclose that the writer has been an adviser to Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company. Like other Op-Ed contributors, the writer, Brenda Shaffer, signed a contract obliging her to disclose conflicts of interest, actual or potential. Had editors been aware of her ties to the company, they would have insisted on disclosure.”
Hours after this article was posted on the Armenian Agenda, the by line at the top was moved to the bottom and a new description was added at the top acknowledging TIP as a client of Mercury. This is the right thing to do and I hope other publications will be aware of seriousness of the issue in future.
The Turkish Institute of Progress, a New York based Turkish lobby group is the latest player trying to prop up Turkey by putting down Armenian Americans. The group was established months prior to the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide to “provide a forum for dialogue in pursuit of peace and cooperation between Turkey and the international community,” according to its website.
Instead of outright opposing Armenian Genocide recognition efforts by American human rights activists, the Turkish lobby’s genocide denial strategy shifted its approach to the issue on the centennial anniversary. TIP’s other hired public relations firm, Levick, tried to get a counter genocide resolution introduced that “focused on the next 100 years” by Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) who had been recruited to introduce the bill by Clawson’s predecessor, Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL), now a lobbyist for Levick.
A pushback from Clawson’s own constituency thwarted the TIP’s efforts, and the resolution, H. Res. 226, was instead introduced by Rep. Jeff Sessions (R-TX). The bill currently has two cosponsors.
I am personally aware of the Turkish government’s coordinated anti-Armenian effort with TIP, Levick, and now Mercury, as I was in Clawson’s district on April 12, 2015. I was invited to give a presentation on the Armenian Genocide at the Holocaust Museum and Education Center of Southwest Florida in Naples. Upon my arrival to the Holocaust Museum, I was shown an intimidating letter by Ozgur Kivanc Altan, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey in Miami addressed to the Holocaust Museum demanding that they cancel my presentation.
From Peace to Hit-Piece
The Turkish lobby’s strategy of genocide denial cloaked as peace has now turned to attacking the Republic of Armenia itself in order to mask Azerbaijan’s $4 billion dollar arms purchase from Russia, not to mention Azerbaijan’s gross abuse of human rights, corruption scandals, jailing of journalists, and drift away from democracy and towards authoritarian rule.
The article originally appeared in the Armenian Agenda and is available here.