A descendant of one of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, an expert in public relations, a San Francisco resident Stephan Pechdimaldji wrote an article about US policy on the Armenian Genocide in the famous American publication Washington Examiner.
"In her most recent book, The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power dedicates significant time to the Armenian Genocide. She advocated for its recognition before joining the Obama administration, then failed to do so while serving as a special assistant to the president on the National Security Council and then as ambassador to the United Nations.
As part of her ongoing apology tour, Power has argued that she tried to strike the right balance between idealism and realism. In the end, she concluded that the politics of genocide was too complicated.
Power’s book came out at the same time Congress passed landmark nonbinding resolutions last year that formally affirmed recognition and defined American policy on the Armenian Genocide as the systematic mass extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923.
As a first-generation Armenian-American and grandson to survivors of the Armenian Genocide, this historic decision was something I had been waiting for my entire life. I wanted to know that the stories about how my grandfather, Haroutiun Toufayan, hid in a haystack for more than 40 days from Turkish soldiers while his father and brother were taken away (never to be seen or heard from again) had not been told in vain.
Unfortunately, that sense of euphoria and jubilation quickly turned to skepticism and doubt. After all, this wasn’t the first time Congress had recognized the Genocide. We had been down this road before when similar acknowledgments had been made in 1951 and 1984 and by Ronald Reagan early in his presidency. There were multiple reports that the Trump White House sought to block the resolution on the Senate floor so as to appease Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara officially responded by calling the resolutions political theater, claiming they had been proposed merely because of heightened tensions between the United States and Turkey over that country’s invasion of Syria and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system. It was also widely whispered that Democrats were trying to send a message to President Trump by sabotaging his budding relationship with Erdogan. It reminded me of how political this issue had become.
Although it’s often referred to as the “forgotten” genocide, the Armenian Genocide has increasingly become the “political” one. We’ve seen presidential candidates on the campaign trail looking for votes and money promise recognition, only to capitulate to Turkish pressure once in office.
To understand why Turkey continues to deny its role in orchestrating the first genocide of the 20th century, and Washington’s complicity in that denial, one must examine the political machinations of the Cold War and America’s War on Terror.
In seeking not to upset Turkey for geopolitical reasons, the U.S. has avoided holding Turkey culpable for these atrocities and crimes against humanity. During the Cold War, the U.S. would often claim that it was not in our national interest to do so because Turkey was a NATO ally, strategically located near the Soviet Union. When the Cold War ended, the rationale turned to the War on Terror and Turkey’s importance as a launching pad for U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalists from the Incirlik Air Base.
Following the attacks of 9/11, Washington even went so far as to cite Turkey as a model democracy in the Middle East, despite the country’s poor record on human rights and free speech. It all boils down to Turkey taking advantage of its geopolitical position to influence how it wants the world to see it. Unfortunately, perception is reality when it comes to Turkey. It’s one of the reasons the Turkish government spends so much money each year on lobbyists to manufacture and shape Turkey’s image.
Sadly, this issue has become a political football where politicians use empty threats to gain leverage with Turkey. Even Israel, a country founded in the wake of genocide, has used the Armenian Genocide as a political cudgel when dealing with Turkey. Last year, for example, lawmakers voted to debate recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the Knesset as relations between Israel and Turkey deteriorated over unrelated matters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son even took to social media to accuse Turkey of genocide.
What politicians fail to understand is that genocide isn’t a political issue — it’s a human rights issue. Political expediency should play no role in this debate. For far too long, we’ve seen Turkish subterfuge define this issue for U.S. policymakers, who invariably acquiesce to Turkey’s wishes. When decisions are being made to score political points, it then opens lawmakers up to questions around the authenticity of those outcomes.
What’s more, it sows doubt about their intentions and can play right into the hands of deceitful actors. At a time when trust in our government leaders is at a nadir, we should be vigilant in holding autocrats like Erdogan accountable for his country’s actions and history. Our abrogation of that responsibility only adds to Turkey’s resolve, giving it cover to question the sincerity of our motives.
It’s incredible the amount of power and sway that Turkey has over Washington, D.C., when it comes to dictating foreign policy. Are we to take guidance from a country that purports to be a democracy when more journalists sit in Turkish jails than anywhere else in the world? Are we going to take their word over ours?
Today marks the Armenian Genocide’s 105th anniversary. It’s high time that the U.S. honor and acknowledge this Genocide — not because it serves a political purpose, party, or foreign government, but because it is the right thing to do.
We owe it to my grandfather, as well as the survivors and victims of all genocides.”