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Biden's Possible Recognition of So-Called 'Armenian Genocide' Will Harm US-Turkey Ties

By Mushvig Mehdiyev April 23, 2021


A man holding a Turkish flag. / Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

A possible recognition by the US President Joe Biden of the alleged “Armenian genocide” more than a century ago is expected to further complicate the already tense relations between Ankara and Washington.

Pro-Armenian American lawmakers and Armenian-American activists are actively lobbying President Biden's administration to recognize the alleged massacre of Armenians as an act of “genocide” on or before the commemoration of the events on April 24. Although Biden is largely expected to use the word “genocide,” some sources familiar with the issue claim that he can make a U-turn at the last minute, according to Reuters.

However, the Turkish authorities have already warned the Biden administration to refrain from such a decision in order to save Washington's relationship with Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that by recognizing the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, President Biden would further harm already strained ties between the two NATO allies.

"Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties," Reuters quoted Cavusoglu as saying. "If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” he said, adding that Washington should respect international law.

Turkey accepts that some part of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire died in clashes during the First World War but calls for an open investigation into the figures claimed by Armenia and denies that a deliberate systematic massacre against Armenians took place. Turkish authorities have repeatedly called for opening the archives jointly with Armenia, a proposal that was adamantly rejected by the Armenian government. Armenian sources claim 1.5 million deaths as a result of the massacres that allegedly took place during the reign of the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Analysts are also convinced that the recognition of the so-called “Armenian genocide” by the Biden administration is a serious challenge for the United States' relationship with Turkey – NATO’s powerful key ally and a southern powerhouse. Others believe that Washington will not receive any foreign policy benefits from this recognition even in the light of its relations with Armenia given that both foreign and domestic policy of Armenia is overseen by Russia – Washington's adversary.

Dr. Kadir Ertach Chelik, an advisor on the Turkish-American relations at the Turkish think-tank ANKASAM, says such a decision by the Biden administration could help Armenians win anti-Turkish trials in American courts and subsequently lead to Turkey’s revision of its relations with Washington and NATO.

“Previously, similar lawsuits were rejected on the grounds that the 'genocide' allegation was not accepted by the president [of the United States]. However, if Biden recognizes the so-called 'genocide', the trials will probably result against Turkey,” Chelik told Caspian News. “Turkey will righteously reject these decisions. And can eventually start new cooperation in its Caucasus, Black Sea, and Middle East geopolitical agendas, including with Russia and other anti-US and anti-Western regional players.”

Turkey denies the so-called genocide claims of Armenia and points to fact-based interpretations of the history. According to Turkish sources, demographic studies prove that prior to World War I, quite fewer than 1.5 million Armenians lived in the entire Ottoman Empire, which proves Armenia’s claims wrong. Ankara accuses Yerevan of deriving, what it represents as so-called facts, from dubious and prejudicial sources and maintaining refusal of opening its archives for investigation. The British convened the Malta Tribunals to try Ottoman officials for crimes against Armenians, but all of the accused were acquitted.

Dr. Chelik believes that such historical truths are ignored by the US administration, which is unaware of the seriousness of the consequences and is acting with ideological ambitions in order to please the Armenian lobbies and political groups within the country.

“Turkey’s existence in NATO bloc and continuation of its role in Western security is important to the overall strategy of the US. In addition, removal of Turkey, which stands in the center of the Russia-Ukraine crisis - a major global issue, from the US-NATO line is quite risky from Washington’s point of view,” Chelik said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks about the closure of the Incirlik Air Base and Kürecik Radar Station in southeastern Turkey send a clear message to the US about the possible implications of recognizing the so-called genocide, according to Chelik.

Incirlik is one of the strategic airbases of the US Air Force outside the US territory. It is an important base in NATO’s Southern Region that plays a key role in NATO and US missions and operations in the Middle East. The significance of the Kürecik Radar Station for Washington is that the AN/TPY-2 radar (Army/Navy Transportable Surveillance) deployed there can shield ballistic missiles fired from Russia and Iran and protect NATO member countries.