The rift between NATO allies, the US and Turkey, seems to have further widened with Washington reopening old wounds about the 1915 ‘mass murder’ of Armenians.
Turkey’s growing ties with Russia and its decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense systems already strained its relations with the US. Last week, the US Department of Defense had notified Turkey of its exclusion from the F-35 program after a new memorandum of understanding was signed between the other eight program members.
Call it another setback for Turkey, on April 25, Joe Biden became the first US President to recognize the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as “genocide”.
A statement issued by the White House on the anniversary of the ‘Armenian Genocide’, said the recognition was not to “cast the blame” but to “ensure what happened has never repeated again”.
For years, the successive American Presidents have avoided the term “genocide” of the Armenians during World War I. The Armenians call the 1915 mass killing “Meds Yeghern” or “The Great Crime.”
Reacting sharply to Washington’s remarks, the Foreign Ministry of Turkey issued a statement and summoned the US ambassador. While Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal met with US envoy David Satterfield last week to express Ankara’s disapproval of Joe Biden’s words, Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has not made any comment yet.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Twitter, “Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice” and that the statement by the White House was “based solely on populism.”
“Words cannot change or rewrite history.”
We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice.
We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism.#1915Events
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) April 24, 2021
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, on the other hand, has welcomed the statement and has highlighted the US’ “unwavering commitment to protecting human rights and universal values”.
No Changes In US-Turkey Relations
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday that the US does not expect the military relationship between Washington and Ankara to change after President Joe Biden officially recognized the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century.
“We don’t anticipate any change in the military relationship with Turkey,” Kirby told reporters on Monday.
The spokesperson stressed that Turkey remains a vital NATO ally and noted also that Biden’s announcement will not impact joint operations in Syria.
Despite Kirby’s assurances, Ankara expressed outrage over Saturday’s announcement made on Armenia’s Remembrance Day. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Biden’s decision regretful and a source told Sputnik that Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had summoned US Ambassador David Satterfield to voice its opposition to the statement.
Turkey, which traditionally rejects the assertions of genocide, has repeatedly warned the Biden administration that such a move by the United States would hurt bilateral relations.
The Armenian Genocide
It is believed that Ottoman Empire killed 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. According to the University of Minnesota’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies, “The Armenian Genocide unofficially began with the arrest of 250 Armenian intellectuals by Turkish officials on April 24, 1915.
Over the next several years a series of systematic deportations and mass executions along with intentional starvation would cause the deaths of more than one million Armenians. The aftermath left the remaining Armenian population scattered, resulting in one of the greatest diasporas in the twentieth century.“
Seen as a grim precursor to the Nazi Holocaust, the Armenians pressed that the campaign was a deliberate attempt to ruin their people and, thus, an act of genocide. The Turkish government has resisted terming it as a “genocide” stating that although atrocities took place, there was no official policy of extermination implemented against the Armenian people as a group.
Turkish political scientist Soner Cagaptay wrote in The Guardian that the Biden’s declaration would be a seminal moment in relations between Ankara and Washington, but said economic considerations may force Erdoğan to downplay the impact of an issue he previously considered an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the modern state.
Being a longtime regional ally and Turkey’s status as a NATO member prevented other US presidents from recognizing the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 as “genocide.” However, Biden’s latest remarks are seen as a massive victory for Armenia. Many Armenians and rights groups have welcomed Washington’s decision.