By Mikaela Tenner
April 24, 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. On April 24, 1915, the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire rounded up hundreds of Armenian intellectuals who were considered threatening to the regime. Most, if not all, of those individuals were later executed. Over the course of approximately two years, the Young Turks killed able-bodied Armenian men through murder and forced labor, deported Armenian women, children, and elderly out of modern-day Turkey, and forced hundreds of thousands to march toward the Syrian Desert. During these marches, the Armenians were subjected to constant execution, rape, and robbery, as well as the deprivation of food, water, and shelter. According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, there were less than 400,000 Armenians living in the empire by 1922, meaning that approximately 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives during this two-year period.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of controversy over the term “genocide,” leading many countries and leaders to refrain from using the word genocide to describe the events between 1915 and 1917. In fact, only 26 countries currently recognize the extermination as genocide, and Turkey, the modern-day state in which the massacre occurred, rejects all claims that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide. As a major ally of Turkey, this places the United States in an interesting predicament. If the United States condemned the act as genocide, it would be a major victory for those around the world advocating for its recognition. At the same time, the United States would be risking its relationship with Turkey. Therefore, it seems likely that the United States will continue to refrain from formally declaring the events that took place from 1915 to 1917 against the Armenians genocide.
What’s extremely interesting is that there were indications that the United States would actually acknowledge and formally support recognition of the genocide under the Obama administration. In 2006, as a U.S. Senator, Obama criticized President Bush’s administration for asking the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia to resign after using the word genocide in reference actions of the Ottoman Young Turks. Obama claimed, “The Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.” Later, during his 2008 Presidential campaign, he more demonstratively declared his support for recognition of the genocide when he stated his intention to do just that if he became President.
As of April 27, 2015, President Obama has not followed through on his promise to recognize the Armenian genocide. This year, in his annual commemoration of the genocide, President Obama refused to use the word “genocide” just as he has done for the past six-plus years. It is clear that President Obama continues to refrain from using the word “genocide” for fear that this could cause damage the relationship between the United States and Turkey. As I mentioned earlier, Turkey is an important ally to the United States, not least because it is located in an area that allows the United States to proactively fight against Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Turkey has gone so far in the past to actually threaten to sever relationships with countries that recognize the Armenian genocide; thus, for the interests of U.S. national security, one could argue that President Obama and prior administrations have done what they believe to be in the best interest of our country by not officially recognizing the genocide. However, several countries in Europe, including Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium, have officially used the word “genocide” in reference to the massacre, and Turkey has yet to cut relations with them. Therefore, it would appear that Turkey is issuing an empty threat with the hope that it can cover up one of the worst massacres of the 20th century. Will Obama take action and fulfill the promise he made nearly seven years ago? Only time will tell.