Congress Should Recognize the Armenian Christian Genocide Now
More than a century after the Ottoman Empire’s systematic and deliberate destruction of millions of its Christian subjects – including Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, and Maronites – the United States, under pressure from Turkey – has not officially condemned or formally commemorated this crime as a clear case of genocide. Congress will likely have a chance to correct this shameful fact this week with a vote on Armenian Genocide recogniztion. In 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars unanimously affirmed that: “the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.”
The facts are clear; the moral principles compelling. With the world looking to America as leaders of the genocide prevention movement, why has our government been unwilling to speak the simple truth?
The answer lies in Ankara. Successive U.S. administrations and sessions of Congress effectively granted Turkish leaders a veto on this issue, in the hope that Turkey might someday realize its potential as a modern secular democratic Muslim-majority nation – anchored to the West, incorporated into Europe, and a partner in NATO. Over the course of many decades, presidents deployed euphemisms and evasive terminology to avoid saying “Armenian Genocide” and Congressional leaders derailed resolutions commemorating this crime all in the expectation of some return down the road. This was a massive misguided investment of American moral capital in the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
Sadly, Ankara never reciprocated, and Erdogan turned away from the West. Since the failed coup of 2016, he has followed a markedly anti-American regional trajectory – undermining U.S. interests, antagonizing our allies, and attacking our core American values. Erdogan’s unjust imprisonment of American Pastor Andrew Brunson stands out as a high-profile example of the offensive actions he has undertaken. Trump’s powerful response to Turkey’s hostage-taking – including his administration’s threats of crippling sanctions – freed Pastor Brunson. The president, ignoring the timid advice of the Washington, D.C. “establishment” to always treat Ankara with kid gloves, played hardball and got results, proving to the world that pressure works. But, sadly, Turkey returned to its bad habits, continuing with its record-breaking jailing of journalists, suppression of political dissent, and repression of religious liberty. Erdogan’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, over NATO objections, led to Turkey’s expulsion from the U.S.-lead F-35 program, widening the U.S.-Turkey rift.
In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen Erdogan double down on his anti-American trajectory, launching cross-border attacks on America’s Kurdish and Christian allies and committing atrocities against at-risk Christian civilians in northeast Syria, despite assurances he had given the Trump Administration.
President Trump and Vice President Pence continue to seek constructive engagement with Ankara, even as Erdogan antagonizes America and our allies. As Erdogan drives the transformation of our bilateral relationship from an actual alliance to a more transactional type of arms-length partnership, we can and should put back on the table the long list of domestic and regional issues that we once set aside out of deference to a friendly nation. At the top of this list is Turkey’s largely unrecognized, entirely unpunished destruction of the Christian nations that had lived for thousands of years in their biblical-era homelands. It may have been politically expedient – if not morally justifiable – to remain silent about these crimes as long as Turkey was a reliable ally, but today, with Turkey clearly unreliable and obviously not an ally, we must make up for lost time, actively confronting Ankara’s lies and assertively seeking to end its obstruction of justice.
The United States should reject Ankara’s gag-rule and speak in the voice of the American people. We can do that by passing H.Res.296 and H.Res.150, bipartisan measures – strongly supported by our partners at the Armenian National Committee of America - that specifically cite the “campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.” Adoption of these measures, along with appropriate commemoration from the White House, will send a powerful signal to Erdogan that the United States is done covering up for Ankara’s crimes and will hold Turkey accountable for the crimes across Syria and inside its own borders.
Toufic Baaklini is a Lebanese-American with more than 30 years of business experience in finance and development. Baaklini is the president of In Defense of Christians and has committed years of service to preserving the historic Christian communities of the Middle East.