CHICAGO: Leaders and activists from the Armenian community in the US applauded the recent decision by President Joseph Biden to formally acknowledge the genocide of the Armenian people in 1915 by Ottoman Forces and said it adds to the pressure on Turkey to begin a process of reparations.
Biden made his announcement on April 24. On that date in 1915, he said, a genocide began during which an estimated 1.5 million people were “deported, massacred or marched to their deaths.”
Ani Tchaghlasian, a board member of the Armenian National Committee of America, said the killings were documented after the First World War by American and the German historians and government leaders. Biden’s decision puts Turkey on notice that it must accept its responsibility and face up to its obligation and make reparations to the descendants of the victims, she added.
“There are many countries that have already recognized the genocide: France, Germany — most of Western Europe, minus the United Kingdom,” Tchaghlasian said during a discussion on the Ray Hanania radio show on Wednesday.
“I think what this does is give other smaller players in the world courage to speak truth to power. All of this is only relevant once it becomes policy. The first step is to say the word and then to back up the word with policy.”
She said that the Turkish authorities, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can no longer avoid the issue because genocide is a well-defined legal term and cases that involve it have the full power of the rule of law behind them.
“The (Turkish) state has an issue with it and that’s where the problem is. The state doesn’t want to embrace this, even though it is a part of their history, because it has legal consequences,” said Tchaghlasian, who is a descendant of genocide survivors.
She added that while she recognizes the fact that the Ottoman Empire carried out the genocide and not the Turkish Republic, “The issue is that successor states still have legal responsibility for their predecessors.
“Just because you change the name of your state, just because you elect a new body, like Germany did after the Second World War … that doesn’t mean the new government says, ‘Oh, I had nothing to do with this, so Germany bears no responsibility in the holocaust.’ That’s not how state responsibility works.”
During his speech at the White House this week, Biden said: “Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination.
“We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.” Meds Yeghern, which translates as “great evil crime,” is the Armenian term for the genocide.
Journalist Lara Setrakian, the CEO and founder of News Deeply, said Biden’s announcement reflects his personal support of the Armenian community in its efforts to force Turkey to acknowledge the genocide. It opens the door for Armenians to gain additional international support for their attempts to get Turkish authorities to acknowledge the genocide and begin the process of reparations.
“It is an incredibly important statement from President Biden and the United States,” she said. “It’s not just a question of the moral authority or the weight of the American word. In this case, two countries had an up close, front seat (view) to what was happening during the Armenian genocide: the United States and Germany.”
The eyewitness accounts diplomats from the two nations, including Henry Morgenthau, the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, are primary source materials, she added.
“They saw this happening before their eyes. They interacted with the Ottoman officials who basically said straight up, ‘This is our strategy, we are getting rid of the Armenians,’” Setrakian said.
Germany has officially recognized the Armenian genocide and apologized for its role in it, she added, but the political successor to the Ottomans, the Turkish government, refuses and is “pretending that it did not happen.”
Tchaghlasian also believes that more countries will follow Biden’s lead and put greater pressure on Turkey to acknowledge the massacre and begin the process of reparations.
“We are glad that finally the time came,” she said. “The statement is very powerful. President Biden has a long history of being on the right side of this issue. It was time; the time has come.
“I think what is significant for the Armenian community is what comes next. I think having the declaration is very important; putting that word on paper is very important.
“But now we have to turn that into policy for the United States. Because putting the word on paper is only a word on paper and it needs to convert. We are pretty confident that the Biden administration will do that and will pursue that. But without converting that statement into policy, it really doesn’t have much teeth.”
The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 on the US Arab Radio Network. The show is sponsored by Arab News and streamed live to millions of followers at Facebook.com/ArabNews.