Genocide happens most easily in darkness. If Biden truly understands the lessons of the Armenian Genocide, on Monday, when the White House releases its annual declaration, he will call out those who would continue the genocide through a deliberate campaign of starvation, harassment, incitement, and murder.
On April 24, Armenians will commemorate the 108th anniversary of the genocide they suffered in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey still denies the genocide was deliberate; many Turkish nationalists question if it occurred at all.
For too long in Washington, promises to affirm the Armenian Genocide were akin to promises to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem: Every major candidate made them, but none followed through. Donald Trump disrupted that pattern with regard to Jerusalem. Rather than undermine peace, it catalyzed it. Joe Biden did the same with Armenian Genocide. He not only promised as a candidate but also followed through. On April 24, 2021, he stated clearly, “We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.” Today, not only the White House, but also the Senate and House of Representatives, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia officially recognize the Genocide.
Despite Turkey’s bluster, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did nothing. He showed himself to be a paper tiger. Biden and many other world leaders showed that truth trumped spin and propaganda. Unfortunately, Secretary
of State Antony Blinken tarnished Biden’s moral clarity. Without forewarning Congress, whom he had briefed just days earlier on the Armenian issue, he quietly decided to waive Section 907, which enforced a weapons embargo on Azerbaijan. That section of the Freedom Support Act ties military assistance to Azerbaijan to its commitment to solve its dispute with Armenia through diplomacy alone. Blinken simply ignored the facts not only that Azerbaijan’s surprise attack had killed thousands, but also that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev openly declared he sought to take his conquests further.
In April 2022, Biden issued another statement about the Armenian Genocide on Armenian Remembrance Day. It was a good declaration and addressed all the key points. “As we reflect on the Armenian genocide, we renew our pledge to remain vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms. We recommit ourselves to speaking out and stopping atrocities that leave lasting scars on the world,” he said. Once again, the State Department waived Section 907.
As White House speechwriters craft a statement for Monday, Biden must go further. For five months, Azerbaijani militias have blockaded the only route into Artsakh, the Armenian-governed enclave in Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier this week, Aliyev called for population transfer of the region’s 115,000 remaining Armenians. He has cut off food, water, and gas. Genocide looms.
Blinken and the State Department meanwhile wring their hands and counsel against holding Aliyev accountable for his crimes. After all, Blinken tells Congressmen privately, the United States needs Azerbaijan’s compliance for anti-Iran operations. What Blinken fails to understand is that keeping Iran in check is an Azerbaijani interest. That Aliyev extorts Blinken for something Azerbaijan would do anyway humiliates Washington. Regardless, a millennia-old Armenian community should not die as a concession to the dictator.
Genocide happens most easily in darkness. If Biden truly understands the lessons of the Armenian Genocide, on Monday, when the White House releases its annual declaration, he will call out those who would continue the genocide through a deliberate campaign of starvation, harassment, incitement and murder. He will not simply cut-and-paste from his previous two declarations. There is nothing cheaper and more morally corrupt than condemning a genocide from a century ago while enabling its continuance today.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).