By David Brennan,
President Donald Trump’s administration is undermining America’s reputation on human rights by refusing to adopt a Congress-approved resolution officially acknowledging the Armenian genocide, an advocacy group has said.
Last week, the Senate passed a resolution expressing “official recognition and remembrance” of the 20th century massacre, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire but still denied by Turkey today. The House passed an identical resolution in October.
But the White House has not taken up the resolution, prompting condemnation from lawmakers and Armenian Americans, who accuse Trump of prioritizing his administration’s ties with Turkey over human rights and genocide remembrance.
Earlier this week, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the Trump administration’s position “has not changed,” according to the Associated Press. “Our views are reflected in the president’s definitive statement on this issue from last April.”
Then, Trump issued a statement marking Armenian Remembrance Day, honoring “the memory of those who suffered in one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.” Trump’s statement did not use the word “genocide,” in line with established U.S. policy.
But according to Van Krikorian, the co-chair of the Armenian Assembly of America, the White House is still not doing enough to recognize the genocide, which killed more than 1 million people from 1915 to 1923.
Krikorian told Newsweek that the administration did not fight the resolution in either the House or the Senate, yet has failed to give it its final approval.
“It’s very frustrating to have an administration that still won’t affirm the U.S. record and do the right thing,” he said.
President Ronald Reagan acknowledged the genocide in 1981, but subsequent presidents have avoided using the phrase for fear of alienating America’s Turkish allies.
The massacre occurred during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, as hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forcibly relocated to the deserts of Syria and elsewhere. Victims were either killed or died from starvation and exhaustion.
Turkey denies there was a genocide and disputes the number of Armenians killed. The country’s governments have argued that those who did die did so while fighting Ottoman forces.
Krikorian suggested the administration was dragging its feet to avoid conflict with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Erdogan is such an unpredictable and dangerous person—we’ve had, in the past, them threaten American lives,” he explained. “So maybe they did that in an effort to calm him down a little bit.”
But Krikorian said the inaction contributes to a feeling that Turkey “can push the Trump administration” around.
“Erdogan doesn’t respect Donald Trump,” he added. “They would respect them for saying, ‘There was an Armenian genocide, and Mr. Erdogan you have to start coming to terms with that,’ just like the United States has come to terms with a lot of things done in other countries.”
The resolution has been taken as a rebuke over Turkey’s October invasion of northeastern Syria, facilitated by Trump’s abrupt order to U.S. troops in the area to withdraw from positions alongside allied Syrian Democratic Forces.
U.S. lawmakers are also at odds with Turkey over its purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft system, which it bought despite protests from Washington and other NATO allies.
But Krikorian said it “is deeply ironic that Russia—with which Turkey has grown so much closer—has never had qualms about using the term ‘Armenian genocide,’ and still doesn’t.”
Trump has been widely criticized for his erratic response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, which saw the U.S.-allied SDF abandoned to fight Turkey alone and helped dozens of captured Islamic State fighters escape SDF detention.
Some critics—including former National Security Advisor John Bolton—have suggested that Trump did not want to stand up to Erdogan due to his financial interests in Turkey.
“I think Donald Trump has some interests in Turkey and with Erdogan that he is trying to protect,” Krikorian said. “It just doesn’t make logical sense.”
Erodgan’s forces have been accused of ethnic cleansing and a wide range of war crimes in Turkey’s Syria incursions. Krikorian warned that appeasing the strongman will only make it harder to address his poor record on human rights.
“Senators and congressmen and Americans know there was an Armenian genocide,” Krikorian said. “That debate has been over for a really long time, it’s just a question of whether the administration will correctly use the term as Ronald Reagan did or not.”
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez was a sponsor of the bill. In a statement sent to Newsweek, he said he would “not back away from shaming those who insist on being on the wrong side of history.” Menendez said the atrocity “was a horrifying factual reality that should never be denied.”
He continued, “While not surprising, I am still deeply disappointed that both President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have yet to find their moral compass on this issue, and that they insist on allowing Turkey to have a veto on our own domestic decision.”
“It’s time for this nation to recognize the truth,” he added. “We must honor those who lost their lives in the Armenian genocide, remember how they died and pledge ourselves to change the way history remembers their deaths.”
The Trump administration did not respond to Newsweek‘s request for comment on the resolution and the White House’s failure to adopt it.
The Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. told Newsweek by email that “allegations with regard to the events of 1915 do not rest on legal and historical facts.”
As such, the embassy said Turkey “opposes all legislative steps and other official acts that try to render judgment on its history. This issue should be left to the historians.”
The embassy noted that Turkey and Armenia had agreed to establish a “Joint Historical Commission” to investigate the atrocities, but claimed Armenia did not fulfil its obligations. Regardless, the embassy said Turkey had “opened its archives for all historians, who wish to research the truth about the allegations.”
The embassy also warned, “The resolutions adopted by the U.S. Congress will not facilitate the reconciliation efforts between Turks and Armenians, as they provide a pretext for the continuation of the intransigent Armenian position.”
“Furthermore, these one-sided and politicized resolutions poison the political environment between Turkey and the United States as well, in particular at a time when regional and international developments require extensive collaboration and cooperation between two countries more than ever before.”