The Case Against U.S. Recognition of Armenian Genocide

We don't need to anger Turkey just now

This article is from the archive of our partner .

From 1915 through 1923, the Ottoman Empire systemically killed between 300,000 and 1,500,000 of its Armenian civilians. The incident has been officially recognized as a genocide by 20 countries, 43 U.S. states and several international bodies. But the Turkish government contests this characterization, and the issue is extremely controversial in Turkish politics. This may explain why the U.S., which relies heavily on Turkey as a key ally in the Middle East, has yet to officially recognize the genocide.

Many Democrats, however, feel that this policy wrongly puts foreign policy over human rights and betrays the sizable Armenian-American population. President Obama himself, while campaigning in early 2008, said he would push for recognition. But now that the House Foreign Affairs Committee is going ahead with a measure to formally recognize the genocide, the White House sent none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask them to back down. The principled case for recognizing genocide may seem obvious, but many critics are warning that the downsides of recognition are simply too big to ignore. Here's why Obama and others don't want to go ahead.

  • Turkey Means Business  Reuters reports, "One Turkish government official said Turkey was open to all options -- including the recall of its ambassador to Washington -- if the congressional panel approves the legislation ... Turkey is an important ally whose help the United States needs to solve confrontations from Iran to Afghanistan."
  • Like Bush, Obama Sees Long Game  Fox News' Eve Zibel notes that Bush faced a similar predicament in 2007. "President Bush ran into the same problem the Obama administration is now facing, recognizing the genocide, but asking the House not to pass the resolution so as to maintain good relations between the United States and Turkey. The United States maintains the Incirlik military base in Turkey which is used as a main hub for training missions for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
  • None of Our Business  Turkish Coalition of America President Lincoln McCurdy writes on that the Armenian genocide "has no relevance to America's foreign relations and interests." He writes, "Congress is neither the 'conscience' of the world, nor its revisionist historian."
  • Bad for Defense Contractors  The Hill's Kevin Bogardus warns that a lot of U.S. business is tied up in Turkey. "Executives for the nation's top defense contractors say billions of dollars in business with Turkey could disappear if a genocide resolution advances on Capitol Hill."
  • Why We Need Turkey  The Financial Times explains, "The vote comes at a delicate time, with bilateral ties already strained as Washington increases the pressure on Ankara to back sanctions against Iran. Turkey, with Nato's second biggest army and an increasingly influential voice in the Middle East, is a critical ally for the US in the region. It is also an important market for the US aerospace industry, which opposed the resolution ... Turkey's government has warned of serious damage to relations with Washington if the resolution, which is non-binding, passes a full vote on the floor of congress."
  • Here's a Better Way to Help  Henri Barkey writes in The Washington Post, "As in the past, the resolution isn't likely to get very far. But this year, it portends great damage to the Obama administration's attempts to rescue a fragile Turkey-Armenia reconciliation ... The Obama administration has been pushing for a deal that would normalize Turkish-Armenian relations and open the borders between them." He writes, "lawmakers worried about responding to Armenian-American constituents should focus their efforts on helping to mediate a reconciliation that would benefit Armenians. It'd be better if they used their power to end ongoing fights than to pick old ones."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.