Armenian Card and the Great Game?

Joe Biden’s speech last Saturday, April 24, in which the term “Armenian genocide” was used, became the main news of the last days for the Russian-speaking and Turkish-speaking Islamic space. Now that the emotions have calmed down a bit, let’s try to identify several components of what happened: why it was said now; what is the political, historical and legal significance of what was said; what exactly was said; what are the consequences of it and the reaction to it.

As for why it was said now, it’s quite simple. The deterioration of relations between the United States and Turkey is a long-term trend that has slowed down somewhat during Donald Trump’s presidency, but it has not stopped. We wrote last November that this trend would accelerate with Joe Biden in the White House ( And we were right, not because we have any genius for analysis or prediction, but because it was a prediction based on elementary political arithmetic. We were not the only ones who understood the inevitable hardening of the White House’s stance towards Turkey; it was clear in Ankara and apparently in Baku as well, judging by the decision taken in the summer of 2020 to start the Second Karabakh War with the calculation of ending it during Donald Trump’s presidency. Therefore, now we simply have to assume that the US policy towards Turkey will be more problematic for the country in the next four years, if Erdogan remains in power (which is most likely), and Biden’s message on April 24, 2021 is a vivid manifestation of this trend. We will discuss this further.

In terms of the political, historical and legal significance of this event, they differ in this case. Politically, the use of the term “Armenian genocide” by the White House after decades of avoiding it undoubtedly represents a hostile attack on Turkey and indicates a lowering of the level of U.S. relations with it. However, historically, there was no dramatic turning point, as Armenian lobbyists try to present their tactical victory as a great breakthrough. First, because the USA has joined a long list of countries that officially use the term “Armenian genocide”, including those with which Turkey successfully cooperates. Among them is Germany, which already in 2015 “recognized the genocide” (and, by the way, its partial responsibility for it). Above all, however, it is Russia, which pioneered such “recognition” in 1995, which does not prevent Turkey from currently cooperating with it, and vice versa.

In this context, it should be noted that the USA has been involved in this process for a long time and, first of all, more actively than many countries that have used the phrase “Armenian Genocide”, because American presidents have made statements on this issue every April 24 since 1994, which is not done even in countries that have been using this phrase for a long time. Moreover, the US had used it before, essentially being the first to do so, but then stopped using it for some time. For example, on April 22, 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in which he said: “The lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten, just as the Holocaust itself and the Armenian genocide that preceded it, as well as the numerous other persecutions of large numbers of people, must never be forgotten.” And on September 12, 1984, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the following resolution: “That April 24, 1985, be designated as a National Day of Remembrance for Man’s Inhumanity to Man. The President of the United States is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the American people to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities to remember the victims of all genocides and, in particular, the one and a half million Armenians who were victims of the genocide perpetrated in Turkey between 1915 and 1923, as Armenians throughout the world and their relatives do on this day.”

However, legal “recognition of genocide” by the U.S. has not yet occurred. What took place on April 24, 2021 is not even legally an executive order of the President of the United States, but only a statement reflecting the position of a particular President, as was the case with Reagan’s similar statement. In order to legally cement his position, the lobbyists will now have to get a bill passed by the U.S. Congress, which they will most likely do, given that the Democrats currently control both houses and can count on the support of a significant portion of the Republicans.

Now let’s talk about what Biden actually said. Here is the text of his short statement, highlighting the most important parts: “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who perished in the Armenian Genocide during the Ottoman era and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever happening again. 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 will never be lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever vigilant against the corrosive influence of hatred in all its forms. Many who survived sought new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States. With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community. Over the decades, Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their history. We see the pain. We affirm that history. We do this not to place blame, but to ensure that what happened will never happen again. Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also look to the future – to the world we want to build for our children. A world free from the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected and all people can live their lives in dignity and security. Let us renew our common resolve to prevent future atrocities anywhere in the world. And let us seek healing and reconciliation for all peoples of the world. The American people honor all Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago.”

So, despite the fact that this statement represents a one-sided view of events, cultivating only the Armenian catastrophe while remaining silent about its causes and the similar victims among Muslims in Eastern Anatolia, its main motive is not accusation but a call for healing and reconciliation. And this has nothing to do with the delusions of today’s Dashnaks, who believe that recognizing the tragedy of the Armenian people as a “genocide”, which the Turks deny due to its one-sided nature, gives them a carte blanche to “reclaim the lands of Western Armenia” or something similar.

In this regard, let’s compare Biden’s speech with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s address to the Armenian Church and community, and indirectly to Armenia, delivered on the same day: “I respectfully commemorate the Ottoman Armenians who died under difficult conditions during World War I and express my condolences to their grandchildren. The Armenian community has produced many significant figures in the fields of art, architecture, medicine, etc. throughout our shared history. We cannot allow the centuries-old culture of coexistence between Turks and Armenians to be forgotten. Political interference by third parties using this as a political tool does not make anyone better off. I believe that it is a great injustice to the new generations if we start exploiting the pain of the past that is in our souls. As Turks and Armenians, we must now show that we are mature enough to overcome all obstacles together. We have always declared on different occasions that we are ready to develop our relations with Armenia on the basis of good neighborliness and mutual respect. And now I repeat this call once again. I thank our Armenian citizens, who are an integral part of our nation, for their sincere support in this struggle of our country. With these thoughts, I respectfully commemorate the Ottoman Armenians we lost in World War I. I share the suffering of their relatives and send you my warmest greetings”.

As seen, the President of Turkey also recognizes the great tragedy that occurred with the Ottoman Armenians and expresses his condolences to them and calls for reconciliation. He emphasizes that it was part of the common tragedy of the First World War with all its consequences for all the peoples of the Ottoman Empire.

In this context, let’s discuss possible reactions to the events in Washington and their consequences. If ill-informed Dashnaks want to divide Turkey and conquer not only Mount Ararat, Kars and Van, but also Istanbul, then, for understandable reasons, there are also emotional appeals from our side. However, it should be understood that politics and especially geopolitics are areas where emotions are extremely destructive. President Erdogan is implementing a long-term strategy to turn Turkey into one of the powerful poles of world politics, capable of becoming a locomotive for the entire Islamic world in the future. This is what actually explains the counteraction he is facing, not the good feelings of his opponents towards the Armenians, who, as they were a century ago, remain a bargaining chip in this game of the big players.

Thus, the main threats of this game against Erdogan for the Turkish leadership are, first, the creation of regional coalitions aimed at geopolitically isolating and neutralizing Turkey and, second, the collapse of its economy, which can lead to internal destabilization and its overthrow in one way or another. Therefore, what Turkey needs now is not rash emotional reactions and actions such as “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face”. This applies not only to its relations with the United States, which despite all contradictions remain important for both sides, but also to its policy towards the “culprit of the triumph”, as President Erdogan well understands it from his speech.

The Armenian factor will continue to be exploited against Turkey, but it must be understood that this game involves different players with different interests. There are those who are interested in the implementation of the Armenian project as one of the anti-Turkish military-political outposts along with Greece and Kurdistan. Although Ankara succeeded in disrupting the project of creating an anti-Turkish Greater Kurdistan through a series of Turkish military operations in Syria and the project of Greater Armenia suffered a crushing defeat in the 2020 war, there are revanchists on both sides who dream of reviving these projects and those who want to use them against Turkey. However, while preparations are being made for an armed confrontation against these threats, and military force will be used where it is inevitable and necessary, the Turkish leadership must pursue a more subtle political game aimed at neutralizing these threats by peaceful means.

This game is being played by Ankara with Greece, with which negotiations are underway to resolve existing contradictions peacefully. It is also being played on the Kurdish front, where it is important to neutralize the threat of the PKK-HDP and to create a reliable counterweight in the Kurdish environment. However, the same has to be done on the Armenian front. Elections are to be held in Armenia this year, and the Dashnaks and Armenian revanchists, who want to return to power and turn their country into an anti-Turkish fortress, are striving to come to power. And their main enemy is not only the Turks, but also “the Turk Nikol”, as they call Nikol Pashinyan, blaming him not only for the defeat in last year’s war, but also for plans to “peacefully hand over Armenia to Azerbaijan and Turkey”. However, voices from within the current Armenian government are constantly being raised, calling for the abandonment of revanchist dreams and the establishment of good neighborly relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, understanding that the continuation of the centuries-old adventurous policy towards them will not bring anything good to Armenians.

For example, Alen Simonyan, the Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament, in his speech on the occasion of these days’ mourning events, called for the abandonment of a belligerent approach towards the neighboring peoples: “We need to properly evaluate our approach. We have songs that talk about killing Turks; we have statements that we will turn Istanbul into a sea of blood. For some reason, we painfully accept any political statement from a neighboring country, but our rhetoric is no different”. And Deputy Minister of Emergency Situations Armen Pambukchyan asked, “How long are we going to live with the Turks in mutual hatred?” For this, along with Simonyan, they were registered as “Turks” by the Dashnaks.

At the global level, these approaches fit into the strategy of Great Britain and some circles in the United States, which are interested in creating a new geopolitical architecture in the post-Soviet space, in which Turkey plays an important role in the southern sector. On the other hand, there are those circles, especially in France, Russia and partly in the USA, who want to “finally solve the Turkish question”, as they did a century ago, using the Armenian factor for this purpose.

Therefore, it should be understood that April 24, 2021 in Washington did not mark the end of the world. A message has been delivered that needs to be understood, assessed in terms of its challenges, and the strategic game must be continued, guided not by emotions but by calculated political reasoning. The game is not over; it is in progress.

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