By Sinem Cengiz
April 20, 2014
During his annual Armenian Remembrance Day speech on April 24, US President Barack Obama is not likely to use the term “genocide” to characterize the loss of Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, say analysts, who believe Washington will avoid the issue so as not to harm ties with Turkey at a time when the two NATO allies are not having the smoothest of relations.
“This year is not likely to be any different. In short, while expressing sympathy and decrying the killings, President Obama will not use the term ‘genocide' in order not to inflame US-Turkish relations,” Stephen Larrabee, who holds the distinguished chair in European Security at the RAND Corporation, told Sunday's Zaman.
Although Larrabee believes the US government has its differences with Ankara over a number of aspects of Turkish policy, in particular the increasing authoritarian tendencies exhibited by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lately, Obama wants to maintain good ties with Turkey.
“To use the word ‘genocide' in his annual statement would unnecessarily inflame these relations at a time when both sides need to work harder to improve them,” he added.
Turkey in past years has repeatedly urged the US president not to use the word genocide on April 24 during his speech, asking him to not only refer to Armenian pains but also those of the Ottoman Turks during World War I, and to mention Turkey's proposal of establishing a joint commission of historians and experts from both Turkey and Armenia to study evidence for the events of 1915 in the archives of Turkey, Armenia and other relevant countries around the world.
The US has not officially recognized Armenians' claim that there was a genocide in Eastern Turkey between 1915 and 1923. Before Obama's presidency, US leaders blocked attempts to pass resolutions recognizing the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.
Meanwhile, as the 100th anniversary of the 1915 tragedy approaches, mutual preparations and tensions are gaining momentum in Turkey and Armenia. Both the Turkish government and the Armenian diaspora groups are revealing their strategies for 2015.
The issue has long been a source of tension between Turkey and several Western countries, especially the United States and France, both home to large ethnic Armenian diaspora.
Recently, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution commemorating the “Armenian genocide,” clearing the way for the resolution to be voted on by the Senate as a whole.
Over the resolution, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said it would not have any negative effects on Ankara-Washington ties at this stage, but stressed that Turkey will not remain silent if the resolution is adopted by the Senate.
Turkey also urged Congress not to carry the resolution further on the legislative agenda, warning that such a move could "harm bilateral relations" between the two countries.
Regarding the resolution, Sedat Laçiner, rector of Çanakkale 18 Mart University, said despite all the pressure in the US, Congress is unlikely to pass such a resolution at this time.
“Obama will avoid using the term genocide, at least this year. Turkey-US relations are currently not at their best and I don't think Obama would like to strain it further with the Armenian issue,” Laçiner told Sunday's Zaman.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner paid a surprise visit to Ankara last week to hold high-level meetings with Turkish officials. His visit came at a time when two resolutions on the “Armenian genocide” are on the agenda of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. Boehner said Congress is unlikely to get involved in the issue, stressing that Turkey has no reason to worry since it is not up to the US Congress to rewrite history.
Larrabee says the resolution has a “ritualistic character,” adding it should not be turned into a litmus test of US-Turkish solidarity and friendship.
“Thus Turkish politicians can relax; Armenians will be disappointed once again. However, this issue has taken on a symbolic importance in Turkey way out of proportion to its real significance in US-Turkish relations,” said Larrabee, adding: “Turkish politicians would be well advised to stop placing such importance to the presidential statement made on April 24. Turks should see it for what it is: a statement made primarily for domestic consumption.”
Davutoğlu also said, “Turkey-US relations should not be hampered by the activities of any lobby.”
However, Larrabee believes the Armenian lobby will undoubtedly use the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 1915 killings as an opportunity to harshly condemn Turkey and put it on the bank of the accused.
“Instead of engaging in a heated exchange of polemics over the 1915 incident, both sides should actively seek to improve the resumption of dialogue broken off several years ago aimed at improving bilateral relations,” said Larrabee.
Agreeing with Larrabee, Beril Dedeoğlu from Galatasaray University said the best way to get rid of the Armenian pressure is for Turkey to be able to say “what happened in the past happened” and should avoid efforts to prevent Armenian resolutions from coming out from the parliaments of foreign countries.
“Conducting politics over the Armenian issue is really disturbing. Let whatever resolution they wish be accepted in any place of the world. If Turkey gives up on struggling over the issue, Armenians' hands will become weaker,” Dedeoğlu told Sunday's Zaman.
Dedeoğlu also believes that under these circumstances, the US will not risk harming ties with Turkey and that the resolution may be discussed in Congress and in the Senate for domestic consumption but will not be adopted.