US President Joe Biden has ended decades of US appeasement of Turkey by recognizing the genocide carried out 106 years ago against Armenians by a previous Turkish government.
The symbolic recognition comes decades too late for any survivors. It is a testament to the will of Joe Biden and his administration that the blackmail Ankara has imposed over just using the term "genocide" has finally ended.
For many years, Turkey not only was able to prevent the US leadership from using the word genocide, but was able to threaten US soldiers in Syria, kidnap and detain Americans, harass US consular employees, even possibly get security clearance revoked for Americans, and get people banned from the US as "terrorists."
American appeasement of and catering to Turkey as no parallel in US history.
The level of appeasement of Turkey and catering to endless threats from Ankara has no parallel in US history. No other government in the world has exercised such control over even the language used by the White House.
The White House statement on April 24 still came with a conversation between Biden and Ankara's extremist authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. To understand how important the US decision was, it is important to understand how Turkey has silenced critics and bullied people and countries the world over.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become the world's leading jailor of journalists, removed almost all critical media, imprisoned students, attacked gay rights activists, hunted down and murdered women activists abroad, illegally renditioned people from third countries, crushed refugees and critics, arrested people for tweets, purged almost 200,000 people from various government roles, launched invasions and ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Syria's Afrin, bulldozed parts of Kurdish cities in Syria, threatened Yazidi genocide survivors in Iraq, unleashed mercenaries to attack Armenians in Azerbaijan, and illegally funneled weapons and mercenaries to Libya.
Erdogan's Turkey has threatened most of the countries in the region.
Under the ruling AKP party, Turkey has threatened most of the countries in the Middle East and the region, including Egypt, Israel, the UAE, Greece, Armenia and others. It has established increasing military bases abroad, developed armed drones, threatened to attack Greece in 2020, compared Israel to Nazi Germany and accused numerous European states of being like Nazis. It has demanded to have political rallies in Europe; radicalized far-right Islamists to carry out attacks in France; slandered the French president, Israel's president, Greek leaders and many other world leaders, including Biden; and threatened wars and attacks against critics.
All this has happened as Turkey has purchased Russia's S-400 air defense system, drifted away from NATO, used claims of mythical "terrorism" to justify attacks, and worked closely with the Iranian regime and Russia to try to remove US forces from Syria.
Turkey's AKP ruling party's ability to influence US foreign policy goes back decades. Turkey became a close Western ally partly at the behest of the US in the 1950s. At the time, the country was a populist secular republic that suppressed what remained of its Greek and Armenian minorities, most of whom had been expelled and genocided between 1850 and 1950.
Even in 1955, more attacks on Greeks would occur in Turkey. Armenians who remained in the country, such as Hrant Dink, would be hunted down by extremists. Turkey's secular extremist mentality nevertheless worked well alongside Western countries that needed a more right-leaning Turkey that would be a block against the Soviets. ...
However, Turkey's secular and ethnic nationalism changed when the AKP came to power. The right-leaning Islamic party had roots in the Muslim Brotherhood but promised Ankara democratic changes. Under the guise of those changes, it radically reshaped Turkey. Soon Islamist views, chauvinism, attacks on women and homosexuals and even the removal of things like smoking from television shows were occurring. Journalists like Can Dundar had to flee or face prison. Most free thinkers in Turkey, from academics to fashion people, were silenced.
The high hopes for a new Turkey that once existed in early 2000s have vanished.
The high hopes for a new Turkey that once existed in the 1990s and early 2000s vanished. Turkey joined a growing wave of authoritarian regimes, from Russia to China and Iran, as well as a growing wave of Islamist politics happening from Pakistan to Malaysia. There would be no democratic spring, the kind US officials might have envisioned in the '90s. None of George Bush's "New World Order" of 1991 would come to pass and none of the humanitarian liberal world order Bill Clinton had promised would happen. Instead, Turkey turned inward and then began projecting extremist religious views abroad.
US appeasement of Turkey is founded on several pillars. There is one argument that sees it as an important "geopolitical" asset and a "NATO ally." This view is rooted in the Cold War and argues that Turkey can be a buffer against Russia.
However, Turkey has grown closer to Russia, and US administrations never demanded that Ankara be close to the West. Instead, Turkey did what it wanted and played US policymakers like a fiddle, pretending to confront Russia. Turkey would even bring this up to encourage US support for Azerbaijan against Armenia, even though it didn't actually roll back Russian influence.
In fact, Russia's role in Syria grew alongside Turkey's role as they carved up Israel's northeastern neighbor for influence and signed deals at Astana and then in 2018 and early 2020.
The next theory is that Turkey must be appeased or it will get worse. This theory is used by US policy makers, often at the State Department and in think tanks, to argue that if the US offends Ankara's increasing dictatorship, the country might become even more extreme. This was the same logic that underpinned appeasement of Fascism and Hitler. It has led to the same thing in Turkey: increasing attacks on minorities and rights activists, with Western silence.
A last pillar of Turkey's influence in the US relied on its lobbying arm and recruitment of US officials inside and outside of government, sometimes at think tanks. It even operationalized pro-Israel voices in the early 2000s to get them to deny the Armenian Genocide under the auspices that Ankara was close to Jerusalem and denying genocide would "help Israel." ...
[But] it didn't help Israel in the long run. Turkey ended up hosting Hamas terrorists who applaud the murder of Israelis. Turkey sent activists of the conservative Turkish NGO IHH on the Mavi Marmara in 2010 to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. ... Israel had to stop them; ten of them were killed in clashes with Israelis who raided the ship. ...
It's unclear if the Biden administration has put an end to all of Turkey's influence in official US circles. Decades of cultivating ties has given Ankara a lot of power in Washington, power it used to target journalists, protesters and innocent people like Hevrin Khalaf. The full details about Ankara's role may never be known. What is known is that Biden has recognized the Armenian Genocide despite Turkey's threats.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.