Recognising the Armenian Genocide means being on the right side of history

New Europe - Serj Tankian, Poet, songwriter, visual artist, activist, composer, and lead vocalist of Grammy-winning rock band System of a Down

Turkey’s continued denial of both its past and present crimes against humanity proves that it is an insecure state

The recent passing of House Resolution 296 in the US House of Representatives has highlighted the almost unbelievable roller coaster dynamics of Turkey’s relationship with its NATO allies. For years Ankara has done everything in its power to limit the success of genocide recognition campaigns around the world, primarily with its use of carrot and stick techniques. In Australasia, it would be the threat of not allowing Anzac Day visits by foreign dignitaries from Australia and New Zealand while in the US and certain other countries they have resorted to hiring high-powered lobbying firms to counter moves for genocide recognition.

The Armenian Genocide – an umbrella term for the 1915 massacres of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians by the Ottoman Empire – has for decades been used by Turkey as political capital against well-known democracies around the world. The US block (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and a number of other countries) have gone out of their way to placate Turkey and its ever more irrational leader, Erdogan, on this issue, ultimately to 1) procure more sales of military equipment, 2) For Turkey to remain a bulwark against Russian ambitions in the area, and 3) For the West to maintain its bases to further project military might in the Middle East and the region overall.

The result has been an absolute disaster, hindering Turkish democracy, and helping to silence all those struggling for an egalitarian, secular state there.

Over the past few years, Erdogan’s handling of American pastor Andrew Brunson’s imprisonment, Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, and its recent military invasion of Syria have finally deteriorated faith in this far removed NATO ally. It’s surprising that this is what it took for the West to take notice. For years, Erdogan’s government has shunned international conventions by imprisoning tens of thousands of suspected Gulenists, Kurds, journalists, artists, and many others without any international noteworthy cost. It led this outlier of a leader to think that he can get away with pretty much anything.

Turkey’s recent invasion of Syria, made under the pretence of a security corridor and a place for the resettlement of Syrian Arab refugees, has directly targeted the area’s Kurds, Armenians, and other communities and explicitly showed the true face of an unpunished killer.

This begs the question of when someone gets away with murder, or genocide denial, what is to stop them from committing other crimes against humanity?

Armenians around the world were devastated to witness Turkey’s bombing of Kurdish forces and civilians in Syria. It was like experiencing PTSD from a 100+-year-old genocide. The YPG/Kurdish-American alliance was destroyed overnight after US President Donald Trump’s call with Erdogan. As far as Trump saw it, the Kurds had served American interests by doing the lion’s share of the fighting against ISIS and were now disposable.

Lucky for us, most Americans don’t see it that way. Many in the United States and their congressional representatives were appalled at how easily a U.S. ally was literally thrown under the bus by a President fighting a now ongoing impeachment inquiry. It truly brought Turkey’s continued diplomatic abuse to light.

As Armenian-Americans, we have fought for recognition of the genocide for many years. We will continue to fight for a Senate resolution of the same kind in the coming days and months. The importance of such resolutions is to finally make it clear to Turkey that there is a price to pay for genocide denial, for continuing to act with impunity against its own minorities and activists and to shed international laws.

These resolutions will not predicate behaviour by the State Department, nor the President, but will nonetheless send a strong message that Americans will not stand for this. The rest of the world also needs to take a strong stance against Erdogan and his insecure state.

While I was in New Zealand, I wrote a strong critique of Erdogan’s response to the Christchurch mosque shootings with his false claims of responsibility against New Zealanders.

Australians and New Zealanders should be appalled, stand up to this thug and refuse to visit their perished loved ones who are buried under Turkish soil in Gallipoli while the government of Turkey continues its unending abuse.

Most of my friends are shocked that Israel has also never formally recognised the genocide. Irrespective of the bad diplomatic blood between Turkey and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has blocked all such efforts to recognise the Armenian Genocide due to the intelligence sharing that Israel has with Turkey and, until now, the US’ official stance on genocide recognition. Israel should have been the first state to pass a resolution that gave official recognition to the Armenian genocide as we’re now all too familiar with Hitler’s quote when asked about the Nazi’s extermination of Europe’s Jews: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

It is time to punish genocide denial around the world.

Last year Armenia experienced a unique historical detour, shedding its post-Soviet corrupt oligarchic state and instituting a progressive regime via the peaceful Velvet Revolution led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. We’ve made a documentary film called “I Am Not Alone” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and shows the details of the revolution.

What continues to stand out for me is how decentralised civil disobedience was successfully used as a tool for peaceful regime change in Armenia. Turkey continues its illegal blockade of Armenia, holding a whole country hostage from international trade routes and rights. With so many countries and provinces around the world struggling with their own democratic movements – Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, and Iraq, to name a few – it is essential for the citizens of Turkey to claim their destiny and find a way forward toward the goal of a more progressive, egalitarian, democratic country. Erdogan and his deeply corrupt government continue to send them into a downward spiral of misfortune.

The Armenian Genocide should serve as an important historical lesson to all. Unpunished crimes against humanity that are ignored for economic or political gain by the international community will eventually lead to global disorder.


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