Next Friday, April 24, Armenians the world over will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, now widely recognized as the first genocide of the 20th century. Widely, that is, outside Turkey, where the government and the majority of Turks continue to furiously attack anyone who speaks of genocide.
When Pope Francis used the term at a memorial service for the Armenian victims on Sunday, Turkey recalled its ambassador from the Vatican and a government minister insidiously noted that the pope was Argentine, and “in Argentina, the Armenian diaspora controls the media and business.” And even before the European Parliament passed a resolution on Wednesday urging Turkey to recognize the genocide and seek a “genuine reconciliation” with the Armenians, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that whatever the Europeans say “will go in one ear and out the other.”
For Armenians, millions of whom form a global diaspora outside the Republic of Armenia, demanding recognition of the mass executions, death marches and concentration camps inflicted on their ancestors in the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, in which as many as 1.5 million died, has been a decades-long, global mission. While Turkey has admitted that many Armenians died, the official narrative is that this was a nasty episode in a nasty war, and not a premeditated attempt to destroy a people — not, in other words, a genocide. To assert otherwise is a crime in Turkey — “insulting Turkish identity” — and intolerable from foreigners.
The narrative, however, is simply not one Turkey can sustain against the weight of scholarship that leaves no doubt of a regime-sponsored campaign against Armenians during and after World War I. Mr. Erdogan was on the right track last year when he called for an independent panel, and it is difficult to understand why he has backed away now. The longer Turks refuse to examine and acknowledge that history fully, the greater the damage to Turkey’s international standing.
The United States should not condone that posture of denial. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama declared that “as president, I will recognize the Armenian genocide.” But, like his predecessors, he then became reluctant to upset an important NATO ally.
Maintaining good relations with Turkey is important, but at the least the United States should join Europe and Pope Francis in making clear to Mr. Erdogan that the greatest danger to Turkey lies not in anyone’s use of the word “genocide,” but in refusing to acknowledge what took place 100 years ago.
"The New York Times," April 17, 2015