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04/29/2021 Turkey (International Christian Concern) –  On April 24, 2021, President Joe Biden became the second U.S. president to designate the 1915 atrocities against Armenians as genocide. Former presidents have avoided using the word genocide following pressure from Turkey and the potential strain between the two countries.

Biden’s statement began a ripple effect through Turkish, Armenian, and Azeri communities. In Turkey’s parliament, deputy of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Turkish Armenian Garo Paylan commented on Genocide Remembrance Day saying in a tweet, “After 106 years, we walk on streets named after Talat Pasha, the architect of the Genocide. We educate our children at schools named after Talat Pasha.” In response to his comment, another member of parliament, Ümit Özdağ formerly of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), wrote back, “Impudent provocateur man. If you are not content, go to hell. Talat Pasha didn’t expel patriotic Armenians but those who stabbed us in the back like you. When the time comes, you’ll also have a Talat Pasha experience and you should have it.”

The Twitter conversation continued as Özdağ threatened the Armenian parliament member. In response, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) filed a criminal complaint against MP Ümit Özdağ. In the petition, IHD claimed the threats violated a crime under Articles 106 and 216 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Just prior to Biden’s declaration, Paylan proposed a new law to the Turkish parliament to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. Turkey maintains that the Ottoman-era deaths of 1915 were without forethought and under wartime conditions. Instead of pursuing reconciliation via official recognition, the Turkish parliament passed a resolution on April 27 declaring that President Biden’s recognition of the genocide was null and void. Four of the five parliamentary parties approved the resolution, with only the HDP dissenting.

Turkish society also reacted to the recognition of the ethnic-religious genocide. The Diyarbakir Bar Association is facing government harassment and criticism over its statement supporting Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day saying, “We share the grief for the Great Calamity”. The Diyarbakir Public Prosecutor’s office is investigating the statement and charged its senior leadership with “degrading the Turkish Nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, the institutions and bodies of the state.” The Diyarbakir Bar briefly responded that they refuse to restrict their freedom of expression and defended their statement.

Any Armenian living in Turkey who voices support of the genocide recognition does so at great risk. As historically done in Turkey via the conversion of Hagia Sofia and pressures on other Christian religious institutions and leaders, Turkey sees Christians as a tool to leverage for political gain (particularly in the international arena) rather than as full members of society. The Armenian Foundations Union condemned the U.S. and other foreign actors not directly connected to the Armenian Genocide for commenting on it, saying that it only deepened the hurt done to them.

Turkish partner country Azerbaijan weighed in on President Biden’s comments as well, with President Aliyev saying that Biden’s remarks were “unacceptable” and a “historical mistake.” Azerbaijan has made it clear that it will stand by Turkey and all of its decisions. Turkish media linked Biden’s comments on the genocide as a “punishment” for Turkish support of Azerbaijan in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Artsakh) war. They warned that the declaration would further anti-Americanism among the nationalist communities in Turkey.

A number of protests occurred by Turks in response to the declaration. Videos circulating of these protests showed Azeri flags were often present. Video purporting to show a protest staged at the US Embassy in Ankara included demonstrators dressed as Ottoman-era Turks brandishing swords. Meanwhile, some of Turkey’s opposition parties have criticized President Erdogan for allowing international relations to decrease to such a level that genocide recognition became possible. In other words, denial of the genocide and even its glorification continues across Turkish and Azeri society.

For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: [email protected].