A Genocide Affirmation
05/06/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) –President Joe Biden released a statement affirming the Armenian Genocide of 1915. President Biden is the only president since Ronald Reagan to refer to this mass atrocity perpetuated by Ottoman-era Turkish authorities against Armenian Christians as a genocide. The Turkish government has failed to take responsibility and has actively denied their role in this, allowing them to pursue genocidal policies against Armenians.
Jeff King sits down with two ICC analysts on this issue as a roundtable discussion covering this topic.
ICC’s official statement on Biden’s announcement can be found here.
Jeff King: Welcome back to Into the Deep today. We’re going to have a fascinating discussion all about Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, genocide. And the thing that is bringing this all up, we’ve covered a lot of the Turkish attack on the Armenians recently with the Azerbaijanis, but what is bringing this to the head is that President Biden made an announcement recently. He came out publicly in a press release and said that the attack on the Armenians back in the beginning of the 1900s was a genocide.
So anybody who works in religious freedom knows that. Oh my gosh. It’s like we know it full well, but no one has been willing to say it. No one in terms of the President, except for Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was the first. Now Joe Biden is only the second president to say it. And we are celebrating it in the religious freedom community because it’s like long overdue and we’re going to get into why that is etc.
But anyways, we’re going to talk today with two ICC analysts. There’s Andrew and Claire, and these guys’ kind of work beyond the field side and the advocacy side, but both analysts and experts on Armenia. So guys welcome.
Andrew and Claire, thank you.
Andrew, I’ve got a question for you. So I set that up in the introduction, just talking about Biden coming out and making this announcement. So talk about… Andrew, thanks so much first of all for being here and taking the time. I want you to… I kind of opened up the press release and why it’s historic and everything, but give us a little more detail and tie it into the 1915 event and why is this historic? Why is this so important?
Andrew Crane: Sure. So Biden released a statement on April 24th which is Armenia Remembrance Day, but a lot of Armenian groups refer to this day as Armenian Genocide Recognition Day because they see the recognition of this as a genocide as so important to their identity. So like you said, President Biden was only the second president to actually use the word genocide to refer to this massacre of Armenians and vast displacement of 1.5 million Armenians at that time.
What’s so important about that is that genocide implies that there’s an intent to eradicate a group. So that’s why there’s so much backing behind that word and there’s so much other meaning when that word is used to refer to a certain event. The US has rarely used that word to refer to many events like this because of those implications, and especially with this event. The US has a very close alliance with Turkey which is incredibly delicate. They’re both NATO allies, and so there’s a lot of military equipment trade between the two countries. They do joint military exercises together. They have a joint mission in Afghanistan and they also do a lot of intelligence sharing, which is obviously a very delicate process.
And so Turkey has always denied that this was a genocide or that this even existed. They would claim that this was really a reprisal attacking against Armenians who were attacking the Ottoman Empire, to start out. Although like you said, a lot, most people in the religious freedom community see this as clearly a genocide. And so we commend President Biden for really standing up to Turkey and showing that recognition of this genocide is more important than our alliance. And this is something that the Armenian people really need to hear to start feeling that reconciliation from those just tragic events of the early 20th century.
Jeff King: Excellent. And I got to say, one of my earliest memories of being down on Capitol Hill in this job was I was at an event. I can’t even tell you what the event was. I’ve been to so many, but the Turks were there and the Armenians were there, and the Armenians made some statement and used the word genocide and the ambassadorial staff just quickly jumped on it and suppressed it. And that’s what’s going on in the background. So you touched on that, but they work full-time to suppress this word and to change the narrative of what actually happened at a very bloody past. So Claire, talk about the Armenians and who they are, and just you tell us, get us clued in on to who these people are.
Claire Evans: The Armenians are a people group who, before there was modern Turkey, it was… there were no Turks in modern Turkey historically. It was predominantly made up of ethnic Greek, Syrians and Armenians. The Armenian community is the first nation to adopt Christianity in history. When you read the New Testament, when you read the letters from Paul, he’s speaking to communities like the Armenians, and those are the people that he’s walking among. And the Armenian community are very proud of the fact that they were the first Christian nation. They were the first ones to fully accept the Gospel. And that’s a very important part of their identity even into today.
Before the Turkish invasion, they were a flourishing community. When the Turks invaded, their numbers began to drop, but nothing like what we saw in 1915 with the genocide. There were millions of Armenians living in Turkey before 1915. After the genocide, there’s just tens of thousands. So the community has shrunk drastically, and the only pocket that is left is in modern day Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, which is the events I think in Karabakh prompted, the 1915 genocide declaration provided.
Jeff King: And Claire, give us a little detail. All we’ve said is, look, there’s this massive killing. If we have to do three bullet points, what did the Turks do? They killed off the men of fighting age, point two, point three? Go ahead and just break that down simply. What happened back then?
Claire Evans: So first they killed the men and then they went to the women and children, forcibly converting those that they could, deporting those who wouldn’t convert, doing death marches. The Turks actually invented concentration camps. And if you look at the historical record, people who would become leaders in Nazi Germany were at the concentration camps invented by Turkey, and Armenian Christians were predominantly in those camps. So that’s the summary. They killed all the men. They converted to Islam those they could. They forcibly deported everyone else and put them in concentration camps.
Jeff King: And let’s see here. And just while we’re at it, I just want to lay out some definitions and foundations for the audience. So they’re going to hear a lot of terms. Let’s talk about the Ottoman Empire. Break that down in simple terms. Anybody can answer this guys, but how long did it run and what was it and why is it so important to Turkish identity?
Claire Evans: The Ottoman empire was the first or rather the largest Islamic empire in history. It covered North Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, Middle East, and they ruled for several centuries, I think, 500 years altogether, somewhere around there. They were actually the empire in place right before the start of World War One. And as World War One happens, the empire fell apart and it would devolve into what we now see as these modern countries in the region, including modern day Turkey.
So the Ottoman Empire lasted for years and years and years, and it really set a culture, an Islamic culture. A way of ruling with consequences that we still feel throughout the region. And it’s the history that is very important to modern day Turkey. It’s a history they always look back towards and they want to grasp and reestablish in the future. I don’t think there’s anything you can understand in the Middle East without first understanding the Ottoman Empire. They’re so interconnected and Turkey is the central hub for all of that.
Jeff King: That’s excellent. That’s a great definition. I assume then this is a great source of national pride and that can always be used in terms of calls to nationalism and… But in the Turkish psyche, it’s like, “We ruled the world. We were the great power, one of the great powers of the world for centuries,” and now they have much more of a bit part. So I’m sure, I think of the British Empire, if a leader came along and if the Brits were different people to say, “We are going to restore ourselves, we’re going to be the leading power again and we are going to have a vast empire once again,” many people would buy into that. Is that a rough equivalent of what the Ottoman Empire is, the Turkey today?
Claire Evans: I think it’s definitely a source of huge nationalistic pride. And I think also like one of the things about the Middle East is that they always have one foot in their past, and that’s how they move forward. And that’s definitely very true I think in the Turkey context. Even when Biden did his genocide announcement, we saw in Turkey people dressed up as Ottoman soldiers, waving swords. It’s a huge part of who they are and they’re not going to forget that.
And even when you think just, it’s not that long ago, you can still find people who survived the 1915 genocide. Some of them are still alive. Some of the people who were alive during the Ottoman Empire, the glory days, died not that long ago. So it’s not that old of a history and there’s a lot of regret that that power and status the Ottoman Empire once had was lost, and that’s something that they want back. I think it’s a power and status issue and then they want it to come back and they want to reinvent this neo-Ottomanism for the future.
Jeff King: Good. Very helpful. And we’re going to do one last one. So we broke down the Ottoman Empire. We broke down the Armenian genocide. Last one is Erdoğan. Talk to us guys about President Erdoğan. Who is this guy and what’s his tie even to the Ottoman Empire?
Andrew Crane: Sure. So Erdoğan is… You were talking about nationalism. Erdoğan is really that nationalist leader. We see that in how he’s positioning Turkey relative to other countries in the region. In conflicts like the one in Karabakh that we just saw last year, it shows really how everyone is trying to rally people around that Turkish nationalism by almost uniting the former Ottoman Empire. We see that in military engagements that Turkey has in Northern Iraq, military engagements in Northern Syria, military engagements in Libya.
Erdoğan specifically and Turkey is, they’re really trying to expand this Turkish sphere of influence. And if you look at a map of where the Turkish military is right now, it’s fighting in various conflicts or where it has paid mercenaries to fight, it is eerily similar to the map of the former Ottoman Empire. So it really shows that Erdoğan is really trying to rally around this Ottoman nationalism to increase his own popularity and really expand Turkey in his regional sphere.
Jeff King: And maybe there’s two big pillars to this guy because there’s one, the nationalism and his dream to rebuild the Ottoman Empire. Claire, talk about the other part though, Islamic radicalism and how that just delves into as part of this.
Claire Evans: Erdoğan has always been an extremist. He hid it for a while, slowly builds it up, but I think we saw the real unfolding of that last year with the announcement of opening the Hagia Sophia cathedral as a mosque. That was a huge turning point for him because he did it in a way that was laced with so much Ottoman imagery. He put a sword in the hand of the imam who gave the first sermon. He put Ottoman flags all over the cathedral. Then he used that opening to do a lot of propaganda, like war-related videos saying, “We’re going to go now do this conversion of a church into a mosque. We’re going to go do this everywhere now.”
So that was really I think the unfurling of him where he just stopped hiding it as much and he just went for on, “Okay. We’re being neo-Ottomanism. We’re pursuing this Islamic empire. We’ve already conquered Hagia Sophia. We’ve got it back as a mosque. Let’s go do this some more elsewhere.” And so last year was a very big shift for him in just how bold he became in the way that he does things.
Jeff King: So fantastic explanation. And the last part guys, let’s just talk about Artsakh and what is the connection. So something’s happened recently with the Turkish attack that’s tied back to the genocide. And I think we’ve laid out the big picture, but Claire, just talk about more recent events with what’s happened with Azerbaijanis etc.
Claire Evans: There is a culture within the Turkic world that they must be united. They all share the same ethnicity. They all share the same religion and that they must be united in all things.
The one reason that they’re not is because if you look at a map, the only country in between them is Armenians, Armenian Christianity. And that is a huge barrier to this unified Turkic Islamic world that they want to establish. I even saw over the weekend a lot of tweets from these Turkic university professors talking about and complained how the Armenian community is the only block in the way of this unified Turkic Islamic world. And they want that gone and they want it to be all Islamified, all Turkified.
And so what happened last year was Turkey and Azerbaijan, after months and months of preparation, invaded Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2020. It was an act of aggression that involved the use of banned chemical weapons. It involved the use of Syrian mercenaries who were previously ISIS and other terrorist affiliated groups. And they displaced almost 100,000, maybe a little over 100,000 Armenian Christians. They conquered a good chunk of land that will not go back to the Armenians at this point. All using language of saying that they want to cleanse this community, this land of Armenian Christians, which is ultimately genocide.
So there was a peace deal signed in December, but the conflict’s not done. Nobody believes the conflict is done. There’s still some land left and it’s still blocking this Turkic Islamic unity and they want that, above all things.
Jeff King: That’s excellent. And Claire, we’ve had so many discussions. You really educated me, just that the nuance of these guys are experts on Turkey, and you have to understand Turkish culture and symbolism, which Claire’s talked about just briefly here. But when you… There’s just so much being clearly said, if you understand Turkey through symbolism etc in terms of what their intent is, what Erdoğan’s intent is, where he’s going, what he’s doing. It’s very frightening and it’s very clear if you get the symbolism and the meaning of their references that they do. But Andrew, what did Biden say? How did he tie these two attacks together, the genocide and this most recent attack?
Andrew Crane: Sure. So in the statement that the White House released, there was no explicit reference to Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh. There was no explicit connection between the two events. That being said, it’s no mistake that Biden is making this declaration now. We are seeing as a result of the events last fall and all the war crimes that Azerbaijan and the Turkish missionaries committed that there is a lot more opposition towards Turkey now. At least in the US, a lot of people are ready to confront Turkey on this past that they have continually denied.
People are starting to see the brutality and the war crowns. There are videos coming out… Throughout the fall, pretty much every day, there’ll be a new video that we would see of a Turkish soldier attacking an Armenian civilian or Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers inside an Armenian church, just desecrating it.
And so we would continually see this, and as those kind of grew, those also grew or with that, there was also a lot more anti-Turkish sentiment that was harbored in the US in relation to the Ottoman genocide. People are realizing that. Turkish denial of this genocide has implications to that, and we saw this in the conflict when the US or a Western country likes it, allows this to happen, or the events of 2020 to happen, that’s especially concerning. So it’s no mistake that the administration decided to affirm the genocide now because it’s starting to realize its importance.
Claire Evans: And also I think even if Biden did not directly connect 1915 to 2020, Erdoğan did. In his speech reacting to Biden’s announcement, almost all of it is him trying to justify what he did in Artsakh and he’s complaining about how this genocide announcement was a condemnation of what they did in 2020. So even Biden, even though he didn’t directly say that, Erdoğan knew that’s what was meant and Azerbaijan knew as well because they also complained.
And so the recognition of the 1915 genocide was like Andrew said in direct response to just exactly what happened last year in the belief that what happened was a mass atrocity, it was genocide, but you have to play it diplomatically and work up to that. But recognizing 1915 was the first step in that direction.
Jeff King: Andrew, you’ve kind of opened this door. I want to explore this a little bit. This is a question for both you guys, but US presidents would never make this pronouncement haphazardly. It indicates a sea change in the relationship and the strategy of how to deal with Turkey. So for you guys talk about in the background what would you assume is that change? How are they looking at Turkey differently and Erdoğan? What are the implications of all this? Because there was a whole bunch of thought put into this and it’s a response to a whole bunch of bad behavior. So a unscripted question, but just trying to break that apart.
Andrew Crane: Sure. So with President Biden, he has always been an ally to the Armenian church and also the Greek church who are both enemies of Turkey. Or I should rather say Turkey is enemies of them. So we’ve seen this pattern from Biden. He’s always been willing to stand to Turkey even from his time in Congress. And so what we’re seeing now is just that he manifested it alongside a lot of other US politicians who are ready to confront Turkey on its long history of human rights abuses that still persist to this day.
The Armenian caucus right now in Congress, just a couple of years ago, it had just started by a Armenian lobby group in DC. And now it’s already over 100 members of Congress are in that caucus. And so we’re really seeing this growing sentiment in DC of US politicians who are ready to stand up to Turkey, despite the importance of the US Turkish alliance. They see that that’s important and they see how our militaries need to cooperate. But that being said, the US won’t do that at the expense of denying a clear genocide and allowing Turkey to continually abuse human rights.
Jeff King: And Claire, do you think this is also indicative, this announcement is indicative of a change within the US government in how to deal with Turkey, and especially in relation to realizing who Erdoğan is and that this guy is dangerous?
Claire Evans: I think one of the most interesting things about this declaration was that there was almost nobody saying not to do it.
Jeff King: Wow.
Claire Evans: Which was massively different from even two or three presidents ago when people would say, “No, we have to protect this alliance.” And people would say, “Yes, maybe it’s a genocide, but the US says protect the alliance.” The fact that this happened and Erdoğan had no friends left in DC at this point to promote his viewpoint was a huge deal. And I think one of the things that helped spur that along or spur that change along was what he did in Artsakh was really, he was able to do that because he has established Turkey as a superpower at this point.
We have seen this coming for years in what he did in Libya, Syria, Iraq. You can see that it was coming, but the difference was we had ISIS to deal with. We need Turkey’s help with ISIS. And now there’s not really ISIS like before, there’s just Turkey, and suddenly they’re everywhere and they are an established superpower in that they would go into this area and use that power in such an atrocious way I think woke a lot of people up. But it’s very notable that he has almost no friends left in Washington, despite the millions of resources poured into trying to keep this squashed, keep a gag rule about talking about the genocide.
Jeff King: I really think it’s a new day. Like I said, these things aren’t done haphazardly and I just think… I don’t know if we’ve fully spelled it out, but Erdoğan is also a dictator. He has killed off democracy. He’s made himself dictator for life, imprisoned the press, the judges, anybody who stands in his way. And then that he could probably get away with, with his geopolitical role with the US. But then in addition to that just his military adventures, he just looks increasingly dangerous.
I think there’s probably been a change in the US government and the Europeans where it’s like, “We’ve got to deal with this, and this is one of the steps.” How does a dictator respond to being told that, “He’s dangerous and he’s a genocidal maniac?” If you had to read between the lines, how are the Azerbaijanis responding to this, how is Erdoğan, how is Turkey responding to this? And Andrew, you talked first just in terms of that and then what are the implications in terms of advocacy?
Andrew Crane: Sure. Obviously, Turkey was not very happy with this decision from the Biden administration.
Jeff King: Turkey is weird. Okay.
Andrew Crane: Yeah. Crazy. Who would’ve seen that coming? But like Claire mentioned, in response to this declaration, Erdoğan used a lot of the same language that he used in justifying the recent conflict in the fall. So it shows that they are really on the defensive here. They see that they don’t have many allies in DC as they once did. And the mere bargaining chip of, “We’re also a NATO ally and we also share all this intelligence and military trade,” that’s no longer going to work.
We are seeing that Turkey is probably scared of all of this sentiment in DC of standing up to their human rights abuses. So while we are… You kind of see that as something to tackle from an advocacy perspective. We see that they’re vulnerable. When we see that we can continue to go after them, we need to make sure that we keep up the aggression from the DC community. We have to make sure that people don’t forget the Turkish human rights abuses and we have to keep pushing on that aspect.
Jeff King: Keep the pressure on.
Andrew Crane: Right.
Jeff King: Yeah. There’s a lot of momentum. And then Claire, let’s talk about the field side. First of all, if you guys have any insight… I heard that the rumor was that there was a screaming match for an hour or a yelling match maybe. I don’t know if there’s a big difference with President Biden and Erdoğan leading up to this. There’s a discussion, it’s like, “We’re coming out with this.” First of all, any word on that rumor?
Andrew Crane: So it is confirmed that President Biden did have a call with Erdogan on the… So the statement came out on Saturday of the US confirming genocide. President Biden did have a call with President Erdoğan on Friday, and it was also the first call between the two in Biden’s entire presidency, which is also of note because Turkey is a key ally, and normally a president would make that call a lot earlier. So that was no mistake. A lot of people were reporting that there was that rumor that Biden had told Erdoğan that he was going to make this declaration. That would not surprise me. It seems like all of the media on the Turkish side was coordinated in that response and the [crosstalk 00:29:27]-
Jeff King: Yeah, they were ready.
Andrew Crane: Response. They were ready. That’s what we had hoped to see from Biden on Turkey. And it’s what we’re starting to see. He’s really starting to stand up to Turkey on this.
Jeff King: The inside word is there was a spirited conversation.
Andrew Crane: It would not surprise me if they got into a bit of a screaming match. I personally cannot corroborate that, but-
Jeff King: You weren’t there.
Andrew Crane: I was not there. I was not in the oval office. But that would not surprise me. This is a very heated issue between the two, and especially for someone like Biden, who’s been working on Turkish issues for so long, and now he is on a call with President Erdoğan himself, and it would make sense for it to get heated because it’s such a personal issue for both sides.
Jeff King: And Claire let’s even talk about Erdoğan in terms of when we start looking at response, let’s talk about his character and who he is. So first of all, if there’s any insight into that and then jump to what is all this going to mean for our field work?
Claire Evans: Actually, I think it’s even worth backing it up a little bit and just thinking like what has to happen for abuse to even happen? You have to be extremely powerful, powerful enough to keep the victim from talking about what they experience, powerful enough to shape the narrative, powerful enough to get how you want to interpret it out into the world. And those qualities are exactly what were on display with Turkey throughout centuries or decades. And what we saw on display with Erdoğan in his response as well.
He has for years been trying to push a very particular narrative that this wasn’t genocide. Having felt that his response to the declaration was first, look in the mirror for yourself. So he tried to deflect it. When that didn’t work, he tried throwing accusations of, “Well this is very childish. This is a childish response from the US,” so name calling.
You can’t dispute the historical fact of it and Turkey knows that. So you try to then deflect and intimidate people for standing up for the victims themselves. And I think one of the perhaps better situations that we’re in now as opposed to a couple of decades ago is that the victims have become very empowered themselves. They know how to speak, they know how to get their stories out, and they’re doing that very, very effectively. And the Armenian community has been relentless in trying to share their story and tell people what they experienced. And as much energy as Erdoğan has put into trying to squelch that message, just like any abuser would, it’s not enough because the experience of the victim was so horrific and so powerful that it’s going to get out and it is out.
So I think what Erdoğan did, it was entirely predictable for any human rights abuser, but you have to be able to know what it is that they do to be able to see it and to understand what it is that they’re doing. Otherwise, it’s very intimidating to have someone yell at you, “You’re childish. Go look in your own mirror.”
Jeff King: And Claire, Erdoğan, if looking from the outside, I’d say he’s extremely prideful, very thin skin, kind of typical dictator and very vindictive. So first of all, agree, disagree and what does it mean for our field work?
Claire Evans: I think it means at some level that it gets harder because one of the things about the diaspora is that they’re outside. That they are able to speak more freely about their experiences than the people who still live in Turkey, the people who still live in these communities that are impacted by Turkish politics. If you’re an Armenian living in Istanbul, you can’t say anything. You may personally have had your grandparents killed in the genocide. You mean personally be suffering still from those policies, but you can’t say that story.
What this declaration does on perhaps one of the more negative field aspects of it is that it means the people who are living there have to be more quiet. And if the government comes and says, “I want you to be my model child to say that this never happened,” then you have to do it to save your life. And so it makes it harder in some sense to get the voices of those who are still living this experience out. If you’re in the diaspora, it’s much easier, but if you’re inside, it’s harder. It’s harder to ask for help. It’s harder to give the help. But it also means that it’s much more urgent than it was even a few weeks ago because the persecution is more now. It looks different, but it’s more and you can’t speak, you can’t live.
Jeff King: And I guess open the door… And in terms of field work, Claire, I know we’re doing work among the victims in the region. I know one of the things we’re working at is even clearing mines from churches. Does this have any practical effect on our work among victims?
Claire Evans: I think it does because there’s an increase of hostility or hostile statements from both Turkey and Azerbaijan about their intentions in this region. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, it’s not over. There’s all signs say that it’s going to increase again. It’s going to re… flare up again. And we already saw previously that they weren’t able to defend themselves, to begin with. And if this were to happen a second time, I don’t know how they can survive that very well. But we have field staff on the ground who are actively helping the people who did survive it, and their stories are very difficult.
We have one that we’re helping right now who was a POW and he was beaten on the head every day and he was finally just freed, but he’s not the same person as before. And then we have other people, we have a deacon from the church who was shot in the shoulder and we’re providing help for him and another family. They fled their elderly, and when we found them, they had just the clothes on their back and that didn’t even include shoes and socks and it’s the middle of winter.
There’s a lot of people right now who need very, very urgent help. And if the signs and the wind are to be believed, we’re going to have to increase it because another invasion could be coming and you have to be prepared for that. And the reality is we have field staff who are working through a war zone to help people who just barely survived yet another genocide.
Jeff King: And this is a very broad question, but why are we invested so heavily in this issue? So for most people, even look at this podcast, we had to do a lot of groundwork laying the foundation of what happened. It’s unbelievable in the religious freedom community where this massive event, this genocide happened, and hardly anybody knows about it. And then this more recent event, it’s like most of the world honestly, the masses go about their business and they don’t know anything about this. We’re spending a lot of time. We’re messaging a lot about it. We care deeply about it. Why is it, that’s for either of you guys?
Claire Evans: I think something that is important to remember that what Turkey is willing to do in the broad daylight, it’s going to be 10 times worse in the dark. Turkey has been very aggressive and even people have called what they did in Syria, for example, genocide. We’ve seen that before, but that was when the whole world was watching. So what do they do in Karabakh when they think nobody is watching? And correctly, not very many people are looking at this part of the world. It’s hard to find on the map. Look what they’re doing there so openly without even trying to hide it.
And if that’s what they can do when they think nobody is watching, what are they doing in their own country to their own citizens when it comes to these kinds of issues? What are they doing in Syria when they don’t think people are watching? Whatever is happening in Karabakh, that’s just the beginning of what is going to happen wherever Turkey goes. And they’ve made it very clear that this is their mission to commit genocide against Christians, to Turkify and to reestablish this Ottoman Empire. So this is just the beginning.
And they were smart in the place they chose to start, by picking a place nobody knows about, but we’re investing in it because these are horrific abuses done to eliminate Christians, and they’re just getting started.
Andrew Crane: Yeah, I agree. It’s one of those things where, we’ve talked about, Armenia is the oldest Christian nation and Turkey is trying to unite the Turkish identity with Azerbaijan. Armenia stands in their way. I always like whenever I meet with an office on the Hill on this issue, I always like to emphasize that ICC is one of the only non-Armenian groups working on this issue because we see that there are these religious freedom issues present.
Based on the war crimes that Azerbaijan and the Turkish missionaries were committing against the Armenian Christians and the destruction of the churches, we see this as clearly a religious freedom issue that could expand to other places. At this point there are other groups who are now trying to rush in, and they’re seeing after this genocide recognition that, “Oh, this recent conflict is a religious freedom issue.” Whereas we’ve been here and we’ve said, “Yes, that’s what we’ve been saying all along.”
We need to draw attention to this. Because again, like Claire said, what Turkey does in the dark is always a lot worse than what it does in the light. So we have to shed as much light as we can on this issue and highlight it in DC where, again, not people can point to Armenia on the map, which is why it’s just so important to raise our voices here in DC.
Claire Evans: I remember this one phone call I had with someone shortly after the invasion. And she specializes in Iraq and Syria and we both said the same thing to each other. What ISIS did with Christians in that context was so mild in comparison to what Turkey is doing to Christians in the Karabakh context. If we thought we had seen the worst brutality under ISIS and then we see what Turkey does in Karabakh, and we’re like, “Oh, you get a lot worse.”
And that’s scary, and that’s Turkey. That’s our ally. That’s this superpower in the Middle East. But I think the world is just starting to wake up to that.
Jeff King: Thank you for that. Claire, break that down. So I guarantee hardly anybody knows what you’re talking about. If we talk about ISIS, everyone, and you reference the videos, everyone has a picture we know what we’re talking about. How could it be worse? What are you seeing?
Claire Evans: I think one of the… What Turkey did is they used former ISIS members and unleashed them in Karabakh. So on some level, the membership was the same. The difference, I think, was the methodology. When ISIS came into Iraq, for example, they didn’t capture that many Christians compared to the broader population. Most of the Christians were able to flee. The ones that they did capture-
You already knew what was going to happen. If you’re a woman, you were going to become a sex slave. If you were a man, you were going to be killed. And those were basically your only two options. In Karabakh, it was an unleashing of prolonged brutality. So we would see beheadings that lasted very, very long. At least with ISIS, it was quick, but it was almost more merciful compared to what you would see with the beheadings in Karabakh. And some of the things that they did were actually reusing tactics to kill people that were invented during the 1915 genocide. And we hadn’t seen that before. So you would see people have their ears and their noses cut off, and then they would wear it around their neck or something.
I didn’t see these videos, but I know a lot of people who did, they would capture civilians and skin them alive. ISIS didn’t do that in 2014. They’re doing it now because that’s what happened in 1915 with the genocide. This is Turkey’s idea. Old Turkish torture. Murdering techniques that are suddenly being revamped.
And what made I think this different, why they started doing it is that they were paid to do it. They were paid. You want a bonus? Go take… Go cut somebody’s ear off. And you want a bigger bonus, cut their head off, take it longer. So it’s a different kind of brutality. And there’s a specific kind of joy that was taken in the people who were doing this. They would film themselves and they weren’t afraid to show their faces. They would film themselves and put it all over social media. ISIS wore masks half the time. This time they didn’t fear retribution. They just did it and published it on TikTok, Facebook. They were proud of it.
Jeff King: Claire, this was all coordinated. It was planned. It was strategic. It didn’t just happen. Does that speak to that they feel a covering since they were sent as rabid wolves and let loose in the population? Do they feel a covering from Erdoğan and so they’re less fearful?
Claire Evans: I think so. I think why not? Because if you’re a mercenary, for example, Turkey’s the one who flew you. Literally, they took the Syrian mercenaries into Turkey and flew them on a plane to Azerbaijan and from there invaded. And Turkey going to take you home to Syria afterwards. Turkey’s taking care of you. They’re taking care of your family. They are your paycheck. Of course, you feel certain protection from that, especially because they are the superpower in the Middle East. It’s not anybody else, but Turkey. So who else do you have to fear other than Turkey? And if Turkey is saying, “Do it,” you’re going to be fine.
Jeff King: Wow. Oh gosh. That’s disturbing. Guys, let’s talk about… This is I don’t want to use the word controversial, but there’s different opinions on this next one. Let’s talk about the use of the word genocide. So back in 1915, very clear; 1917, very clear. 1.5 million killed. So we’ve been using the term genocide and there’s internal discussion. I want to get into the background discussion we’ve had. Should we call it this? Should we not? Why are we using the word genocide with this most recent attack? Claire, you go ahead and start with that.
Claire Evans: I think for genocide to be considered genocide, you have to show an intent to completely eliminate a specific people group. And showing that intent is a very hard thing to prove, but the good part, if you can call it a good part, I think is that Turkey and Azerbaijan are making that very easy. They’re not hiding it. If you know what to look for, it’s very, very obvious.
Just a couple of examples. One would be Turkey. Erdoğan specifically keep saying what they did in Karabakh was in the spirit of Talat Pasha. Talat Pasha is basically the Hitler of the Armenian genocide in 1915. If somebody walked through the streets today and said, “I’m killing Jews because of in the spirit of Hitler,” we know what that means. And that’s exactly what Turkey was saying. “We’re doing what we’re doing in the spirit of Talat Pasha.”
They also get very, very bold in the imagery that they use to talk about this. So one of the ones that we saw quite a bit over the past, I want to say two months, is the Turkish press, which is all controlled by the government. They’ll do their regular press articles and then they’ll put a picture on it that shows Frankenstein and he’s being dismembered and pulled apart and Frankenstein has on it basically that he’s an Armenian. And then they’ll overlay Frankenstein on top of the word 1915 and the map of Karabakh, which makes it very, very clear that what they’re doing in Karabakh is what they did in 1915 and just like what we should do with Frankenstein supposedly is tear it apart, get rid of it. It’s an anomaly, it’s not supposed to be there.
Jeff King: A monster that needs to die.
Claire Evans: Exactly. The monster that should be killed. And we see that kind of imagery coming up again and again and again. And they keep making references to people who were key leaders in 1915 and how that’s their inspiration for what they’re doing now.
To the extent, a very recent example, just in connection to the declaration. There was an Armenian politician in Turkey’s parliament. He’s very brave. He speaks very openly about the challenges facing Armenians. And he of course was happy about the declaration, the recognition from the US, and another parliament members started doing death threats and saying basically, “We’re going to murder you in the spirit of Talat Pasha.”
You can’t get much more open than that that what they’re doing to the Armenians it’s genocide. But you can get away with saying things like that in Turkey because that is the policy, to eliminate Armenian Christians and to Islamicize the land and Turk… Erdoğan even said that in his speech denying the recognition. He said that Armenia has never been Christian. It’s always been Islamic. We know that’s not true, but the fact that he’s saying he wants to return all of it to this Islamic Turkic history means you have to eliminate all of the Armenian Christians who are there. That’s genocide.
Jeff King: That’s excellent. Let me just pause there. I’m just thinking personally, that’s a great defense. And I think the problem is that it’s… I think of the phrase how do you eat an elephant? And it’s one bite at a time, and that’s what he’s doing. It’s one clump of Armenian Christians and when you tie it together, it’s so nuanced. They’re trying to tie it together.
Jeff King: And just think of the conversation we just had in your explanation, Claire. It’s like when you have to spend that much time and it’s a place where no one can identify on our map, that’s the hard thing, because we can see clearly what he’s doing and we can see clearly his intent. He’s not subtle in where he wants to go with this thing. But Andrew, is there a downside to using genocide or talk about those who would push back, what would they say?
Andrew Crane: Claire touched upon the nature of genocide where there are two, I wouldn’t call them necessarily criteria, but there are two elements of genocide that are very important. There is the intent to eradicate a people that Claire mentioned, which is really one of the main connotations behind genocide. The intent to eradicate. That is obviously very extreme. And I would say that we are seeing this here with the imagery and the brutality that’s coming out.
And especially one way that we have seen states historically do this is by attacking culture along with people. And we’re seeing this with the destruction of the cultural heritage sites in Artsakh. Turkey and Azerbaijan want to see Armenian Christianity essentially erased from that part of the map, which is definitely checks the box for intent to eradicate for genocide.
That being said, the second element of genocide is the ongoing physical harm, which is it’s tougher to see here because the fighting has stopped. We don’t see this ongoing physical harm on the part of Turkey. It’s been using proxies such as civilian mercenaries that Claire mentioned to commit this. But we’re not seeing it on the wide scale aspect of a lot of historic genocide, which is why a lot of people are hesitant to make that declaration.
But that being said, we don’t know what Turkey will do next and that’s especially concerning. But because of the fighting has stopped, a lot of people are a little hesitant to call this a genocide.
Jeff King: When we think of genocide, you think of 1915, or that was a massive one or smaller ones. And I think that’s where if there’s hesitation internally for us, that’s it on my part, at least too. And at the same time, when you understand the nuance of Erdoğan and the nationalism, everything he’s doing and you look at his history, you see it. But again, he’s eating the elephant one bite at a time.
And so that’s where others would say, “Well wait a minute.” And the pushback would be this is one small conflict on a… No one even knows where this place is on a map, but again, get the nuance, get the subtlety, get the… Put it all together and you see what he’s doing. But at the same time, I think I understand that people push back on that, but they just have to see the broader context and to understand the ferocity of Erdoğan and what he’s doing.
And I’ve said before, this guy is not your garden variety dictator. With this dream of the rebirth of the Ottoman Empire and his violence, his propensity for domination and violence, he’s a dangerous character. And in the past, I’d say are we seeing an early Hitler? And I’m starting to tilt more and more. This guy is going to be a historic troublemaker and could possibly get us into World War II. We don’t know, but he is much more dangerous than your garden variety dictator, and we just need to stay alert and watch what’s going on and help the victims.
So guys, I just want to say thank you for today. This was a brilliant discussion. This is actually only the first half. So we’re going to… Let’s pause here and for the audience, we’re going to be back next week for part two and break down a whole lot more. This is such a fascinating and big subject, but you guys have immense knowledge. I’m so proud of you guys and have such great respect for all your work and all your knowledge. And so we’ll be back next week to talk more.