Written by Daniel Deiss and J. Hawk exclusively for SouthFront.
The Armenian Diaspora in the United States has fought for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide for a long time. Finally, on April 24, 2021, President Joe Biden used the term “genocide” for the first time not only in a speech referring to the actions against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire—such references have taken place in earlier decades, but not since Turkey’s accession to NATO—but also in a presidential proclamation.
There are two opposing points of view on the events that took place at the beginning of the 20th century in the Ottoman Empire – the Armenian and the Turkish one. In a hundred years, the global society has not reached a definite consensus on this issue. Where one stands on such issues often depends on where one stands in relation to the country’s relevance to national security of your own country, and Turkey here is no exception, as far as the US is concerned.
Given the complexity of the situation, multiple explanations of Biden’s dramatic move are possible. Joe Biden was not the first US presidential candidate to promise to recognize the genocide during the election race. Under the Trump administration, bilateral relations between Ankara and Washington have already been strained. This period was marked by the escalation of the confrontation between the two NATO allies, including sanctions against Turkey over its purchase of a Russian-made air defense systems and Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 program which Biden only finalized. The two sides have been at odds over Syria, with Ankara’s active cooperation with Moscow on some matters and intense disagreement over the Kurdish question. Trump nevertheless never went so far as to recognize the Armenian Genocide as such, on official or personal level.
Ironically, it is Biden who accused Trump of causing the deterioration of relations with NATO allies. Therefore it is all the more surprising to see Biden escalate where Trump left off. Biden’s sharp approach toward allies is also evident in the desire to sanction German firms over their participation in North Stream 2. However, that case at least has an economic justification, in the Turkish one the recognition of Armenian Genocide does not advance US economic interest, rather the contrary. Nor does it appear to be motivated by “liberal principles”— United States makes exceptions to those on a routine basis and rather honors them in the breach. And then there is the prospect of Turkey’s retaliation which Biden’s move is bound to provoke, since Erdogan is not one to take insults quietly.
Today, Turkey is pursuing an active foreign policy, claiming the role of a regional leader in the Eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea region, even Southwest Asia, sometimes doing so in parallel with British efforts. Through the balancing principle of foreign relations, London uses Ankara as a tool to realize its own geopolitical agenda. Within this strategy, the GB takes consistent actions to strengthen the British-Israeli-Turkish-Ukrainian axis, countries which, apart from Israel, are members of or aligned with NATO. Neither Britain and Israel recognize the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, it is very unlikely that they will do so in the near future.
Washington’s decision to recognize the Armenian Genocide is likely to strengthen cooperation between the GB, Israel, Turkey and Ukraine, leading to a creation of a power bloc to a certain extent independent of the US, but also one likely never to oppose the US. Given the looming parliamentary elections in Armenia and Pashinyan’s decision to run for the post of Prime Minister, Biden’s decision may also have been intended to strengthen Pashinyan, thus strengthening US position in the Caucasus.
On their own, these explanations are insufficient. Rather, it is a product of the combination of the following three factors:
- Effective Armenian influence on members of US Deep State.
- Biden’s personal political weakness and vulnerability to pressure from various lobbying groups.
- Deep State’s decision to build up London as a supplement or even an alternative to Washington’s power.
The first factor was the product of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, which resulted in the strengthening of Russian and Turkish influence in the region, and the diminution of London, Washington and Brussels. The recognition of the genocide might be a kind of retaliatory action designed to contain the growing influence of Turkey and Russia in the region.
At the same time, the growing influence of the Armenian Diaspora in the United States cannot be ignored. Its representatives are increasingly present in American political and financial elites, both through consolidated support and promotion of one or another part of the diaspora, as well as through marriages. As a general, they support the Democrats and are incorporated with that part of the American establishment.
The second factor is Biden’s personal political weakness. The US is a state with a presidential form of government. Such a system supposes the president and his administration to have the final word on foreign policy. Biden’s age and apparent inability to fully discharge the duties of his office mean that his functions pass to his political appointees and even career bureaucrats by default. We have seen how Trump’s weakness and unpopularity among the career diplomats actually saw the emergence of the US Deep State from the shadows.
Thirdly, as London was implementing Brexit, questions arose about what Britain’s strategic interests were, with the answers being #GlobalBritain and #CANZUK, the latter an agglomeration of UK, Canada, Australia, and even New Zealand. The Trump administration’s promotion of a new Euro-Atlantic construct based on the Anglo-Saxon core (US and its satellites + British Commonwealth) indicated a desire to meet the British at least half-way, as part of a US-led co-dominium of Great Anglo-Saxon Unity, on which the Sun never sets. The emergence of #GlobalBritain, which is best exemplified by the Royal Navy’s two brand-new aircraft carriers which nevertheless have to rely on US escorts and even embarked US Marine F-35 squadrons, is a timely development for an era of US public’s opposition to the never-ending US warfare in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The recognition of Armenian Genocide is a signal to Ankara that it cannot count on being an equal actor within the arrangement, but rather a subordinate one to the Anglo-Saxon powers. The recognition also strengthens the hand of Turkey’s liberal opposition which will naturally decry Erdogan’s ripping up of ties with the country’s traditional Western allies. It can also be seen as an ultimatum stating that unless Turkey shapes up and falls in line, more harsh measures will follow. Genocide denial is a hefty charge in this day and age, one that warrants even the harshest of punishments, and never mind if the countries who mete out the punishment, US and UK, have a few genocides to their name too.
However, Biden’s recognition of Armenian genocide ultimately signals the emergence of a certain good cop-bad cop division of responsibility between UK and US, respectively. US gets to be “bad cop” that enforces liberal values upon its allies, conditional on their level of responsiveness to US interests and preferences. UK gets to be the “good cop” of cooperation and tutelage, freeing the US from the onerous task of having to be friends with genocide deniers. It’s useful to bolstering #GlobalBritain’s self image, and also to Biden’s desire for the US to play a less public role in international politics in tune with US public’s disenchantment with “forever wars”. To be sure, the “forever wars” will continue, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but with the US maintaining at least one or two degrees of separation from the actual “dirty work”.
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