It is April 24 soon – Armenian Genocide commemoration day.
Every year, the public remembrance of the victims of a horrific crime during a tumultuous period becomes political in many places Armenian communities call home, not the least of which in the United States.
The White House has been issuing statements annually on April 24 for more than a quarter of a century now, but always avoiding the term “Armenian Genocide”. The massacres and deportations are duly and solemnly condemned by each president. However, calling it by that explicit term – genocide – would be detrimental to relations with Turkey, because the government in Ankara has long held either denialist positions or has pushed forward modified arguments about the broader historical context, general widespread suffering and chaos during the First World War, and so on. It is comparatively rare in Turkey nowadays to hear outright denial of killings, dispossession, and the exile from Anatolia and Asia Minor of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other communities in 1915 and later. But describing it as genocide remains taboo in most Turkish circles.
There have been reports that President Biden will invoke “the g-word” this year. Congress, for its part, has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide on a few occasions, most recently in October, 2019, when relations with Turkey were at a low. Almost all state governors or state houses have made various proclamations or passed resolutions on the Armenian Genocide during the last few decades, as have many city-level governmental bodies throughout the United States. However, there is no sustained, federal Armenian Genocide policy position consistently adopted and expressed by the legislative and executive branches in Washington. It remains a challenge at the forefront of the impressive and moving efforts undertaken by the Armenian-American advocacy and activist community.
The broader question lingers: why even acknowledge the Armenian Genocide? What’s the point of any public or national commemoration in the US or elsewhere? It happened more than a hundred years ago. Yes, it was tragic, it should be condemned, the community has every right to hold memorial services. But what makes it a live public, political issue?
I think that is a reasonable question. Here are four reasonable responses.