Trump sided with Turkey and blocked Congress’ bipartisan effort to recognize the Armenian genocide

President Donald Trump stands with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019.

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President Donald Trump stands with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019.
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REUTERS/Tom Brenner
  • Amid heightened tensions with Turkey, the Trump administration is rejecting bipartisan efforts in Congress to formally recognize the Armenian genocide.
  • The Senate last week passed a resolution recognizing the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Turkey, a NATO ally, has long rejected characterizing the mass killings as such.
  • In April, Trump stopped short of referring to the atrocity as genocide in a statement on Armenian Remebrance Day.
  • “The position of the Administration has not changed,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Trump administration is rejecting recent bipartisan efforts in Congress to formally recognize the Armenian genocide, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raged over in recent days.

The Senate last Thursday voted unanimously to recognize the Armenian genocide, following a similar bill that also recognized the atrocity as genocide that passed in the House in late October. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz cosponsored the resolution.

These moves came amid heightened tensions between the US and Turkey over the latter’s invasion of Syria, which has targeted US-allied Kurdish forces who bore the brunt of the campaign against ISIS. Turkey has also angered many in Washington over its purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system.

Responding to potential US sanctions over its recent activities, Erdogan on Sunday threatened to close down Incirlik air base, which hosts US forces and about 50 US nuclear weapons. The Turkish leader in the past week has also seemingly implied that Turkey could refer to the killings of Native Americans by the US government as “genocide” in response to Congress’ recent efforts, according to a report from The Independent.

As tensions rise, the State Department has made clear that President Donald Trump is not in agreement with Congress on the Armenian genocide.

“The position of the Administration has not changed,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday. “Our views are reflected in the President’s definitive statement on this issue from last April.”

Trump has stopped short of referring to the mass killings as ‘genocide’

In April on Armenian Remembrance Day, Trump in a statement stopped short of calling the World War I killings as genocide, instead referring to it as one of the “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.” Trump’s statement was consistent with years of US policy designed to avoid angering Turkey, a NATO ally. Former President Barack Obama also did not refer to the killings as “genocide” during his tenure.

Trump’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day referenced Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish origin who coined the term “genocide.”

Lemkin, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust during World War II, studied the atrocities committed against the Armenians closely and worked tirelessly to ensure “genocide” was added to international law to prevent future massacres. He defined genocide as “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”

Armenia has long said 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a genocide by the Ottoman Empire (out of which modern-day Turkey emerged) in 1915 during World War I. Turkey has rejected the characterization of the massacre as a “genocide,” dismissing it instead as a messy aspect of the war. The Turkish government also estimates the death toll to be closer to 300,000.

The atrocity occurred as Turkey deported mass numbers of Armenians from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert, with many being killed or dying of disease or starvation along the way.

Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria in early October, paving the way for a Turkish invasion, was widely viewed as the president capitulating to the demands of his Turkish counterpart. The president was criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the wake of that decision, who warned that it could create a security vacuum opening the door for the resurgence of ISIS.

The president could face similar criticism in Washington following Tuesday’s announcement on the Armenian genocide, given the bipartisan sentiments leaning in the opposite direction.

In a statement provided to Insider by his communcations director, Menendez, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, slammed Trump for rejecting the resolution.

“Having just spent decades fighting for Congress to reaffirm that the Armenian Genocide was a horrifying factual reality that should never be denied, I will not back away from shaming those who insist on being on the wrong side of history,” Menendez said.

He added: “While not surprising, I am still deeply disappointed that both President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have yet to find their moral compass on this issue, and that they insist on allowing Turkey to have a veto on our own domestic decision. It’s time for this nation to recognize the truth. We must honor those who lost their lives in the Armenian Genocide, remember how they died and pledge ourselves to change the way history remembers their deaths.”

Cruz did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.