U.S. and Turkey need to focus on real issues of national and international importance

For more than seven decades, Turkey and the U.S. have been allies cherishing common values and sharing responsibilities in maintaining peace and stability in the Transatlantic area and beyond. There have been disagreements, but we were able to work through them based on mutual respect as regards each other’s national interests and sensitivities.

President Biden’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day constitutes, however, not only a stark contrast with the spirit of alliance, but also a gross distortion of historical facts, doing a grave injustice to Turkey’s constructive efforts so far. For decades, successive U.S. administrations did not give in to the pressures of the Armenian lobby. What happened now is an outright abuse of such a delicate historical and legal matter for political purposes.

Politically motivated characterization of the events of 1915 is neither legally substantiated nor morally correct. Hence, we categorically reject this statement and strongly condemn its unfounded allegations about our history.

Following the Holocaust, the 1948 U.N. Convention set forth universal norms and standards identifying the acts which may amount to the crime of genocide. According to the Convention, only competent national or international tribunals can decide whether an act amounts to this gravest crime against humanity. To disrespect this fundamental rule is nothing but politicization of international law, which ultimately undermines the rules-based international order.

In other words, by subscribing to the one-sided characterization of the 1915 events, the U.S. administration contradicts one of its own major foreign policy ideals that it vehemently seeks to strengthen.

Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in its 2015 and 2017 decisions that the events of 1915 are an issue of historical debate, and freedom of speech on this topic cannot be constrained by imposing one side’s viewpoint.

President Biden’s statement is not supported by historical evidence, either. It contradicts facts and figures provided not only by independent scholars but also by American representatives at the time. Throughout their five year-long occupation of Istanbul, the British along with other Entente powers kept as captives in Malta and court-martialed former Ottoman Cabinet Ministers, including the Grand Vizier.

Despite their full access to Ottoman state records and persistent efforts with American assistance to produce evidence against Ottoman officials, they found no legal or material basis for supporting the allegations of state-ordered mass killings. One should also remember the fact that American humanitarian relief effort and charity work directed particularly toward Armenians were allowed by Ottoman authorities to continue all through the war and thereafter.

The controversy among historians, including many American academics, about the events of 1915 is ongoing. As demonstrated by numerous studies of the era, it was one of the most tragic episodes of Ottoman history during the Great War involving various aspects such as insurgency, collaboration with invading enemy armies, internal strife, relocation of civilian population away from war zones to more tranquil areas of the Empire, epidemics, hunger which wreaked havoc on Ottoman Muslim and non-Muslim populations alike, including Armenians. It is up to historians, not politicians, to thoroughly examine all available archival records in order to have a clear understanding of what happened during this period of time.

From the outset, Turkey has expressed its readiness to cooperate to this effect and made Ottoman archives accessible to all, including Armenian or pro-Armenian researchers. In 2005, the Turkish government offered to investigate the events of that era jointly with historians from Armenia and all other interested third parties by establishing a history commission. Turkey has also called for opening up all archival records including those in Watertown, Massachusetts, as well as in Armenia and other relevant states to researchers. Turkey’s proposal, which has not received any favorable response from Armenia, is still on the table.

Attempts at capitalizing on disputed episodes of history for domestic political consumption never serve any other purpose than to bring about corrosive impact on mutual trust. Turkey supports impartial examination and dispassionate discussion of historical controversies based on free speech and academic freedom. Unfortunately, political declarations undermine unbiased scholarly debate and perpetuate acrimony by disseminating misinformation. Such moves even further embolden those who choose to employ intimidation and terror against anyone who dares to challenge their version of historiography.

Thirty-one Turkish diplomats were assassinated in cold blood by Armenian terrorists around the world, starting on U.S. soil in 1973. Many Turkish and foreign civilians were also brutally killed or wounded in Armenian terrorist attacks in the recent past. Prominent historians and scholars, both in America and elsewhere, who did not accept the Armenian claims faced fierce hostility and intimidation. Some were even physically attacked, and their homes bombed by Armenian terrorists.

Today, the world stands yet at another inflection point where responsible statesmanship is needed to choose prudence over populism. Indeed, it is time to encourage constructive and sincere dialogue if the genuine intent is to help pursue healing and reconciliation.

Relations between Turkey and the U.S. deserve better care and greater respect. Nonetheless, our bilateral relations have already been going through a rough patch due to U.S. attitude toward specific terrorist organizations like PKK/YPG and FETO and the unilateral sanctions.

In fact, the statement on April 24 could not have come at a worse time. It added insult to injury by further complicating the already checkered situation in relations between the two nations. Such a major attack is not compatible with the spirit of an allied relationship. 

Turkey lives in a truly challenging geography and deals with real issues of great significance to regional and international security and stability. Now, there is a distinct opportunity in the Southern Caucasus to forge peace and prosperity, and Turkey is intent on seizing it.

Today, both Turkey and America need each other, perhaps more than ever, to work together in their quest to promote peace, provide security and enhance welfare by building upon common values and goals which they have been embracing since the very first days of their alliance. Valuable political capital, therefore, must not be squandered on futile repetition of historical controversies.

With this understanding and despite many challenges, Turkish and U.S. presidents will meet on the margins of the NATO Summit in June, with a view to charting a course forward. 

• Mevlut Cavusoglu is the foreign minister of Turkey.

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