More Than One Hundred Years Later, It Is [Past] Time for the United States to Formally Recognize the Armenian Genocide

BY MIKE DEUTSCH – Article two of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948, defines “genocide” as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”[1] By this very definition, the atrocities committed against the Armenian people by the Turkish government from 1915 to 1923 can only be labeled as one thing: genocide.

The Armenain genocide began on April 24, 1915, when the Turkish government arrested and subsequently executed over 200 Armenian community leaders in Constantinople.[2] Historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the genocide, and that thousands more were displaced and subject to starvation, exhaustion, and epidemics that ravaged refugee camps.[3] “Rape and beating were commonplace,” writes David Fromkin, “those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts without food, drink or shelter.”[4] The decision to carry out the genocide was made by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), otherwise known as the Young Turks, the political party in power in the Ottoman Empire.[5]

The factual events of 1915-1923 were well documented by neutral observers, including then-American ambassador Henry Morganthau Sr., who wrote “[w[hen the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.”[6]

The vast majority of historians label the atrocities as genocide. Indeed, even Dr. Raphael Lemkin, who first coined the term “genocide,” has explicitly used the term to refer to the Armenian genocide.[7] More than 20 countries have formally recognized the Armenian genocide, including Canada, France, Germany, and Russia.[8] Notably absent, however, is the United States.

Why does the United States refuse to recognize the Armenian genocide? The most plausible explanation is that the United States fears repercussions from Turkey, a NATO ally.[9] Turkey has long campaigned against recognition of the Armenian genocide, spending millions of dollars over the past several years lobbying U.S. officials, even paying one lobbyist-law firm $26,000 per month to “educate and re-educate” U.S. officials about Turkey’s “strong friendship” and to “convey the seriousness of the genocide issue and the potential threat it poses” to U.S.-Turkish relations.[10]

From cooperating with the U.S. during the war in Iraq, to ensuring access to strategically important air bases, there is no doubt that Turkey is an important ally to the United States.[11] There is also little doubt that Turkey would react angrily to formal recognition of the Armenian genocide. Consider, for example, that after Pope Francis urged the international community to recognize the Armenian genocide as “the first genocide of the 20th century,” Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican and declared the Pope’s statements “null and void.”[12]

Despite the possibility of facing a negative reaction of Turkey, the United States must formally recognize the Armenian genocide. Doing so would both pressure Turkey to change its policy of denial and open the door to potential claims of restitution, similar to those sought by survivors of the Holocaust.[13] More than one hundred years later, it is past time for the United States to formally recognize the Armenian genocide.


[1] Office of the UN Special Adviser On the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG), Analysis Framework, available at (last accessed Nov. 7, 2015).

[2] Armenian National Institute, Frequently Asked Questions about the Armenian Genocide, available at (last accessed Nov. 7, 2015).

[3] Id.

[4] John Kifner, Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview, The New York Times, available at (last accessed Nov. 7, 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

[5] Armenian National Institute, supra note 2.

[6] Kifner, supra note 4 (emphasis added).

[7] H.A. Goodman, The United States Should Remember Raphael Lemkin’s Words and Formally Recognize the Armenian Genocide, The Huffington Post (Apr. 13, 2015),

[8] Chad Garland, Why Armenian Genocide Recognition Remains a Tough Sell, The Los Angeles Times (Apr. 26, 2015),

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

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