The U.S. Senate's decision on Thursday to recognize the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman empire between 1915 and 1922 has no binding significance or practical implication, for now.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Erdogan did say "if necessary" he could shut down the key Incirlik air base, which hosts U.S. nuclear warheads, and Ankara summoned the American ambassador to warn of the damage that the Senate resolution could cause to relations between the two countries, but it doesn’t appear that it can do much at this point, after 32 countries, including Italy and Spain but not the U.K. or Israel, have recognized the genocide.
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It’s doubtful that the Senate resolution is the result of a sudden burst of sensitivity over the Armenian genocide or that instead it was over concerns that such tragic events could be repeated. It appears that the major motivation for the resolution was in fact provided by Erdogan himself when he decided to invade Syria and capture the country’s Kurdish areas. That came after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention, which he has still not fulfilled, to withdraw American forces from Syrian territory.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan take part in a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2019. AFP
Erdogan was already aware of Congress’ intentions when he stuck it to the United States with his decision to buy Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems – and before that, when he arrested an American pastor and a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on suspicions that they had conspired with the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States.
But it wasn't just Erdogan who got a slap in the face by members of Congress. President Trump invested major efforts to try to prevent the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution, which the House of Representatives passed in October, and which the Senate has now passed as well. Trump, who defended Erdogan over Turkey’s procurement of the Russian missiles and came to an agreement with him in a single telephone call regarding a U.S. withdrawal from Syria, found himself facing an obstinate Republican-controlled Senate that was prepared to buck the president – at least when it comes to issues that don’t involve risk to American security.
Former President Barack Obama might be getting perverse pleasure over Trump’s failure, but the former president should be reminded that he himself committed to have the resolution passed but flinched over concern that it would damage America’s ties with Turkey. It looks like any concern over a Turkish reaction failed to frighten members of Congress, an attitude that is not shared by Knesset members and the Israeli cabinet, who still can’t bring themselves to recognize the Armenian genocide. Israel’s justification has traditionally been based on two grounds. One is concern that recognizing a holocaust of another people would undermine the singular nature of the Jewish Holocaust as a one-time historical event. The other is that it would bring about a total break in ties between Israel and Turkey.
But even when relations between Turkey and Israel were in a deep freeze following the lethal confrontation at sea in 2010 between Israeli forces and the Mavi Marmara – the Turkish ship seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza – and the bitter criticism that Erdogan leveled against Israel, Israel refrained from taking that extra step and demonstrating an appropriate moral stance. Relations between Israel and Turkey still haven’t really been rehabilitated, but now Israel is being careful not to anger Turkey as a result of concern over the future of a pipeline between Israeli gas fields and Europe.