Since my childhood, the debate on whether the U.S. would recognize the Armenian Genocide has plagued Turkey. Finally, Joe Biden’s presidency has lit the fuse.
Although Biden’s statement on April 24 sparked a searing public debate in Turkey, the major turning point occurred back in 2019 when the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The U.S. President’s statement does not have the same legal clout as congress’ resolutions passed unanimously with bipartisan support. Moreover, in 1981 Ronald Reagan used the term ‘genocide’ to refer to the cases of Armenians - though Biden’s statement is more explicit.
Had Turkey not swayed the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict to the benefit of Azerbaijan (and itself), asserting its military might and crushing the decades’ long dispute, as well as indirectly the Armenian forces, maybe Biden wouldn’t have used the ‘G’ word. Among other reasons, Turkey’s military involvement in the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan War triggered the resurfacing of unpleasant historical imagery.
Furthermore, Ankara made all the wrong moves in Washington in the recent years, ‘gaining’ bipartisan enmity from everyone other than Donald Trump. Now that he is gone, what else can be expected other than turbulence within U.S.-Turkey relations?
President Erdoğan and the Foreign Ministry have adopted a ‘keep calm and carry on’ mood vis-à-vis Biden’s genocide statement. This is not surprising; Ankara is concentrated on other targets: first and foremost is getting Northern Cyprus internationally recognized.
To give credit when credit is due, the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu remained composed and did not fan the nationalist flames. Alternatively, the party with the third highest support in the parliament and CHP’s electoral ally, İYİ Party played its part, trying to carve out nationalist support by slamming the government for being ‘weak.’ Opposition parties had to join the government in passing a joint resolution protesting Biden’s statement as they always do when it comes to foreign policy issues and a need to ‘rally around the flag.’
Meanwhile, Erdoğan floated above domestic politics by delegating the task of making somewhat harsh statements to his aides and others in government. Even those tough retorts were lukewarm by AKP standards considering Merkel’s government was accused of acting like Nazis by Erdoğan. This was because of Erdoğan’s campaigning in Germany trying to rally support for his 2017 presidential bid. Likewise, French President Macron was called “braindead,” “impudent and not knowing his limits.” Biden was spared any such adornments.
The Geneva 5+1 Meeting under the United Nations auspices taking place on April 27-29 is far more important for Ankara than Biden’s statement. Ankara’s game plan is to have Northern Cyprus recognized as an independent state and assert the “two state and two nations solution.” This would bring an end to the “bizonal-bicommunal federation solution” ideal endorsed by the UN.
The Sunday Express argued that the UK was preparing to recognize Northern Cyprus as an independent state. As one of the guarantor states in the Cyprus conflict, such a move by the Boris Johnson government would tip the odds in favor of Turkey.
Greece explicitly stated that nothing less than a bicommunal federation would be an acceptable solution for the Cyprus Conflict during Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias’ Ankara visit on April 15. Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades also publicly endorses this position. But he is said to have showed warmth towards a two-state solution when tête-à-tête with Çavuşoğlu.
Greece and Greek Cypriots would like to have the European Union become a party to the Geneva Talks, making it “6+1.” Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis affirmed in an April 22 interview with Alpha TV that a meeting with President Erdoğan is looming over the horizon as we predicted last week.
Having the northern side’s sovereignty and independence recognized would be a win for Erdoğan: Domestically it could be framed as “resolving” the eternal ‘Cyprus Question.’ Also, it would be lucrative for Ankara to open Northern Cyprus to international markets. Turkey’s government has its eyes on the future and realpolitik, and rather than reality, the past, and the Armenian Genocide statement.