April 24 marks the Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, a day to remember the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The day is observed by only a handful of states: Armenia, the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Canada, France, Argentina and the State of California. The Armenian Genocide took place between 1915 and 1923 when 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were arrested, deported or murdered by the Ottoman Empire. Despite the staggering human cost of the Armenian Genocide, only some 32 countries have recognized the atrocities for what they are – genocide. As of April 24, 2021, and on this 106th anniversary of the atrocities, thanks to President Biden, this number increased to 33.
President Biden formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide said: “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.” He added: “Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”
This formal recognition comes after several his predecessor refused to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s atrocities for what they were. Indeed, in 2019, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to recognize the atrocities as genocide, despite opposition from Trump Administration. The move from the U.S. Senate came only a couple of months after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution with the same message. However, the Trump Administration has rejected this recognition.
The formal recognition of historic cases as genocide is not a matter of semantics. Such a formal recognition is crucial for survivors and their families in their efforts to move on. It is crucial for reconciliation and discovery of the truth. It sends a clear message of solidarity with the targeted communities. It is also crucial to deter similar crimes in the future.
Indeed, according to the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, ‘history of atrocity crimes committed with impunity against protected groups’ is an indicator of the risk of genocide. If history of atrocity crimes committed with impunity is indeed a risk factor of genocide, this is all the reason we need to ensure that past atrocities are recognized for what they are as this knowledge will help us to analyze the situations against the risk factors and identify the risk of atrocity crimes. This should then be followed by informed responses to prevent the escalation and protecting the targeted communities from their ultimate annihilation. Denial can only achieve the opposite.
Other States must join in recognizing the Armenian Genocide for what it is. However, it should not stop at powerful words. As President Biden emphasized: “Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.”