On December 12th, 2019, the US Senate voted unanimously to recognize the Armenian genocide as a matter of American foreign policy. The bill, which was co-sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), had been approved by the House last month and passed the Senate without objection.

Despite this rare show of bipartisanship, the State Department announced today that would ignore the bill and maintain the current US position.

The Senate measure was rejected by the State Department on Tuesday, with a spokesperson for the department indicating that US position on the matter did not change.

"The position of the Administration has not changed," said spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, in a statement to the Hill. "Our views are reflected in the President's definitive statement on the issue from last April."

Trump refuses to back recognition of Armenian genocide after Erdogan threat - The Independent, Dec 17, 2019

If recognizing the Armenian Genocide is so popular that both Republicans and Democrats can unanimously agree to it, why has Trump rejected it? Alternately, if there are good reasons for the Trump Administration not to recognize it, then why did that reasoning fail to convince Congressional Republicans?

  • 5
    There's no benefit to to the US govt of recognising it. It annoys an ally for no gain.
    – Valorum
    Dec 18, 2019 at 17:14
  • @Valorum - which ally is that?
    – blud
    Dec 18, 2019 at 19:36
  • @Valorum I think that’s basically Machavity’s answer, no?
    – divibisan
    Dec 18, 2019 at 19:37
  • 3
    @blud: That would be Turkey, a member state of NATO (joined in 1952). Dec 18, 2019 at 21:04

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure the Trump administration has explained why. They clearly prefer a more conciliatory tone toward Turkey than the Senate bill on this matter:

"The position of the administration has not changed," said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus in a statement on Tuesday. "Our views are reflected in the president's definitive statement on this issue from last April," she said.

In a statement last April on the anniversary of the killings, Mr Trump said the US paid tribute to the victims of "one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century", but he did not use the word genocide. Instead he encouraged Armenians and Turks to "acknowledge and reckon with their painful history".

As the BBC reminds us, US presidents have had a hard time dealing with this issue:

Mr Trump predecessor, Barack Obama, promised as a presidential candidate to recognise the massacres of Armenians as genocide but after his election did not use the word.


Former President Ronald Reagan recognized the killings as a genocide in an official proclamation in 1981, and the House has passed similar resolutions in 1975 and 1984.

I'm not sure any US president has used that characterization (while in office) after that. Turkey takes a hard line position on this, and rejected even the Trump White House "atrocities" statement:

“We reject the statement by U.S. President Trump on the 1915 incidents on April 24, 2019. Based on the subjective narrative fictionalized by the Armenians, this statement has no value at all. The distortion of history for political objectives is unacceptable,” read a statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry April 24. Turkey’s reply came hours after the White House issued Trump’s message on Armenian Remembrance Day.

According to the BBC, Erdogan threatened to shut down Incirlik air base if Trump were to use the word "genocide" in this matter. We can only speculate how heavily that argument weigheted in the US decision, compared to a number of other factors, e.g. Trump trying to persuade Turkey not to activate the S-400 they bought from Russia, the situation in northern Syria, etc.

  • 2
    The bill is "all pain, no gain" for the diplomatic corps. Politics don't matter, you simply don't want your hands getting tied.
    – EvilSnack
    Dec 18, 2019 at 3:42
  • 4
    @EvilSnack With regards to Turkey, yes. With regards to trying to be a moral super power definitely not. It says quite clearly that the US President (both current and previous) values good relations with Turkey higher than recognizing the world based on objective facts. Whether this is a good approach overall is hard to judge. It requires judging short term concrete effects against long term abstract ones.
    – quarague
    Dec 18, 2019 at 8:01
  • 1
    @Luaan I didn't want to point fingers at the US administration here. I only wanted to point out that the 'all pain, no gain' from evil snack is not accurate, there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. I realize that in most real life situations diplomats/ politicians go for the direct benefits approach.
    – quarague
    Dec 18, 2019 at 9:04
  • 1
    Smells a lot of politics/diplomacy overriding morality. Turkey is the most easterly NATO ally AFAIK, and the diplomatic value of having powerful friends there is far more important to the US than the moral value of recognising the genocide. Obama might not have got this when he was making election promises (being outside the inner circle at that point) but realised it when he actually sat in the big chair. It also explains how the president can't convince congress (part of the OP's question): it would mean having to say out loud that this is the reason.
    – komodosp
    Dec 18, 2019 at 15:05
  • 3
    If Reagan and the House have both officially recognized the genocide, isn't that the default position of the US from then on unless changed (which as far as I can tell, hasn't happened)? Aren't Trump's (and Obama's) positions on the matter irrelevant unless they take official action? I feel like I'm missing something here.
    – Michael W.
    Dec 18, 2019 at 19:01

The US - Turkey relationship is tenuous at best. And Turkey has been steadfast in its denials of this being a genocide. Erogan had harsh things to say against Germany when it labeled it as such recently.

In comments published in Turkish media earlier on Saturday, Erdogan slammed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for failing to prevent the genocide motion from being adopted.

"Now I wonder: How will German leaders be able, after such a decision, to face me and our prime minister in person?" he asked.

Immediately after Thursday's vote, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Berlin and vowed to respond with further measures. Erdogan on Saturday didn't specify what those measures could be, stating only that it was "too early" to talk about economic sanctions against Germany.

Trump, however, seems to view Turkey and Erdogan as important allies

“Turkey, as everyone knows, is a great NATO ally and a strategic partner of the United States around the world,” Trump said, thanking Erdogan for his efforts to uphold a cease-fire in northeastern Syria—though, in fact, the fighting has never actually ceased—and for Turkey’s “vital contributions” to operations in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State. (In fact, Turkey played no significant role in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a U.S. special operations raid just miles from Turkey’s border with Iraq.)

“I’m a big fan of the president,” Trump said.

  • Great extra context. I guess the implicit alternate question is why these arguments don't convince Republicans?
    – divibisan
    Dec 17, 2019 at 21:15
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    @divibisan Trump is something of an anomaly. He ran and won as a Republican, but on some issues he lost Republicans. I mean, you know he's way off base when even Lindsey Graham won't back him on it
    – Machavity
    Dec 17, 2019 at 21:25
  • 2
    @Machavity Graham on Trump during election: "He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot ...". (Wikipedia)
    – John
    Dec 18, 2019 at 10:42
  • @Machavity Strategically this is quite a nice situation, the house republicans can demonstrate that they are supporting the classification and the president can due to practical reasons deny it. Trump isn't known to be in any way an idealist or moralist anyway, so being "pragmatic" with leaders that are seen at least as problematic doesn't change anyone's perception of him. He's also not strongly associated with the party, such that backlash towards the party due to not acting should be minimal. Dec 18, 2019 at 22:35
  • Btw. that is not to say others, like Obama, did call Turkey out, they showed similar "pragmatism" in not angering an ally, it just wasn't exactly as "easy" for them to have it both ways at the same time from a party strategy point (which isn't saying they didn't go that way either). Dec 18, 2019 at 22:37

You need to carefully read the article.

  • It was not Trump. They did not speak to Trump. This was a question to State Department spokesperson.
  • She did not say Trump said anything. She said The position of the Administration has not changed, which in politics means we are waiting for further instructions, and that is not unusual.
  • Yet somehow the article headline blames Trump, as if he personally responded. This article and few others are all from the same source it seems. All copy the exact words and similar headlines.
  • If you are asking why, then this question needs to be directed at the person(s) who authored the bill. Because it is a non-binding bill. That means no one is obligated to follow it, and the president is not obligated to sign it.

I am not saying this is good. I don't agree with Trump or past US presidents bowing to Turkey's bullying, not calling the Armenian Genocide by its name, after all it is was the baseline definition for the word Genocide and the international law that decriminalized it (See Ralph Lemkin's own words in the old CBS interview), but I am questioning the way this bill and the House bill both were put together. If this was their true intention, then the non-binding clause should have not been there. That would send the bill to Trump to be signed, and if one of his advisers gave him a bad advice to veto it, then the congress would have had veto proof majority, (unanimous in the Senate 405-11 in the House), and would have easily override any veto. They didn't. This is just symbolic vote, designed to send a message to the out of control Turkey, and its dictator.

  • 4
    ‘Our views are reflected in the President's definitive statement on the issue from last April’ contradicts the ‘we are waiting for further instructions’ claim. Furthermore, if they are releasing a statement they already assume that the position they are stating is the current one. If they were waiting for further instructions, they would not issue a statement (and if some representative was cornered unexpectedly they would probably use a phrasing like ‘I cannot give you more information’).
    – Jan
    Dec 18, 2019 at 9:09
  • 1
    That's a pure speculation on your part and on those who have such opinion. Nothing factual behind it. That also applies for those immediately jumped to vote down. It seems that this is a "I hate Trump" stuff rather than objective argument based on history or facts, or even a theory that has some grounds to it.
    – R J
    Dec 18, 2019 at 9:12
  • 2
    I have supplied two arguments: 1) the next line of the statement (‘the President’s definitive statement on the issue from last April’); 2) the article claiming it was a spokesperson releasing a statement (as opposed to being asked in an interview). I invite you to base your reply at least in part around those two arguments rather than assuming any position I may or may not have or implying I be lacking history, theory or facts (both of which seem very close to an ad hominem style argument).
    – Jan
    Dec 18, 2019 at 9:18
  • The State Department is part of the Executive branch, therefore their positions and policies are set by the Administration (or by career officials with their acquiescence). An official statement from the State Department represents the current official position of the Administration – it's not just some random statement from a random person. Further, I don't think Congress is even able to dictate diplomatic policy in a binding way – that's the prerogative of the Executive.
    – divibisan
    Dec 18, 2019 at 15:51
  • You can put a spin on this as you wish. That is your opinion, not facts. The State department responded to the inquiry by referring the media or anyone who is asking to the April 24th statement of the president. In that statement, Trump, similar to the presidents before him, did not use the word Genocide, but never denied it happened, and yet your question "Why has Trump refused to recognize the Armenian Genocide?" accuses him of doing so. He did not deny it. it is that simple.
    – R J
    Dec 23, 2019 at 18:38

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