Recently, Biden - despite a 'warning' by Erdogan - has acknowledged the Armenian genocide, which was immediately followed by sharp critique by Erdogan. AFAIK, he's the first American president to do so, and among only a small group of NATO countries doing so.

It made me wonder why calling something a genocide is such a big deal, not necessarily only in the context of Turkey but more generally (the first thing coming to mind is China and the Uyghurs)? Clearly this is not up for debate or 'opinion', since there's hard evidence that the genocide happened and who perpetrated it.

I've read this article, and all I could find was that there was essentially "No one wants to piss off Erdogan because Turkey is a strategically important country/partner".

I think I am aware that politics is a nuanced affair and cultures are different, but not acknowledging a genocide for the sake of not offending a political partner seems really... reprehensible to me. Is there something I'm missing?

Edit: I've just learned from here that Erdogan is afraid the Armenian genocide might "undermine the legitimacy of the modern state." How is that? Germany acknowledges the Holocaust and to my knowledge, no one questions the legitimacy of the German state.

  • 4
    I just want to add that the biggest reason it is a big deal is because The White House itself means it is a big deal, and they set the narrative. In that sense it is an innocent big deal compared to all the domestic stuff that would be more annoying to have in the media. (refugees/building the wall, unions/minimum wage etc.) Apr 25, 2021 at 8:27
  • 2
    People don't like being called genocidal in the same way they don't like being called studid. Apr 25, 2021 at 21:12
  • 18
    "for the sake of not offending" summarises a significant portion of international politics, and much of that involves much more recent or ongoing atrocities, and that also has no small part in domestic politics (i.e. not offending those who might vote for you). Which is of course not to say this is good, just that it happens.
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 25, 2021 at 21:56
  • 1
    What are you really Asking? May we take it as read that "calling" anything genocide will always be big deal, by the nature of genocide? How could "acknowledging" genocide not depends on one or another party's view, which will necessarily be political, right or wrong? Apr 25, 2021 at 22:15
  • 2
    @QuoraFeans studid?
    – Kevin
    Apr 26, 2021 at 20:14

7 Answers 7


Acknowledging genocide is a big deal, precisely because genocide is a big deal. It is considered to be the highest, worst, most inhumane, most heinous, most vicious crime of all crimes.

It is the original and first crime to be called a crime against humanity, in fact, it is the crime for which this term was invented. These crimes are so bad that they are considered not just to be committed against their immediate victims, but all of humanity itself.

Acknowledging genocide is essentially the State-level equivalent to taking out an advertisement at prime time in every TV channel in the entire world, proclaiming that you are a child rapist. How would you feel about that? Especially if you think that you are innocent?

Because that is another reason it is a big deal: Turkey does not acknowledge the genocide. So, this acknowledgment is not just accusing them of the worst possible crime (a crime which they feel they are not guilty of), but also effectively calling them a liar.

Additionally, it is a big deal because many countries have laws that give their courts universal jurisdiction over some particularly heinous crimes, often including genocide.

It is a big deal, because it might make it possible for Armenian-Americans to sue the State of Turkey for damages in a US court.

And lastly, it is a big deal because it is at least somewhat hypocritical: the US has yet to acknowledge the first genocide of the modern era: the genocide of the American indigenous people. (Although note that some States, e.g. California, have.)

  • 2
    This answer actually adresses the question - "why is acknowledging genocide such a big deal".
    – Syndic
    Apr 26, 2021 at 6:13
  • 15
    Your last note about the US not acknowledging genocide against Native Americans is interesting. Is that really the case? I indeed can’t find anything official in a quick search, but at least it does seem commonly acknowledged at least? Apr 26, 2021 at 11:31
  • 11
    But about suing for damages... I appreciate that US lawyers will sue anybody for anything, but this all happened more than 100 years ago. The perpetrators are all dead. The Republic of Turkey did not exist then. If this is going to be allowed, then Brits can sue Italy for the deeds of the Romans, Denmark for the Vikings, Saxony for the Saxons, etc, etc. Hmm.
    – RedSonja
    Apr 26, 2021 at 11:45
  • 7
    @RedSonja I sense a big slippery slope in your argument. There's no existing public body directly originating from any Roman, Viking, etc. state management that was responsible for these genocides, and there's no living person realistically affected by their wrongdoings in any realistic way. Whereas the Armenian genocide was committed by a military organization that the current Turkish government considers as its direct root and source of legitimacy; and many living people suffered direct consequences of it, such as being born in a refugee family.
    – Neinstein
    Apr 26, 2021 at 12:52
  • 4
    @RedSonja In this sense, such accusations could be held against USA (genocide of native Americans, as mentioned) or UK (genocide of many cultures on the colonies) and alike, which accusation could very well hold.
    – Neinstein
    Apr 26, 2021 at 12:57

What is Germany?

Germany is the nation of some, but not all, German-speaking people of the former Holy Roman Empire. The Austrians were kicked out when Prussia defeated them in 1866. The western border was historically somewhat uncertain, with Alsace, Lorraine, and the Saarland/Sarre changing hands. The eastern border was even more uncertain, with Poland getting partitioned and resurrected.

The modern Germany has constructed a self-image which sees 1933-1945 as a shameful aberration, and which is ambivalent over 1871. It also lost territory over WWII, and paid significant reparations. (There is a good question if it was enough and if it went to all the right recipients.) The majority of Germans has accepted the loss of territory in the East and the EU integration is strong in the West.

What is Turkey?

Turkey is the most significant successor state of the Ottoman Empire.

  • It cannot really disown the events and personalities during and after WWI since it was founded at that time.
  • It is conflicted about how to deal with minorities, since members of one of those minorities (the Kurds) are currently involved in a separatist struggle.

So calling the events a century ago a genocide discredits the current borders of Turkey, because it makes it look as if those borders are the result of genocidal wars during the breakup and division of the Ottoman territory. And that puts the legitimacy of the borders into question. In this regard, Turkey is in a different situation than Germany.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Apr 27, 2021 at 11:00

Short answer: Human Rights above the political affiliation.


  1. America’s commitment to human rights

    Biden’s declaration represents an important step toward fulfilling America’s commitment to human rights across the world. At home, it begins to close the open wound at the center of the Armenian American experience. — Charlie Mahtesian at Politico

    It is also a step that endorses the values of liberal democracy, by affirming core values such as the protection of human rights, justice and the protection of minorities against discrimination and violence. — Eldad Ben Aharon at Haaretz

  2. Supporting the international institutions dedicated to those values:

    It also boosts international institutions dedicated to those values, such as the International Criminal Court and the UN’s Responsibility to Protect, a 2005 commitment to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. — Eldad Ben Aharon at Haaretz

  3. It was one of Biden's campaign promises:

    On the campaign trail in 2019, Biden was at a Boston-area fundraiser hosted by Larry Lucchino, former Boston Red Sox president and CEO, when he saw Anthony Barsamian, co-chair of the Armenian Assembly of America, and reached out his hand.

    “I know how important the Armenian Genocide is to you. Of course it’s genocide,” Biden said, according to Barsamian. “I didn’t even need to say anything. He led with that.” — Politico

  4. Peer pressure:

    On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of more than 100 House members also signed a letter to Biden calling on him to become the first U.S. president to formally recognize the atrocities as genocide. Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California spearheaded the letter.

    "If we aren’t going to recognize a genocide that happened a century ago, what does that say about our willingness to stand up and confront a genocide happening today?" Schiff told FOX 11 Los Angeles. — Fox13 News

Why Not Earlier

President Obama declined to refer to the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide, breaking a campaign promise. 2015 was important as it was a 100's anniversary of this tragic event.

The Trump administration more relied on tit-for-tat relationship with the Erdogan administration. Even after the U.S. Congress in 2019 passed a bipartisan and almost unanimous 405-11 resolution calling the killings a genocide, after the furious reaction of Turkish President Erdogan, Trump officially rejected supporting the Senate.

My personal opinion, safe to skip.

One factor many people tend to mix here is the war in Karabakh.

Many of my Armenian friends and colleagues, after the world's almost unanimous support for Azerbaijan over the September 2020 events, were frustrated claiming that the international opinion was too much influenced by Turkey, rendering the unfair attitude toward the entire Armenian nation. It was hard (for me) to explain that the two events — 1915 and 2020 — are different by its nature and should be evaluated separately.

In my understanding, the Biden Administration has demonstrated that the two are different events, and each of these should be treated fairly from the position of Human Rights and human values.

Further reading

  • 4
    I believe you may have confused the word "unilateral" with the word "unanimous."
    – Kevin
    Apr 25, 2021 at 19:44
  • 5
    I should also add that the US, especially under neocon leadership, undermined international institutions, ignores international law at will, and outright destabilized the UN in order to ram home the WMD narrative to invade middle eastern sovereign states. Unlike Trump, who is a nationalist, the Democrats see a global power play where the Middle East and Africa are their property to be protected from Chinese and Russian interests. They will condemn Putin as a dictator while tacitly supporting Saudi Arabia. Again, saying Armenia was genocide has nothing to do with morality but geopolitics.
    – Frank
    Apr 26, 2021 at 4:30
  • 4
    Yes, "protecting human rights" and "pretending Saudi Arabia is OK" are two opposite things. Apr 26, 2021 at 6:33
  • 4
    @Frank, I have no idea how "Sunni backers of ISIS and Qaeda" or "WMD narrative" have anything to do with the original question or my answer. My answer is backed with highly-reputable sources so even if it is "just completely wrong" as you say, I'm in a good company (Politico, FOX, Haaretz). So thank you for your contribution, but I can't think how can it make my post any better. You may want to shape your theories into a separate answer so that it received its own community feedback. Apr 26, 2021 at 7:00
  • 4
    @bytebuster Obviously not. But your answer is so wrong it's delusional. America's commitment to human rights?? Are you serious? Billion dollar arms deals with Saudi Arabia, who behead people who disagree with their government, keep women enslaved and throw homosexuals blindfolded off towers. Tacit support for bombing of Yemeni children. Invasion of the middle East. Undermining the UN. Trying to 'cancel' the WTO, WHO and overt efforts to render US war criminals immune from the International Criminal Court. Etc etc etc. Your worldview is so disconnected from truth it is amazing.
    – Frank
    Apr 26, 2021 at 7:04

(I'm not going to discuss any moral issues here, like if "just killing people" is morally any different from "genocide". Just trying to answer the question about why labeling something as genocide is specifically a big deal.)

The BBC has a really good article which specifically answers this question.

You wrote:

Clearly this is not up for debate or 'opinion', since there's hard evidence that the genocide happened and who perpetrated it.

But there's a distinction between killing and genocide. (Similar to the difference between manslaughter and murder.) Specifically, genocide is (from Google):

the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group

In this case, those who don't label this a genocide agree that people died, but they don't agree that it was done in an attempt to destroy a particular nation or ethnic group. They also disagree that the killings were organized, if individual soldiers act badly during wartime that's different than if the government directs them to do certain things. (There are also other disagreements over details, such as how many died.)

From the BBC:

Turkish officials accept that atrocities were committed but argue that there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people. Turkey says many Muslim Turks also died in the turmoil of war.

From the New York Times:

The Turkish government acknowledges that atrocities were committed, but says they happened in wartime, when plenty of other people were dying. Officials stoutly deny there was ever any plan to systematically wipe out the Armenian population — the commonly accepted definition of genocide.

So the statement that it was a genocide is not just saying that people died in large number, but that it was intentionally done, in an organized manner, in order to try and destroy a specific group of people.

  • 2
    Yes. I would simply summarise that since the definition includes the words "aim" and "deliberate" (and even "nation or group"), the event is bound to be "a matter of opinion" and "debate". Holodomor is perhaps the more notorious example.
    – Zeus
    Apr 26, 2021 at 2:14
  • 1
    @Zeus Well, sometimes you find documentation that is quite difficult to claim represents anything else... en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Solution (Doesn't stop crackpots from claiming whatever they want, of course, but hopefully we're only counting rational people.) Apr 26, 2021 at 12:06
  • So Biden said that there was a military campaign of extermination, as opposed to war casualties, the view of Turkey. That's obvious. Does Turkey have an intelligence policy of denial and cover up? That would make up more of an answer. Apr 27, 2021 at 1:25

It is unusual because it is, as far as I can see, pure Symbolpolitik (symbolic politics; politics that doesn't have a material impact) with palpable negative consequences for the U.S. Examples include reduced weapons sales (between 2014 and 2018 the U.S. supplied 60% of Turkish imports) and other trade reductions, and a more difficult strategic cooperation. After all, Turkey has borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Biden administration will face backlash from Senators and members of Congress whose constituents (and donors!) include Turkish trade partners.

I think your astonishment comes from two misconceptions:

  1. Whether something is morally reprehensible or not is typically not an important consideration for governments, including the Western democracies who claim that it be. Entire wars have been conducted (Vietnam, Iraq) and governments toppled (Chile) by and large in order to defend perceived interests, without many moral qualms. Making or not making certain statements is really a lesser sin (i.e., violation of claimed moral principles) here.
  2. It is true that no one questions the legitimacy of the German state, even though the government acknowledges the Holocaust. I would even add that the legitimacy would be undermined if it didn't. But: That is because West Germany (which basically absorbed East Germany) is an explicit counter-design to Nazi Germany (inviolable dignity of man as the first article in the factual constitution, federal structure, limited federal police etc., careful nursing of the democratic practices and institutions by the Western allies after the war, especially the U.S.). Imagine that Nazi Germany never fell; that we (I'm German) still lived in a fascist nation with an uninterrupted line of succession from our Massimo Lider, good ol' Adolf. Our historical interpretation of the "regrettable culmination of the Arian-Jewish hostilities" and our attitude towards people calling it a Holocaust would presumably be quite different.
  • I would dispute that Vietnam qualifies for (1), unless you strictly separate 'ideological' and 'moral' interests. But +1 for (2) alone!
    – Zeus
    Apr 27, 2021 at 0:48
  • @Zeus Are you contending that the Vietnam war (at a minimum: the way it was conducted) was morally justified? Apr 27, 2021 at 5:11
  • The reasons to enter the Vietnam war were 'moral' and/or ideological ('resisting the communism' etc.) It wasn't a war for resources or other such interests, at least in a direct sense. I think it's a non-negligible distinction. One can turn it around and say that it's also just a kind of 'global interest', like many people posit that all religious wars are 'actually' economic, but I believe it's a fallacy. Whether one can achieve 'moarl' ends with 'immoral' means is an entirely different question...
    – Zeus
    Apr 27, 2021 at 5:47

Once a signatory of the United Nation's Genocide Convention acknowledges the existence of a genocide, then they are obligated to punish the perpertraitors:

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Enacting a punishment may have negative consequences for a country, such as damaging its relations with other nations, which politicians may be reluctant to be held resposible for. If no punishment is sought, then the country and politician may be accused of renaging on their commitments to the UN Genocide Convention.

This is one of the reasons that acknowledgements of genocides occur much less frequently than other statements about history that do not require any further action to be taken.


A claim of genocide encourages the awarding of territory to the oppressed (i.e. Isreal, Indian reservations, Montenegro) and reparations for homes and belongings stolen during an extermination campaign, as happened in Germany. Acceptance encourages the publication of state secrets and archives, freedom of speech, open debate about national identity, regional power handovers away from the state, and rewriting history books.

Turkey has generally maintained a policy of denial and cover-up of alleged extermination campaigns, and maintaigns very strong state propaganda campaigns, via media entities that publish nationalistic articles, suppression of free press. There was also a proxy war against Armenia less than a year ago, with Turkish backing of Azerbaijan, Turkey is opposed to giving any credence to it's ideological and territorial enemies, the ethnic groups and western backed neighbors.

Turkish intelligence maintains it's absolute opposition to any notion of a historical extermination campaign, it maintains active territorial expansionism, military campaigns against seperatism and against neighboring regions, copying the West of the early 20th century.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .