Armenian History Month: What has changed since President Biden recognized the genocide?

It's been exactly one year since the United States officially recognized the 1915 Armenian Genocide. On the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to formally recognize the events that transpired in 1915 as genocide. 

It was a historic day for Armenian-Americans in the U.S. and those around the world. His announcement came as Azerbaijan and Armenia were at war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region (also known as Artsakh). The 45-day war began on September 27, 2020, when Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, launched a full-scale attack on the region of Artsakh. Thousands of civilians and soldiers were killed and historic churches and buildings in Artsakh were destroyed. A ceasefire deal was signed in November 2020 between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. However, fighting continues over Artsakh, as Azerbaijan has been accused of breaking the ceasefire multiple times. 

What has changed since Biden recognized the Armenian Genocide?

Many Armenian-Americans and supporters called Biden's recognition a huge milestone, but they say a lot of work still needs to be done, but it was a large step forward. 

"Getting America’s recognition unequivocally from the federal government opens up a lot of doors and puts pressure on Turkey. It doesn’t end our struggle because the main thing is to get the Turkish government to recognize the Armenian Genocide and pay reparations for it," said Nora Hovsepian, Chair of the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region (ANCA-WR). 

Hovsepian says more work needs to be done. The next step is for the U.S. to hold Turkey and Azerbaijan accountable as well as to stop sending military aid to Turkey. 

The U.S. sends billions of dollars in military aid to Turkey and Azerbaijan. According to Hovsepian, since 2001 every U.S. president has waived the provisions of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act and allowed military assistance to continue to Azerbaijan.

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"The U.S. government was precluded from sending any military assistance to Azerbaijan unless it was proven that it would not be used in an offensive manner against Armenian," she said. "Azerbaijan has never proven that, on the contrary, they continue to use U.S. weapons against Armenians."

The ANCA is now calling on Biden to not waive the provision and, in fact, enforce it. 

War in Ukraine shows stark difference in U.S. response

The world watched as Putin's Russia invaded Ukraine. The U.S. and people around the world quickly jumped in to help aid Ukraine.  

President Biden and the federal government were quick to put sanctions on Russia, call Putin out for his alleged war crimes and sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine as well as military assistance. However, the same cannot be said about the war in Artsakh.

In mid-February, Biden held a press conference saying, "America stands up to bullies, we stand up for freedom, this is who we are," but many Armenian-Americans are wondering why the U.S. never stood up to Turkey and Azerbaijan.

"It is rather hypocritical for the U.S. government to hold others responsible for similar acts, such as Russia but not to hold Turkey and Azerbaijan responsible. Of course, we understand that there is U.S. interests with respect to Turkey and Azerbaijan. But that doesn’t mean just like President Biden and Congress unequivocally recognized the genocide, there were U.S. interests that prevented that from happening for decades, but they finally took the right side of history and did it," Hovsepian stated. 

For months, Armenian-Americans protested and demanded the U.S. government issue sanctions on Azerbaijan, stop sending military aid and bring attention to the war crimes being committed by Turkey and Azerbaijan against Armenians. But again, little was done by the federal government. 

RELATED: Biden: Russia war a 'genocide,' trying to 'wipe out' Ukraine

In early April, Biden said Russia's war in Ukraine amounted to genocide, accusing President Vladimir Putin of trying to "wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian."

However, it took decades for a U.S. president to call Turkey's actions on Armenia in 1915 a genocide. In April 2021, President Biden become first US president to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. Before that, President Ronald Reagan cited the Armenian Genocide in a 1981 proclamation.

Several U.S. presidents in the past vowed to recognize the genocide but fell through on their campaign promise… mainly due to the U.S. being an ally of Turkey. 

RELATED: Why Biden’s recognition could inflame political tension between US and Turkey

"If you look at any map of the country, you’ll see Armenia is the only country that stands in the way of linking Turkey to other Turkic states, east of Armenia, including Azerbaijan, starting with Azerbaijan and going on to other Turkic states as well. Their intent is to wipe Armenia off the face of the earth and it started 100 years ago and it continues until today and the reason they got away with it is because no one has held them accountable," Hovsepian added. 

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its national religion. It is home to the oldest cathedral in the world, Etchmiadzin Cathedral.

What is being done now 

The 1915 Armenian Genocide is not commonly taught in school history. The ANCA is now calling on Congress to pass the Armenian Genocide Education Act. The new bipartisan legislation, introduced by Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) will provide $10 million in funding for the education about the history, consequences and ongoing costs of the Armenian Genocide. The bill also aims to educate people about Turkey's aggression and genocide against Greece, Syria, and Cyprus.

The bill is backed by several U.S. politicians. 

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