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For victims of the Armenian genocide, Biden designation a ‘momentous occasion’

President Biden recognized the mass killings of Armenians more than a century ago as genocide, in a test of America’s somewhat strained relationship with Turkey. For more on the significance of Biden's statement, Alex Hinton, Director of Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and author of "It Can Happen Here: White Power and The Rising Threat of Genocide in the U.S." joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the significance of President Biden's statement, I spoke with Alex Hinton, Director of Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights.

    He is also the author of "It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the U.S."

    Professor Hinton joined us from Newark, New Jersey.

    Alex, the big picture question is, why does it matter that President Joe Biden makes this declaration that what happened decades ago was, in fact, a genocide?

  • Alex Hinton:

    So in one sense, this is absolutely momentous for the victims. But I think more broadly, it's something that's momentous for all of us, you know, in terms of human rights. One of the principles that guides us and guides our countries, it's centered around respect for the dignity of the person. So if we talk about dignity and respect, that starts with, if lives are lost, massive human rights violations take place, we need to acknowledge, that the descendants need truth, and there needs to be more broadly an acknowledgment that, sort of looking ahead, also is a signal to other potential leaders that this can't be happening. You can engage in a campaign of denial that will, again, sort of perpetuate this.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is at a time when the United States is grappling with the plight of Black Americans at the hands of police and we have been all summer and in the wake of a different administration that had perhaps a different set of values.

  • Alex Hinton:

    You're pointing to something that's absolutely key, that in the U.S., there's also this demand that we recognize the truth and we think about the disempowerment of certain groups we consider structural racism, but we consider the atrocities of the past and what led us to the current moment. And in Turkey, and sort of the point is, if we think about this reckoning with the past, it's never taken place for Turkey, WWI, with the formation of the modern Turkish state, you know, that moment which is intertwined with genocide, is the beginning of the nation.

    And so from the very beginning, the narrative in Turkey has been that Armenians rebelled and they sort of legitimate what took place with that canard. In addition, they minimize the numbers or a number of moves they had made. But again, if you sort of think about it, it's paradoxical, because perhaps if the Turkish government recognized the genocide, people wouldn't be talking about it. It wouldn't be as big of an issue. And so in some sense, they add fuel to the fire.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What does this do strategically to our relationship with Turkey, who has been an important ally?

  • Alex Hinton:

    Yeah, certainly historically they've been an important ally. In recent years that relationship has definitely frayed in terms of geopolitical interests. It's no longer quite as central. So that strategic partnership is one that I think needs to be reimagined and reinvented.

    You know what might happen? No doubt there will be at least a public protest, a diplomatic protest. There might be some sort of sanction, something or another that's mentioned along those lines. But if you actually look, I really think in the long term, this will be something that passes by. And again, in areas where there are common interests, the United States and Turkey will continue to collaborate.

    You know, the one difference is that the U.S., you know, in terms more broadly, its recognition of the genocide is significant for many other countries. And there are other countries such as Israel and Britain who have not recognized it. And so hopefully this may serve as a catalyst for other countries to recognize anyone who has a commitment to democracy and human rights needs to acknowledge a massive human rights violation, one of the first that took place at the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is President Erdogan likely to do?

  • Alex Hinton:

    I think in the short term, he's likely to speak out to say it was a mistake, perhaps to make some warnings of steps that will be taken and the long term, it's not in Turkey's interest and certainly not in the U.S. interest to have a long-standing conflict. So there will be some noise that's made initially, but after that, I'm confident that both partners will continue their relationship. Maybe it'll be slightly different, but maybe in the long term, perhaps it could even strengthen the relationship of the two countries.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Alex Hinton from Rutgers, thanks so much.

  • Alex Hinton:

    Thank you.

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