WASHINGTON, D.C. / ANKARA / TEL TAMR, Syria — On Saturday, in a historic statement, U.S. President Joe Biden recognized the massacres of Armenians in 1915 by Ottoman and allied forces as genocide. The move caused fierce reactions in Ankara, with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (Justice and Development Party, AKP) saying via his official Twitter account that, “We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice. We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism.”
“Words cannot change or rewrite history.”
We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice.
We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism.#1915Events
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) April 24, 2021
The negative reactions were not contained to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP party. Spokesperson for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Faik Oztrak said in a statement that Biden’s description of the killings as a genocide “has gone down in history as a great mistake”.
“Recent statements against Turkey and measures against our country … show the point to which Turkey has been brought by the short-sighted foreign policy carried out by the government.”
Turkish Bombardment of Khabur
Perhaps the clearest indication of Turkish dissatisfaction with Biden’s statement was the heavy artillery bombardment launched by Turkish armed forces on the villages of the Khabur River Valley established a century ago by the Syriac (Aramean–Assyrian–Chaldean) survivors of the 1915 genocides.
The Turkish-proxy forces of the Syrian National Army (SNA) advanced in conjunction with the Turkish bombardment. The forces of the Syriac Military Council positioned around the town of Tel Tamr responded to the SNA advancement. Clashes are ongoing.
In October 2019, Turkey and its proxies in the SNA, a coalition of militias, several of them with extremist ideologies, formed and funded by Turkey, invaded the cities of Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ayn) and Tel Abyad in North and East Syria, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Since the invasion, dozens of Turkish military bases have been established in those areas. The bases are guarded by the SNA who are equipped with armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Additionally, a large number of Turkish commandos are reportedly stationed in the region.
Demographic change and the Turkification of the area continue, with residents being forced to learn the Turkish language, the names of public facilities being replaced with Turkish ones and the hoisting of the Turkish flag over them.
Other human rights abuses continue as well. Turkish-backed factions continue to burn agricultural crops, kidnap civilians for ransom, extort business and families for large sums of money, and engage in torture, murder, and sexual assault.
In September, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a 25-page report calling on Turkey to put an end to wide-spread war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by its proxy forces, the Syrian National Army (SNA), in the areas under its occupation.
According to the report, there is significant evidence that the Turkish-backed SNA has committed, and continue to commit torture, murder, displacement, rape, and the looting of property.
Researcher Amy Austin Holmes, found that Turkey and the Turkish-backed SNA violated the ceasefire agreement signed in late October 2019 over 800 times as of October 2020.