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Biden's candid camera gaffe angers Armenians

4 min

 A candid camera video of US Vice President Joe Biden saying that Armenia’s president called him to ask the Obama administration “not to force” the issue of recognition of the Armenian genocide has inflamed Armenians and sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

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A candid camera video of US Vice President Joe Biden saying that Armenia’s president called him to ask the Obama administration “not to force” the issue of recognition of the Armenian genocide has inflamed Armenians and sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

 

The video, posted on YouTube on October 26 by an unknown Web user, shows the Vice President answering the question of a young Armenian-American who expressed his community’s regret that the US has not officially recognised the genocide of the Armenian people under the Ottoman Empire. Unaware that he was being filmed, Biden told the young man that Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan told him “not to force” the question of Armenian genocide recognition while Armenia and Turkey were talking about resuming diplomatic ties.

 

 

The Armenian presidency immediately denied Biden’s claim. “The president of the Republic of Armenia has never called United States Vice President Joe Biden. It was at the latter’s initiative that two telephone conversations took place in 2009 and during those conversations the president of the Republic of Armenia did not, directly or indirectly, make the comment that is attributed to him on the video,” said Serzh Sarksyan’s press secretary Armen Arzumanyan on October 27.

 

After several days of silence on the part of US authorities, the US Embassy in Armenia issued a statement on October 29 clarifying Biden’s stance. “The discussions between Vice President Biden and President Sarksyan that were recently referenced by the Vice president were about the need to take immediate steps to improve Armenian-Turkish relations”, reads the statement. “The two leaders agreed that there should be no preconditions to normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey.”

 

Recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide is one of the most sensitive and emotionally fraught foreign policy issues on the US administration’s agenda. The Armenian diaspora has actively pushed for the systematic massacre of millions of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I to be officially recognised as genocide, while Turkey, a key US NATO ally, adamantly rejects the genocide label. 

 

If you wish to respond to our Observers’ comment or react to the video, post your comment below or write to observers@france24.com.

Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.

“The video shows how opaque the Turkey-Armenia protocols process is”

Aram Hamparian is executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, an advocacy group lobbying for the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

 

It remains unclear exactly what was said between the two leaders, and it’s hard to draw conclusions. What this video does show, however, is how opaque the Turkey-Armenian protocols process [US-backed negotiations aiming to normalize relations and open borders between the two countries] is: from the start, it has been conducted behind the backs of nearly all the stakeholders in the process. Only now are we beginning to learn what has been going on behind closed doors, in part thanks to new media like Youtube. This is a serious problem: we shouldn’t have to rely on this type if media to obtain information.

 

We regret that President Obama, who was very firm and open about the Armenian genocide as candidate, has stopped being so as president. Before he was elected, he spoke publicly on several occasions to say that as president he would officially recognize the Armenian genocide. We expected him to honour that pledge during his speech on Armenian Remembrance Day on April 24, but he didn’t. [Following the YouTube incident, the statement by the US embassy specified that in neither call between Biden and Sarkhsian did the Armenian president “raise the issue of the content of President Obama’s statement for Armenian Remembrance Day”].

 

“Turkey uses the promise of talks as a way to derail or defeat recognition of the genocide”

 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Armenia faced heavy pressure from the US in 2009 to sign on to the Turkey-Armenia protocol roadmap. The reason for this is that the protocols provide a convenient political cover for Obama not to fulfil his campaign engagements, and clear the way for opponents of genocide recognition to make their case as Congress prepares to legislate on the issue.

 

I don’t believe the negotiations between Turkey and Armenia should change anything regarding recognition of the genocide. First, because the protocol is all but frozen now; the talks haven’t gone anywhere for weeks. Secondly, because although there is always a place for sincere dialogue, that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on right now. Turkey has proven time and time again that it uses the promise of normalised relations as a way to derail or defeat recognition of the genocide.”

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