Why Biden’s Armenian genocide recognition did not break US-Turkey ties

The relationship between U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has entered a new phase.

Last Friday, the two had their first phone call after months of speculation as to why Biden had not yet spoken to Erdoğan. The call took on added importance when it was revealed that Biden informed Erdoğan of his intent to break with decades of U.S policy by recognising the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Erdoğan, a politician known for his eagerness to attack those who cross him, was conspiciously silent in the immediate aftermath of Biden’s move. On Monday, Erdoğan responded by attacking Biden’s statement as “baseless” and urged him to reverse course. However, for many the response was less apoplectic than expected.

Nicholas Danforth, a non-resident research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), said existing tensions in bilateral relations may have helped avoid the worst possible outcome.

“In a way, the particular strain on the relationship now may have actually muted the response,” Danforth told Ahval News in a podcast.

“What I would say about U.S-Turkey relations since Biden came to power is that no news is good news.”

Fractures in ties may not have gone away, but it is positive that they have not deteriorated further, Danforth said.

“None of the problems have gone away, none of the big issues have been solved, but every month we go without a new disaster is good news,” he said. 

Biden was careful to avoid antagonising Erdoğan further when becoming the first U.S. president to officially recognise the genocide, Danforth said.

“The fact that the word Turkey didn’t even come up in this statement was clearly trying to say this was about history, rather than trying to pick a fight with Turkey or punish Erdoğan,” he said.