Wilson, Woodrow, and the Armenian Genocide

Woodrow Wilson (1865-1924) was the twenty-eighth president of the United States, whose two terms from 1913 to 1921 spanned the years of the Armenian Genocide. Neutrality from 1914 to 1917 during World War I placed the United States in a position to intercede with the Ottomans on behalf of the Armenians. The Department of State, for example, instructed Ambassador Morgenthau to deliver the May 24 Allied note warning the Young Turk regime that it would be held liable for crimes against humanity. US neutrality also made the American Embassy in Constantinople the nexus of the information arriving from the Ottoman provinces about the atrocities committed against the Armenians, much as it served as a distribution point for funds raised in the United States for relief to the refugees. President Wilson also extended his moral support for the efforts of the Near East Relief organization by dedicating two days in October 1916 for a nationwide fundraising drive.

The declaration of war against Germany in 1917 meant a break in relations with the Ottoman Empire. The United States, however, did not engage in hostilities against Turkey. Allied victory in Europe elevated American moral authority in the Middle East and President Wilson's Fourteen Points enunciating the right of self-determination resonated with the people of the region looking for a major power to take the lead in settling the territorial conflicts of the Middle East in the wake of World War I. Strong pro-Armenian sentiments in Washington fostered the expectation among the Allied Powers that the United States might assume a mandate over Armenia. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, which partitioned the defunct Ottoman Empire, and which recognized the Armenian Republic that had emerged in 1918 from the collapse of the Russian Empire, delegated the responsibility of resolving the boundary between Armenia and Turkey to President Wilson. A military mission headed by Major General James G. Harbord in 1919 had been sent to report on conditions in the region and make recommendations to US policy makers. General Harbord sent a clear message about the defenselessness of the Armenians and the dangers they still faced. Wilson sought to create a viable Armenian state with access to the Black Sea to provide the Armenians with security from further Turkish threats. Domestic opposition led by the Republican Party to Wilson's international policies delayed US action and the general failure of the Western Powers to match their promises with sufficient military resolve only precipitated the demise of the Armenian state by November 1920. The forces of Kemalist Turkey and Bolshevik Russia simultaneously invaded the Armenian Republic and partitioned its territories before Wilson's boundaries could be implemented.

--Rouben Paul Adalian