Coinciding with the 106th anniversary of what is known as the “Armenian Holocaust” and breaking with the policy line of action of his predecessors, President Joe Biden declared that the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 during World War I constituted genocide. “The American people honor all Armenians who died in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” President Biden released in a statement.
“Over the decades, Armenian immigrants have enriched America in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history,” the president added.
The U.S. president, before dropping the bombshell yesterday, contacted his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, by phone on Friday night to advance his intentions ahead of the public statement. This surprising announcement forced the first phone call between the two leaders since Biden took office in January. Biden and Erdogan, who had a close relationship with former President Donald Trump, are scheduled to meet during the NATO leaders’ summit next June.
Both countries would agree on the “importance of working together to enhance cooperation on issues of mutual interest,” as they made known from Ankara, although for this Erdogan emphasized that it was imperative to resolve the issue of the US presence in the FETO organization, which Turkey accuses of terrorists and attempted coup in 2016, as well as ending the US government’s support for Kurdish militias in Syria, which Erdogan considers part of the PKK.
Biden’s statements have not been welcomed by the Turkish country. “Words cannot change or rewrite history. We don’t have to learn anything from anyone regarding our own past,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu wrote on Twitter shortly after the statement was released.
“Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal of peace and justice. We completely reject this statement based solely on populism,” the Turkish diplomacy chief added, rejecting the use of the term ‘genocide’ used by the U.S. president to describe the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
An estimated 1.5 to 2 million Armenian civilians were persecuted and killed, between 1915 and 1923, by the Young Turk government in the Ottoman Empire. Throughout history, Turkey has acknowledged that many Armenians died in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, but has always disputed the death tolls and denied that such slaughter was systematically orchestrated and constituted genocide.
However, some 30 countries around the world, including Germany, Italy and Russia, did. The massacre of the Armenians had been recognized as a genocide by several states, but no resident of the White House had dared to confirm it categorically. “We honor their History. We see that pain. We affirm the History. We do this not to blame, but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” the president added in his statement.
A historic statement far removed from the careful language used so far by his predecessors in the White House, and coming at a time of pent-up tension between Ankara and Washington, with multiple political disagreements, could damage the established ties between the two NATO allies.
With this surprising tribute to the Armenian people during the 106th anniversary of the mass killing that began on April 24, 1915, Biden declared a total of two times the word “genocide” in his official statement, thus fulfilling one of his election promises to support the Armenian Diaspora in the US after years of heavy lobbying in the seat of the US legislature.
With his decision, Joe Biden wants to demonstrate that human rights will be a pillar of his foreign policy, and in his statement he emphasized his desire to “prevent atrocities from occurring in the future, anywhere in the world.”
“We do this not to cast blame, but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” stressed the president, who twice used the word “genocide” in his statement.
Acknowledging the Armenian genocide was an election promise of Biden’s, and just a year ago, the then Democratic presidential hopeful stressed the importance of “calling a spade a spade.”