Washington (AP) – Despite warnings from Turkey, US President Joe Biden recognized the massacre of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide, causing discontent in Ankara.
“The American people are honoring all those Armenians who died in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said yesterday in a message circulated by the White House on the anniversary of the massacres. During the election campaign, Biden had promised that the massacre of the Armenians would be recognized as genocide.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry rejected Biden’s statement “in its sharpest form,” as the Anadolu agency reported. In addition, Biden’s statement, “which has neither legal nor moral authority to evaluate historical events, has no value.” Biden’s statement that it “distorts historical facts” tears a deep wound that undermines mutual trust and friendship between the two countries. Anadolu reported that the US ambassador in Ankara had been summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday evening.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu “completely” rejected the statement. It is “based solely on populism,” he wrote on Twitter. “We don’t have anything to learn from anyone about our own past. Political expediency is the greatest betrayal of peace and justice. Ankara had warned the US government before Biden’s statement not to recognize the massacre as genocide.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also strongly condemned the statement. He advised the US to look at its own past and present. Erdogan initially did not comment personally. Before Biden’s announcement, Erdogan had written to the Armenian patriarch in Turkey, Sahag Maschalian, on Saturday that he thought regarding the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire who had died under “difficult circumstances” during World War I. The politicization of debates by third parties makes no sense.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan welcomed Biden’s words. “The Armenian people and all the Armenians in the world have received your message (…) with great enthusiasm,” he said according to the announcement. Pashinyan spoke of “a powerful step towards truth and historical justice” and of “invaluable support for the descendants of the victims of the genocide”.
During the First World War, Armenians were systematically persecuted and, among other things, sent on death marches in the Syrian desert. Historians speak of hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million victims. As the successor to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey admits that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians were killed during World War I and regrets the massacres. However, it strictly rejects classification as genocide.
The US felt obliged to prevent similar atrocities from ever happening again, Biden said. Persecution survivors have been forced to find a new home and life all over the world. The Armenian people survived with “strength and resilience”, but never forgot the tragic story. “We honor their story. We see this pain. We confirm the story. We don’t do this to blame, but to make sure what happened never repeats itself. “
The International Auschwitz Committee welcomed the decision. “In remembrance of their own fate, Holocaust survivors have felt closely associated with the Armenian people for years,” said the committee’s executive vice chair, Christoph Heubner, on Saturday evening. Biden’s “recognition and nomination of the genocide” is an important gesture for Holocaust survivors and a signal to the Turkish government to face its historic responsibility.
As a presidential candidate, Biden had already spoken about the “genocide” of the Armenians on the anniversary day a year ago. Biden emphasized at the time, “Silence is complicity.” As a candidate, Biden had also announced a tougher course against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he called an “autocrat” who would pay a price for his behavior. In an interview with the New York Times in January last year, Biden spoke out in support of the Turkish opposition.
A few days ago, more than 100 congressmen from both Democrats and Republicans called on Biden in a letter to “clearly and directly recognize the genocide of the Armenians in their April 24 statement.” They complained that US presidents have been silent for decades, while other heads of state or government would refer to “the first genocide of the 20th century” as such. According to US media reports, then US President Ronald Reagan described the massacre of the Armenians as genocide in 1981, but none of his successors.
As early as 2019, the US Congress recognized the massacre of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. The administration of then US President Donald Trump then emphasized that the legally non-binding resolution did not change the attitude of the US administration. Biden’s predecessor Trump had spoken of “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century,” but – like other US presidents – avoided the word genocide.