United States President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I constituted genocide, a historic declaration that infuriated the Republic of Turkey and further tensed frayed ties between two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies.
In a statement, Joe Biden, becoming the first American President to use the term in an annual message, said that they remember the lives of all who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit themselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again happening.
The largely symbolic move, breaking away from many years of carefully calibrated language from the White House, was greeted by the Armenian diaspora in America but came when Washington and Ankara grapple with serious policy disputes over a host of issues.
Seeking to limit the furor from the NATO ally, President Biden informed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his decision to use the term genocide a day before.
Turkey’s administration and most of the opposition showed rare unity in their rejection of the U.S President’s statement. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish Foreign Minister, said that Turkey entirely rejects the American decision, which he stated was based entirely on populism, while the opposition denounced it as a significant mistake.
President Biden’s note was met with great enthusiasm by the Armenian people and Armenians worldwide, Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian Prime Minister, wrote in a letter to the United States President.
Biden said that the U.S. people honor all those Armenian people who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago (April 24, 1915).
Armenian Prime Minister thanked the United States President Biden for his decisive step towards Justice
Biden said that Armenian immigrants had enriched America in many ways over the past several years, but they have never forgotten the disastrous history. Moreover, American President said they honor their story. They see that pain. They affirm the history, and they do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what occurred is never repeated.
Armenian Prime Minister thanked Mr. Biden for his ‘powerful step towards justice and priceless support to the heirs of the Armenian genocide victims.’
For many years, measures recognizing the Armenian genocide stalled in the United States Congress. Most American presidents have refrained from calling it that, impeded by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara. The former United States President from California, Ronald Reagan, had been the only American President to call the killings as genocide publicly.
The Republic of Turkey accepts that many Armenian people living in the Ottoman Empire were massacred in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated, constituting a genocide.
Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, Raffi Hamparian, stated that Joe Biden’s principled stand pivots the United States toward the justice deserved and the security needed for the Armenian nation’s future.
A year ago, while still a U.S. Presidential candidate, Joe Biden commemorated the 1.5M Armenian women, men, and children who lost their lives in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and stated he would back efforts to recognize those murders as a genocide.
Ties between Washington and Ankara have been strained over matters ranging from Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 Air Defense Systems, over which it was the target of American sanctions, to policy contrasts in Syria, human rights, and a court case targeting the country’s majority state-owned Halkbank.
Turkey-America Tense Relations
The United States President’s declaration follows a non-binding resolution by the United States Senate adopted unanimously in 2019 recognizing the killings as genocide.
Non-resident fellow for The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Nicholas Danforth, said that previous U.S. presidents had abandoned campaign pledges to recognize the Armenian genocide for fear of damaging American-Turkish relations.
Danforth said that there was nothing to stop the American President from following through with relations already in shambles. Turkey has no allies left in the United States administration to lobby against this, and Washington is not worried whether it angers Ankara anymore.
Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan had established a close bond with former American President Trump. Still, since Mr. Biden took over, Washington DC has grown more vocal about Turkey’s human rights track record. Moreover, it has stood firm on its demand that Turkey gets rid of the Russian Defense Systems.
American President had also delayed having a telephone conversation with Turkey’s Erdogan until Friday, seen mainly as a cold shoulder to the President of Turkey when he informed him of his pronouncement to recognize the massacres as genocide.
Despite the tense relations, Mr. Biden and Mr. Erdogan are due to meet in June 2021 on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.
Saturday’s declaration was slammed by the Turkish administration and several opposition politicians. A spokesman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Faik Oztrak, said that it would open wounds that would be difficult to repair not only on American-Turkey ties but also on a potential compromise between Turkey and the Armenian people.
The United States Embassy in Turkey stated its missions in the country would be closed on Monday (April 26) and Tuesday for visa services due to the likelihood of protests.
Reactions after President Biden announcement on the Armenian genocide
Following are responses to the statement by United States President Joe Biden on Saturday formally recognizing the 1915 massacres of Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. The historic declaration could further damage frayed ties with Turkey.
Statement by Turkish Foreign Ministry
Turkish Foreign Ministry stated they reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the United States President regarding the happenings of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups. It’s clear that the said statement doesn’t have a legal and scholarly basis, nor is it supported by any evidence.
Moreover, this statement would open a deep wound that undermines their mutual trust and friendship. They call on the American President to correct this grave mistake.