President Biden recognizes the Ottoman Empire’s slaughter of Armenians as a genocide, which risks angering Turkey. Previous presidents observed April 24, the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, but did not use the word “genocide” to refer to mass killings between 1915 and 1923.
“Every year on this day, we honor the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-Armenian genocide and dedicate ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever happening again,” Mr. Biden said in a statement on Saturday. “We honored their story. We see suffering. We’re affirming history. We do this not to blame, but to ensure that what happened is never repeated. “
The statement came after Mr. Biden spoke with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, although comments made after the call did not mention the proposal. Mr. Biden told Erdogan “his confidence in a positive bilateral relationship with extended areas of cooperation and successful disagreement management,” the White House said. The two have negotiated a bilateral meeting at this June’s NATO summit.
Reading the Turkish government’s call, the two leaders “accepted the importance of working together to extend cooperation based on the strategic essence of bilateral ties and shared interests.”
No U.S. president has officially acknowledged the killings as genocide, wary of deteriorating relations with Turkey, a NATO ally. Mr. Biden, as the presidential nominee, vowed to declare genocide.
“I pledge to support a resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and make basic human rights a top priority for my administration,” Mr. Biden said in last year’s statement marking Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
In a 2020 interview with the New York Times editorial board, Mr. Biden said he had “spent a lot of time” with Erdogan, calling him an “autocrat.” In 2014, Mr. Biden—then the vice president—officially apologized to Erdogan for implying that Turkey played a role in ISIS ‘rise.
Former President Trump also spoke highly of Erdogan, despite the disturbing human rights record of the leader. In 2019, Mr. Trump urged Republican senators to block a bill acknowledging “genocide” killings. In November of that year, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham did so, but later said it was because Erdogan visited Washington at the time. Republican Senator David Perdue vetoed the bill again, but passed unanimously in both Congress houses in December 2019. The Trump State Department, however, said in a statement at the time that the resolution did not represent administration policy.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi thanked Mr. Biden for using the word “genocide.”
“On April 24, and daily, we remember the victims and survivors who suffered almost unbearable pain and promise to respect their lives by remembering this violence for what it was: genocide. But unfortunately, the reality of these horrific crimes was so frequently denied, their monstrosity diminished, “Pelosi stated. “That’s why our hearts are full of joy that President Biden took the historic step of entering the Armenian Genocide Day Congress with formal recognition.”
Former President Obama also avoided using the word “genocide” when observing the April 24 day of remembrance, despite promising to remember it as such.
The genocide included the Ottoman Empire and Union and Progress Committee’s ethnic cleansing and mass murder of over 1 million Armenians during World War I. Turkey has consistently denied that what happened was incorrect or genocide, claiming that both sides lost and estimated the death toll at about 300,000 Armenians.
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