Biden is the first US president to officially recognize the mass killings of Armenians during WWI as a ‘genocide.’
US President Joe Biden officially recognized the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as a “genocide,” a gesture Turkey promptly opposed.
In Saturday’s speech, Biden became the first US president to officially recognise the killings of 1,5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 as an act of “genocide.”
“Every year on this day, we honour the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-Armenian genocide and dedicate ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever happening again,” reads the declaration.
“Americans remember all those Armenians who died in the genocide that started today, 106 years ago.”
Turkey remembered the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, but steadfastly denied that the killings were deliberately organised as a genocide.
Biden’s statement comes in the midst of strained US-Turkey links, which earlier cautioned that recognising the killings as genocide would further damage NATO allies’ relations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara rejected Biden’s comment, saying it’s “just populism-based.”
“We have little to learn from our own history,” Cavusoglu tweeted.
Armenians who observed Saturday’s Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day appealed to the US and other countries around the world for years to recognise the killings as genocide.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan welcomed Saturday’s statement by Biden, saying “the US has again shown its unwavering dedication to defending human rights and fundamental values.”
The U.S.-based Armenian lobbying organisation, the Armenian Assembly, has called it “a landmark moment in U.S. history.”
The US Congress passed a symbolic resolution in 2019 recognizing the “Armenian genocide,” but then-President Donald Trump opposed it.
In a Wednesday letter, more than 100 Congressmen urged Biden to recognise the killings as genocide, saying the “shameful silence” of the U.S. government had gone on for too long.
Alan Fisher of Al Jazeera, from Washington, DC, said that Biden’s change is “highly symbolic.”
Fisher said there have been fears in Washington for several years that this would alienate Turkey, a vital NATO ally. But Biden was under pressure from a number of congressional citizens, promising to recognise the killings as an act of genocide if elected.
“Joe Biden thinks this is politically smart,” Fisher said.
“He knows it would definitely suit his point that human rights are worth defending, and he feels you have to make a comment when something like this happens so you can avoid genocide again in the future.”
Turkey, however, strongly opposed the proposal.
Earlier on Saturday, Turkish parliamentarian Mustafa Sentop said that recognising the killings as genocide would be “a political argument without legal basis.”
“As claimed, there are no conditions for the 1915 events to be described as genocide,” Sentop said, as stated by Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu.
Also this week, Turkish presidential spokesperson Fahrettin Altun said the designation would be “a slander that has no link with the truth and is only fuelled by political calculations.”
“It’s an emotional, irrational, illegal allegation,” Altun said.
In recent years, US-Turkish ties have been strained on many topics, including Ankara’s acquisition of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems.
During a call on Friday, Biden told his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of the proposed “Armenian genocide” recognition.
In a statement, Biden also expressed Erdogan’s interest in establishing “a positive bilateral partnership with expanded areas of cooperation and successful disagreement management.”
The presidents have decided to hold a bilateral meeting outside a NATO summit in June.
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