“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said in a keenly anticipated statement issued on what is called Armenian Remembrance Day in the United States.
“Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination,” he said.
“We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”
“Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world,” added the statement.
Biden also paid tribute to Armenian survivors of the genocide, many of whom took refuge in the U.S., as well as their descendants.
“Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores,” he said. “We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”
Successive U.S. presidents have until now refrained from using the word “genocide” to describe the World War One-era massacres for fear of antagonizing Turkey. Some of them, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump, used instead the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” (Great Crime) in their April 24 statements.
Biden repeatedly pledged to recognize the genocide when he ran for president.
The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate unanimously passed genocide resolutions in 2019 after decades of lobbying by Armenian-American advocacy groups. The latter were quick to hail Biden’s move.
“President Biden’s affirmation of the Armenian Genocide marks a pivotal milestone in the arc of history in defense of human rights,” said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. “By standing firmly against a century of denial, President Biden has charted a new course.”
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) praised the U.S. president for “dealing a major setback to Turkey’s century-long obstruction of justice for this crime.”
“President Biden’s principled stand on the Armenian Genocide today … pivots America toward the justice deserved and the security required for the future of the Armenian nation – a landlocked, blockaded, genocide-survivor state,” said Raffi Hamparian, the ANCA chairman.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian thanked Biden for the “powerful step” in a letter swiftly publicized by his office.
“The recognition of the Genocide is a matter of truth, historical justice and security to the Republic of Armenia, especially in the light of the events that took place in our region last year,” Pashinian wrote, referring to the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh during which Turkey provided strong military support to Azerbaijan.
Predictably, the Turkish government strongly condemned Biden’s statement. It did not immediately announce any retaliatory steps against Washington.
“We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter. “Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice. We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism.”
According to the Reuters and Bloomberg news agencies, Biden informed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about his intention to recognize the genocide when they spoke by phone late on Friday. It was their first phone conversation since Biden’s January 20 inauguration.
Ankara vehemently denies a premeditated government effort to exterminate Ottoman Turkey’s Armenian population. Erdogan has claimed that Armenians themselves massacred Muslim civilians and that their mass deportations to a Syrian desert was “the most reasonable action that could be taken” by the Ottoman government.
U.S.-Turkish relations were already strained over a host of issues, including Turkey's purchase of Russian air defense systems, policy differences in Syria and human rights.
U.S. officials told The New York Times earlier this week that Biden is mindful of the risk of their further deterioration emanating from Armenian genocide recognition. They said he is determined to further his human rights agenda on the international stage.