US President Joe Biden declared on Saturday that the Ottoman Empire’s massacres of Armenians in 1915 represented genocide, a landmark statement that would enrage Turkey and theoretically further erode relations between the two NATO allies.
The highly symbolic change, which departs from decades of carefully calibrated White House vocabulary, would almost certainly be welcomed by the Armenian diaspora in the United States, but it comes at a time when Ankara and Washington have significant policy differences on a number of topics.
“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said in a statement.
“Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history … 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,” he said.
Measures remembering the Armenian genocide have languished in the US Congress for decades, and US presidents have refrained from calling it that due to fears over ties with Turkey and heavy lobbying by Ankara.
Turkey acknowledges that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in battles with Ottoman forces after World War One, but it disputes the numbers and denies that the massacres were deliberately organised and constitute genocide.
“We have lived together in peace in this land for centuries, we find peace under the shadow of our crescent and star flag,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in response to the announcement.
“Being politicized by third parties and turning it into an intervention tool against our country has not helped anyone,” he continued, referring to Biden’s statement. “I believe that it is a great injustice for the new generations to build on the pain of the past.”
Erdogan went on to say that “Turks and Armenians, we now need to show that we have reached the maturity to overcome all obstacles together.”
Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Saturday the United States should look to its own past in response to Biden’s announcement.
“We strongly condemn and reject the US President’s remarks which only repeat the accusations of those whose sole agenda is enmity towards our country,” Kalin said on Twitter. “We advise the US President to look at (his country’s) own past and present.”
Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan told Biden in a letter on Saturday that recognition of the genocide is a matter of security to Armenia, especially after events that took place in the region last year when a war in Nagorno-Karabakh broke out.
“Armenians all over the world met with great enthusiasm and welcomed recognition of genocide,” Pashinyan said in the letter to Biden published on his website.