Biden officially recognizes the massacre of Armenians in World War I as a genocide

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Saturday became the first US president to officially recognize the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, risking a potential fracture with Turkey but signaling a commitment to global human rights.

In a statement marking the 106th anniversary of the massacre’s start, Biden wrote, “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.”

“Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future — toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security,” Biden said.

“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.”

The move fulfills Biden’s campaign pledge to finally use the word genocide to describe the systematic killing and deportation of Armenians in what is now Turkey more than a century ago. Biden’s predecessors in the White House had stopped short of using the word, wary of damaging ties with a key regional ally.

Earlier this week, US officials had been sending signals to allies outside the administration — who have been pushing for an official declaration — that the president would recognize the genocide.

Addressing the potential move in an interview with a Turkish broadcaster this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs.”

Cavusoglu on Saturday said Ankara completely rejects Biden’s use of the term. “We are not going to take lessons about our history from anyone. Political opportunism is the biggest betrayal of peace and justice. We completely reject this statement that is only based on populism,” he said in a tweet.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday offered condolences to “Ottoman Armenians, who lost their lives under the difficult circumstances of World War I.” That message to Patriarch of Turkish Armenians Sahak Mashalian echoed Erdoğan’s previous statements on April 24 and came before Biden’s declaration.

Turkish Presidency communications director Fahrettin Altun later Saturday said that “the Biden administration’s decision to misportray history out with an eye on domestic political calculations is a true misfortune for Turkey-US relations.”

The government of Turkey often registers complaints when foreign governments describe the event, which began in 1915, using the word “genocide.” They maintain that it was wartime and there were losses on both sides, and they put the number of dead Armenians at 300,000.

Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both avoided using the word genocide to avoid angering Ankara.

But Biden has determined that relations with Turkey and Erdoğan — which have deteriorated over the past several years anyway — should not prevent the use of a term that would validate the plight of Armenians more than a century ago and signal a commitment to human rights today.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan welcomed Biden’s statement as such, tweeting that “the US has once again demonstrated its unwavering commitment to protecting human rights and universal values.”

The declaration will not bring with it any new legal consequences for Turkey, only diplomatic fallout.

Biden spoke by telephone with Erdoğan on Friday, his first conversation with the Turkish leader since taking office. The long period without communication had been interpreted as a sign Biden is placing less importance on the US relationship with Turkey going forward.

The two men agreed to meet in person on the sidelines of a mid-June NATO summit in Brussels. The White House said Biden conveyed “his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements,” but the readout did not mention the Armenian genocide issue.

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