Joe Biden broke with his predecessors and called the mass murder of Armenians a century ago in what is today Turkey a genocide, in an announcement likely to spark further friction between Washington and Ankara.
Discussing the announcement, which was released by the White House to mark Armenian Remembrance Day, a senior administration official said the recognition was aimed at “honoring the victims” and not “assigning blame.”
Turkey has criticized what is largely a symbolic move, with the Foreign Ministry warning that it “would open a deep wound that would undermine our mutual trust and friendship” and called on the US president to “correct this grave mistake.”
Ibrahim Kalin, senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Twitter that Biden’s statement “repeats the slander of circles whose only agenda is hostile to our country. We recommend that the American president look at his own history and his present. “
Biden’s recognition follows a markedly colder period for Washington-Ankara relations following disputes over Turkey’s purchase of an advanced Russian anti-aircraft system designed to shoot down NATO jets and lay down indictment by US federal prosecutors of Turkish state lender Halkbank for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran.
Biden called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday to inform him of the impending announcement, an administration official said. A reading of the White House call, which was their first official contact, did not mention this part of the conversation, but said the two leaders would hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in June. .
A Biden administration official said the call between the two leaders was “very professional.”
“The two leaders have a long history, they worked closely together during the Obama-Biden administration,” the official said, adding that there were “a very large number of issues” that Washington and Ankara could work on. in close collaboration, with “A number of well-known differences. . . that need to be resolved ”.
Erdogan has said he wants to ‘turn a new leaf’ with the United States and Europe, two of Turkey’s biggest trading partners, as the country seeks to attract investment into its $ 717 billion economy. and curb the surge in inflation and unemployment.
Most historians and around thirty countries consider the murder of 1.5 million Christian Armenians from 1915 to be a genocide orchestrated by the state. Turkey’s claims that Muslims and Christians died during the chaos of World War I and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Fearing to side with Russia’s nemesis, Armenian Christians were either arrested and killed or left their ancient homeland in parts of present-day Turkey to the Syrian desert where they starved to death. The campaign, along with those against ethnic Greeks and Syriac Christians, helped forge a more cohesive nation when the Turkish Republic was established in 1923 from the ashes of the multicultural Ottoman Empire.
Previous US presidents have avoided the label of genocide, aware of the risks this would pose to the strategic relationship with Turkey, where the US operates an air base.
The US embassy said in an email that consular services at its missions in four Turkish cities would be cut off Monday and Tuesday “as a precaution” in the event of anti-US protests and urged Americans in Turkey to “show proof. greater caution ”.
A Biden official said the United States still recognizes Turkey as “a critical NATO ally.” Yet Biden has said he will pursue a values-based foreign policy and pledged during his presidential campaign to recognize the genocide as part of a commitment to uphold “universal rights.” Both houses of Congress passed resolutions in 2019 calling the killings genocide, and last month nearly 40 senators from both parties called on Biden to do the same.
For the majority of Turks, to recognize the genocide would be to challenge the myths and founding leaders of their nation and would be to admit a historical lie. While Erdogan has expressed his condolences to Armenians for the loss of life in recent years, he has also criticized foreign governments for calling the massacre genocide, recalling ambassadors and canceling trade deals.
Ahead of Biden’s statement, Erdogan on Saturday expressed his condolences for the “Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during the harsh conditions of World War I” in a message to the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul. “Nobody benefits when the debates which belong to historians are used by third parties as a tool of intervention against our country”, he said.
Today, fewer than 60,000 ethnic Armenians remain in Turkey, mainly in Istanbul, and are sporadically targeted for hate crimes, such as vandalism of churches. In 2007, Hrant Dink, editor of an Armenian-Turkish newspaper, was shot dead outside his office after calling for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.
Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian Prime Minister, said on Twitter that American recognition of the genocide marked “an important day for all Armenians” and that the United States had demonstrated “its unwavering commitment to protect human rights and universal values ”.
Turkey’s strong support for Azerbaijan in last year’s war with Armenia underscored how historic divisions continue to shape Ankara’s policy in the region. Ankara supplied weapons and, according to the UN, Syrian mercenaries to help its close ally Azerbaijan reclaim much of the contested territory Armenia had won in a war in the 1990s.