Biden Declares Mass Killings of Armenians a Genocide


WASHINGTON — President Biden on Saturday recognized the mass killings of Armenians more than a century ago as genocide, signaling a willingness to test an increasingly frayed relationship with Turkey, long a key regional ally and an important partner within NATO.

“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,” Mr. Biden said in a statement issued on the 106th anniversary of the beginning of a brutal campaign by the former Ottoman Empire that killed 1.5 million people. “And we remember so that we remain ever vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”

The declaration by Mr. Biden reflected his administration’s commitment to human rights, a pillar of its foreign policy. It is also a break from Mr. Biden’s predecessors, who were reluctant to anger a country of strategic importance and were wary of driving its leadership toward American adversaries like Russia or Iran.

The Turkish government, as well as human rights activists and ethnic Armenians, gave a muted response to the news, which leaked days in advance, describing the move as largely symbolic. Later on Saturday, the country’s foreign minister summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest the declaration, state media reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly denied that the killings amounted to genocide, had lobbied hard to prevent the announcement, mounting a conference and media campaigns before the anniversary on Saturday.

But in a call on Friday, Mr. Biden told Mr. Erdogan directly that he would be declaring the massacre an act of genocide, according to a person familiar with the discussion who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of the conversation.

A summary of the call provided by the White House said only that the pair had agreed to an “effective management of disagreements.” The Turkish presidency said in a statement that both leaders agreed on the “importance of working together.” They are scheduled to meet at a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in June.

In his statement on Saturday, Mr. Biden acknowledged the Armenians who were forced to rebuild their lives.

“We affirm the history,” he said. “We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has kept Mr. Erdogan at a distance, calling other world leaders — and leaving his Turkish counterpart, who enjoyed a friendly relationship with President Donald J. Trump, waiting for months.

After news broke on Wednesday of the impending announcement, Mr. Erdogan said in a statement that Turkey would “defend the truth against the lie of the so-called ‘Armenian genocide.’”

Mr. Unluhisarcikli, like other analysts and human rights defenders, questioned the timing and purpose of the announcement.

“The Turkish government will feel obliged to respond in ways that are consequential for the U.S. and for U.S.-Turkey relationship,” he said.

The Turkish public will see it as evidence of American double standards, and anti-Western forces in Turkey will use it to incite fury, he said.

Both opposition and pro-government leaders attacked the expected designation.

“This is an improper, unfair stance,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party.

Dogu Perincek, the leader of the ultranationalist Patriotic Party, in an open letter to Mr. Biden, questioned his authority to issue such a declaration. “As is known, the genocide against the Jews was adjudicated at an authorized court,” he wrote, “but regarding the 1915 incidents, there is no judicial ruling.”

The killings of Armenians occurred at the end of World War I during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey. Worried that the Christian Armenian population would align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials ordered mass deportations in what many historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century: Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres by soldiers and the police, others in forced exoduses to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death.

Turkey has acknowledged that widespread atrocities occurred during that period, but its leaders have adamantly denied that the killings were genocide.

In the days leading up to Mr. Biden’s announcement, Armenians and human rights activists in Turkey expressed caution, partly because of years of political seesawing over the issue.

“Personally, it is not going to make me excited,” Yetvart Danzikyan, the editor in chief of Agos, an Armenian-Turkish weekly newspaper in Istanbul, said, pointing to a statement President Ronald Reagan issued in 1981 about the Holocaust that mentioned the “genocide of the Armenians” in passing.

Murat Celikkan, a journalist and longtime human rights activist, said the declaration would be good for American-Armenian citizens, but he did not expect it to change attitudes in Turkey or encourage reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.

“It did not change with more than 20 countries officially recognizing it, including Germany,” he said.

In the United States, some Armenian activists welcomed the declaration as a step forward.

“The denial of the genocide has been such a painful chapter,” said Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. “This is a really critical moment in the arc of history, in defense of human rights.”

“The president is standing firmly against basically a century of denial and is charting a new course,” he said.

Katie Rogers reported from Washington, and Carlotta Gall from Istanbul. Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio contributed reporting from New York.



Source link Most Shared

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*