Joe Biden has broken with his predecessors, calling the massacre of Armenians a century ago in what is now Turkey a genocide, in an announcement likely to cause even more friction between Washington and Ankara.
Discussing the announcement, released by the White House on the Armenian Day of Remembrance, a senior official said the recognition was intended to “honor the victims” and not to “place the blame.”
Turkey lashed out at what is largely a symbolic measure, warning from the State Department that it will “open a deep wound that will undermine our mutual trust and friendship” and called on the US President to “correct this grave mistake. put”.
Ibrahim Kalin, a senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Twitter that Biden’s statement “ reiterates the defamation of circles whose only agenda is hostile to our country. We recommend that the US president look at his own history and present. “
Biden’s recognition follows a markedly cooler period for Washington-Ankara relations following disputes over Turkey’s purchase of an advanced Russian anti-aircraft system designed to take down NATO fighter jets, and over US federal prosecutors’ charges against the Turkish state supplier Halkbank for alleged violation of sanctions. against Iran.
Biden called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday to inform him of the upcoming announcement, a government official said. A White House reading of the call, which was their first official contact, did not mention that portion of the conversation, but said the two leaders would hold a bilateral meeting in the margins of NATO’s June summit.
A Biden government official said the call between the two leaders was “very professional.”
The two leaders have a long track record, working very closely during the Obama-Biden administration, the official said, adding that there were “a very large number of issues” on which Washington and Ankara could work closely together. , along with “Some Known Differences. . . that need to be addressed ”.
Erdogan has said he wanted to “turn a new page” with the US and Europe, two of Turkey’s largest trading partners, as the country seeks to leverage investment in its $ 717 billion economy and meet rising inflation and unemployment rates. to keep in check.
Most historians and some 30 countries consider the murder of as many as 1.5 million Christian Armenians, beginning in 1915, as a state-orchestrated genocide. Turkey’s claims that both Muslims and Christians died in the chaos of World War I and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Fearful that they would side with archenemy Russia, Armenian Christians were rounded up and either killed or marched from their ancient homeland in parts of present-day Turkey to the Syrian desert where they starved to death. The campaign, as well as that against ethnic Greeks and Syrian Christians, helped forge a more homogeneous nation when the Turkish Republic was established from the ashes of the multicultural Ottoman Empire in 1923.
Previous US presidents shied away from the genocide label, aware of the risks it 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 on its missions in four Turkish cities on Monday and Tuesday would be halted “as a precautionary measure” in the event of anti-American demonstrations and urged Americans in Turkey “more to exercise caution “.
A Biden official said the US continues to recognize Turkey as “a critical NATO ally.” Still, Biden has said he would 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 chambers of Congress passed resolutions in 2019 classifying the murders as genocide, and last month nearly 40 senators from both parties called on Biden to do the same.
For the majority of Turks, to acknowledge the genocide would question the myths and leaders of their nation and amount to admitting a historical lie. While Erdogan has expressed condolences to the Armenians over the loss of life in recent years, he has also criticized foreign governments calling the massacre genocide, recalling ambassadors and canceling trade deals.
Ahead of Biden’s statement, Erdogan offered his condolences to the “Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during the harsh conditions of World War I” in a message to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul on Saturday. “Nobody benefits if historians’ debates are used by third parties as a tool of intervention against our country,” he says.
Today, there are fewer than 60,000 ethnic Armenians in Turkey, mainly in Istanbul, and are sporadically the target of hate crimes, such as vandalism against churches. In 2007, Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish newspaper editor, was shot outside his office after calling for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.
Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia, said on Twitter that US recognition of the genocide marked “an important day for all Armenians” and that the US had demonstrated “an unwavering commitment to the protection of 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 policies in the region. Ankara provided weapons and, according to the UN, Syrian mercenaries to help its close ally Azerbaijan recapture much of the disputed territory that Armenia had won in a war in the 1990s.