President Joe Biden on Saturday became the first US president to officially recognize the organized massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, risking a potential fracture with Turkey and doing what no other President before him has formally done.
In a statement released by the White House 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.
For decades, though, Presidents before him have stopped short of that— and conspicuously so— for fear of angering Turkey. Presidents have campaigned by declaring it a genocide and pledged to recognize it as such, but then failed to follow through.
President Ronald Reagan tangentially referred to the “genocide of the Armenians” in an April 22, 1981, statement commemorating the liberation of the Nazi death camps.
George W. Bush wrote a letter during the 2000 campaign in which he said he would recognize the genocide, but then backed away from it as the United States once again became entangled in the Middle East and Turkey became important to the war effort in Iraq. By 2007, Bush urged Congress to reject a resolution recognizing the genocide.
Barack Obama too said during his 2008 campaign that he would recognize the genocide, but his administration never did so in his eight years.
The Trump Administration, too, not only failed to recognize the events in the early 1900s as a genocide, but pushed back on a congressional attempt to recognize the mass killings as a genocide in 2019.
Even when legislation passed overwhelmingly with huge bipartisan support, the State Department declared that it didn’t reflect the official position of the administration.
The complete White House Statement is here.
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