U.S. President Biden described the killings of Ottoman Armenians during World War I as “genocide” in a statement released Saturday, becoming the first U.S. president to use the controversial term.
Biden’s remarks came in a customary statement on the anniversary. In an attempt to limit the expected uproar from its NATO ally, Biden had reportedly informed Erdoğan of his intent to issue the statement in question during their call on Friday.
“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,” Biden said. “And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms,” he said.
“We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” Biden said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was quick to condemn the statement.
“We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice. We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism,” Çavuşoğlu said in a Twitter post.
Biden made the decision “in a very principled way focused on the merits of human rights, and not for any reason beyond that, including placing blame,” a senior U.S. official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
With the acknowledgement, Biden followed through on a campaign promise he made a year ago. Mainly hailing from Ottoman Armenians, Armenians in the U.S. constitute significant communities in East Coast and California.
Turkey’s position on the 1915 events is that the death of Armenians in eastern Anatolia took place when some sided with invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. A subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties, added by massacres from militaries and militia groups of both sides. The mass arrests of prominent Ottoman Armenian politicians, intellectuals and other community members suspected of links with separatist groups, harboring nationalist sentiments and being hostile to the Ottoman rule were rounded up in then-capital Istanbul on April 24, 1915, commemorated as the beginning of later atrocities.
Turkey objects to the presentation of the incidents as “genocide” but describes the 1915 events as a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties.
Ankara has repeatedly proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia plus international experts to tackle the issue.