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Biden recognizes atrocities against Armenians as genocide in historic break from past U.S. presidents

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks and participates in the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate Session 5: The Economic Opportunities of Climate Action from the White House in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2021.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Saturday recognized the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Empire forces in the early 20th century as a genocide, a historic though largely symbolic move that will likely strain already fraught relations with Turkey.

Biden’s declaration is a major break from past U.S. administrations, which avoided calling the atrocities genocide due to concerns over alienating Turkey, an important NATO ally and influential power in the Middle East. Turkey has contested that the killings constitute a genocide.

“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,” Biden said in a statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

As a candidate, Biden last year vowed to make this declaration, which is widely supported by human rights groups and Armenians. The Trump administration refrained from recognizing the events as a genocide, instead labeling them as “mass atrocities.”

People lay flowers at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex on Tsitsernakaberd Hill on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which commemorates to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire.

Hayk Baghdasaryan | TASS | Getty Images

Following the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople – now known as Istanbul – by Ottoman authorities, roughly 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the events known as Meds Yeghern that took place from 1915 – 1923.

“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 Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Saturday that the Biden administration’s statement would “open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.”

Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a phone call Friday, agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of the NATO Summit in June.

“It is an important day for all Armenians. Following the resolutions adopted by US Congress in 2019, President Biden honored the memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote in a tweet on Saturday.

“The US has once again demonstrated its unwavering commitment to protecting human rights and universal values,” Pashinyan wrote.

Read the full statement from the White House:

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. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.
 
Of those who survived, most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States. With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community. Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.
 
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. 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 American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.




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