WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Saturday formally recognized the systematic killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923 as an act of “genocide,” a long-sought declaration among Armenian-Americans that could further strain U.S.-Turkey relations.
“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,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday, marking Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. He emphasized the need to recognize and remember such atrocities “so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history.” “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said. “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.
Biden promised during the campaign to label the killings a genocide. But previous presidents have reneged on similar pledges amid fears it would jeopardize U.S.-Turkey relations. While largely symbolic, Biden’s declaration is significant because of the potential geopolitical fallout and because it resonates so deeply with the Armenian-American community. “President Biden’s affirmation of the Armenian Genocide marks a pivotal milestone in the arc of history in defense of human rights,” Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement Saturday. Biden has ended “a century of denial,” he said, in a decision that “recommits the United States to the worldwide cause of genocide prevention.”
The Armenian genocide began in 1915 during World War I, as Turkish leaders began to murder and deport hundreds of thousands of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire. While the modern-day Turkish government has taken steps to address the atrocities, it has refused to recognize the scope of the killings and disputes it was a genocide. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat whose California district is home to many Armenian-Americans, said he was heartened that Biden’s recognition came while “there are still some genocide survivors alive to witness it.”