President Joe Biden said on Saturday (24) that the massacre of around 1.5 million Armenians by the former Ottoman Empire (which gave way to present-day Turkey) in 1915 amounted to genocide. “The American people honor all Armenians who died in the genocide that began on that day 106 years ago,” the American leader said in a statement.
“Over the decades, Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten its tragic history,” the president continued. “We honor her story. We see this pain. We affirm the story. We don’t do it to blame, but to make sure what happened doesn’t happen again.”
The decision taken on the day that commemorates the 106th anniversary of the genocide carries enormous symbolic weight, as Biden is the first American leader to take a stand for recognition. His predecessors did not want to create embarrassment with Turkey, a strategic partner of NATO (Western military alliance).
The Turkish reaction was swift. Shortly after Biden’s statement, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote in a Twitter message rejecting the statement, which he said was based on populism. “We have nothing to learn from anyone in our past. Political expediency is the greatest betrayal of peace and justice.”
The Turkish Chancellery said it had summoned U.S. Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield to express its displeasure with Biden’s statement. “This statement by the United States, which distorts the historical facts, will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people and will open a deep wound which undermines our mutual trust and our friendship,” Turkish diplomacy said in a statement.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Biden’s speech “only repeats the accusations of those whose only agenda is enmity against our country.” “We advise the President of the United States to look at the past and present of his own country.”
In Armenia, the US leader’s statement was greeted with “great enthusiasm,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said. “This is an important day for all Armenians. The United States has once again demonstrated its unwavering commitment to the protection of human rights and universal values.” Earlier, Pashinian said on Twitter that “the ideologies that led to the Armenian genocide are still alive today”, citing “the atrocities committed against the Armenians” during the recent conflict with Azerbaijan.
Officially, Turkey acknowledges that 300,000 to 400,000 people died, but claims the deaths occurred in the context of World War I (1914-1918), when the Armenians supported Russia, and not as a result of ‘a deliberate policy of extermination.
Thus, the case would not meet the criterion of intentionality in the definition of genocide established by the United Nations (UN) in 1948. In that year, the entity determined that any act committed with intent to destroy the whole would be considered genocide. Or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. ”Among these acts, the UN provides not only for killings, but also to cause serious physical or mental harm, to deliberately inflict living conditions to cause a physical destruction, impose measures to prevent births within a certain group and transfer children from one group to another.
The recognition by the United States is therefore a breakthrough celebrated by human rights organizations and also an obstacle in relations with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president, a staunch genocide denier, has already criticized other world leaders who have described the deaths in Armenia in this way, including Pope Francis. The denial of the genocide is even in textbooks in Turkey, which describe the Armenians of this period as traitors. Turkish citizens who choose to use the term can be criminally prosecuted for defamation of the country.
Most historians, however, recognize that there was state policy in the dead and see this episode in Armenian history as the first genocide of the 20th century, a view reinforced by the International Association of Genocide Specialists. . There are even Turkish experts who share this position.
Violence against Armenians began at the start of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Aligned with Germany during World War I, the Ottomans wanted to prevent the Armenians from siding with Russia and ordered massive deportations.
Armenia estimates that 1.5 million people died of starvation, killed by Ottoman soldiers or by the police. Hundreds of thousands of survivors, forced to leave their territory, took refuge in Russia, the United States, Brazil and several other countries.