US President Joe Biden has officially recognised the Armenian Genocide. “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,” said Biden in a statement issued on 24 April.
The massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I has been a matter heated debate in both domestic and international contexts. Although many European countries recognised what happened in 1915 as a genocide, Turkey’s officials have never accepted it.
Biden previously informed Turkish President Erdoğan in a phone call that he would recognise the Armenian Genocide. On 24 April, Biden published the following statement on the issue:
“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.”
The US President also mentioned the Armenians who survived the genocide.
“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.”
Biden ended his message by honouring the victims of the genocide.
“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.”
Before Biden, former president Ronald Reagan, in his 1981 statement on the genocide of the Jewish population in Europe, referred to the “genocide of the Armenians”. Other US presidents have used the phrase “Meds Yeghern”, which means “Great Catastrophe” in Armenian, in their traditional 24 April statements in recent years.
After Biden’s statement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry responded with a written statement on its official website criticising the statement. “The nature of the events of 1915 does not change according to the current political motives of the politicians or domestic political considerations. Such an attitude serves only a vulgar distortion of history.”
The full response is as follows:
We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the US regarding the events of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups on 24 April.
It is clear that the said statement does not have a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence. With regards to the events of 1915, none of the conditions required for the use of the term “genocide” that is strictly defined in international law are met.
The nature of the events of 1915 does not change according to the current political motives of the politicians or domestic political considerations. Such an attitude serves only a vulgar distortion of history.
The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed the controversial nature of the events of 1915. Moreover, in 2005 Turkey proposed to the Armenian side to establish a Joint History Commission to reach a just memory in the light of historical facts of that period. Although Armenia has never responded to this proposal, it is still on the table. In this respect, the statement made by the President of the US, who is neither legally nor morally authorized to judge historical matters, has no value.
As a country located at the center of a region that is called the cradle of civilizations and that has adopted the attitude of exercising effort for the peace and serenity for humanity despite all her sufferings, Turkey has never avoided facing her history and would not take lessons from any country, including the US, in this regard.
On this occasion, we once again commemorate the cherished memories of the individuals from all the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire, who lost their lives under the extraordinary conditions of the period before and during the First World War. The message conveyed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 24 April, for the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives at the First World War which was read during the liturgy at the Armenian Patriarchate in İstanbul, this year as well, reflects the approach of Turkey on this topic.
After more than a hundred years of this past suffering, instead of exerting sincere efforts to completely heal the wounds of the past and build the future together in our region, the US President’s statement will not yield any results other than polarizing the nations and hindering peace and stability in our region.
This statement of the US, which distorts the historical facts, will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.
We call on the US President to correct this grave mistake, which serves no purpose other than to satisfy certain political circles and to support the efforts aiming to establish a practice of peaceful coexistence in the region, especially among the Turkish and Armenian nations, instead of serving the agenda of those circles that try to foment enmity from history.