US President Joe Biden recognised the mass killing against Armenians more than a century ago as a “genocide”, a move that could further worsen relations between the United States and Turkey.
“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said in a statement issued by the White House on Saturday, the Armenian Remembrance Day, Xinhua news agency reported.
“We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” he noted.
Biden is the first US president to use the term “genocide” in describing the mass killing against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire, breaking with his predecessors who did not want to undermine relations with Turkey. In 2019, both chambers of Congress passed resolutions recognizing the atrocities as “genocide.”
The latest move could further complicate the already strained relations between Washington and Ankara. The two NATO allies have been at odds over Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air-defence systems and other regional issues, such as the Syria conflict and the dispute in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told local media earlier this week that Biden’s statements were not legal-binding and would only harm bilateral relations. “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” he said.
US media reported that Biden informed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his “genocide” recognition plan in their phone call on Friday.
The phone call was the first between the two leaders since Biden took office in January. The White House said that Biden told Erdogan that he wanted to build a constructive bilateral relationship “with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.”
The two leaders agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of the NATO Summit in June to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues, according to the White House.
Armenians have long sought international recognition for the large-scale casualties during the Ottoman era as genocide, which they say left some 1.5 million of their people dead. Turkey, the Ottoman Empire’s successor state, has claimed the mass killings did not constitute genocide.