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Biden acknowledges atrocities in opposition to Armenians as genocide in a historic break with earlier US presidents

President Joe Biden makes remarks and attends the virtual summit of leaders on April 23, 2021 on Climate: The Economic Opportunities of Climate Change from the White House in Washington, DC.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Saturday recognized the assassination of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces in the early 20th century as genocide, a historic, if largely symbolic, move that is likely to weigh on already strained relations with Turkey.

Biden’s statement is a major break with previous US administrations who have avoided calling the atrocities genocide amid concerns over the alienation of Turkey, a key NATO ally and powerful force in the Middle East. Turkey has denied that the murders were genocide.

“Every year on that day we remember the lives of all those who were killed in the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman era, and we re-commit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever occurring again,” said Biden in a declaration on the day of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.

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

On the Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, which commemorates the victims of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, people lay flowers in the memorial complex for the Armenian Genocide on Tsitsernakaberd Hill.

Hayk Baghdasaryan | TASS | Getty Images

After the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople – now known as Istanbul – by Ottoman authorities, around 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the events known as Meds Yeghern from 1915 to 1923.

“A world that is not tainted by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected and where all people are able to live their lives in dignity and safety,” said Biden. “Let us renew our common determination to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us seek healing and reconciliation for all people of the world.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the Biden government’s statement would “open a deep wound that is undermining our mutual trust and friendship”.

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

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

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

Read the full White House statement:

Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman era, and we re-commit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever occurring again. From April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by the Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred or marched to their deaths in an extermination campaign. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember that we are always vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.

Most of the survivors were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including 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 story that brought so many of their ancestors to our coast. We honor their story. We see this pain. We confirm the story. We are not doing this to blame, but to make sure what happened is never repeated.

When we mourn today for what has been lost, we also turn to the future – the world we want to build for our children. A world that is not tainted by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected and where all people are able to live their lives in dignity and safety. Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us seek healing and reconciliation for all people in the world.

The American people honor all those Armenians who were killed in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.

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