Washington: US President Joe Biden has formally declared that the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago as "genocide," a move that is likely to escalate tensions with Turkey.
According to The Hill, with this move, Biden is fulfilling a campaign promise and becoming the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan to use the term "genocide" to describe the mass killings that occurred during the 20th century at the end of the first World War. "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," Biden said in a statement released by the White House on Saturday.
"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 continued. "We honour the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms."
The Hill reported that while Biden's move to use the term "genocide" will be welcomed by bipartisan members of Congress, human rights advocates and the Armenian community, it is also expected to complicate relations with Turkey, a NATO ally with whom the US has increasingly clashed.
Biden held his first phone call as president with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, during which Biden reportedly informed his counterpart of the plans to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Biden and Erdogan also agreed to meet on the sidelines of the upcoming June NATO summit in Brussels "to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues," according to a White House readout.
His recognition of the Armenian genocide coincides with the remembrance day marking the atrocities that took place under the Ottoman Empire, which is modern-day Turkey, between 1915 and 1923.
The President had been urged by lawmakers, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, to follow through with his pledge to recognize the killings as genocide ahead of Saturday.
Biden pledged on the campaign trail to back a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, but it was still possible that diplomatic considerations could cause him to rethink those plans.
According to The Hill, Turkey's foreign minister said ahead of the announcement this week that recognizing the Armenian genocide would harm ties between Washington and Ankara.
Turkey has long resisted the idea that the killings amounted to genocide, saying that both Armenians and Turks lost their lives in war as the Ottoman Empire fell. They also say the number of Armenians killed was 300,000.
The US Congress in 2019 overwhelmingly passed a resolution that lawmakers said recognized the Armenian genocide on behalf of the U.S. government, after Turkey's incursion into northern Syria. Trump did not support the resolution.