U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to formally recognize the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War One as an act of genocide, according to Reuters.
Biden is likely going to use the word “genocide” as part of a statement on April 24 when annual commemorations for the victims are held around the world, three sources familiar with the matter told the news agency.
“My understanding is that he took the decision and will use the word genocide in his statement on Saturday,” said a source familiar with the matter. Sources cautioned that given the importance of bilateral ties with Turkey, Biden may still choose not to use the term at the last minute, Reuters reports.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday told reporters the White House would likely have “more to say” about the issue on Saturday, but declined to elaborate.
In the event he actually uses this language, Biden would become the first US president to recognize the systematic killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 onward in modern-day Turkey as a “genocide,” a step already taken by the US Senate and the House of Representatives in 2019.
A year ago, while still a presidential candidate, Biden commemorated the 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children who lost their lives in the final years of the Ottoman Empire and said he would back efforts to recognize those killings as a genocide.
“Today, we remember the atrocities faced by the Armenian people in the Metz Yeghern — the Armenian Genocide. If elected, I pledge to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide and will make universal human rights a top priority,” he said on Twitter at the time.
Turkey issues warning on Armenian Genocide
The move is likely to infuriate Turkey and further strain the already frayed ties between the two NATO allies.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that any move by Biden to recognize the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as a genocide will “harm ties.”
“Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties,” Cavusoglu said. “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” he said.
Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems – over which it was the target of U.S. sanctions – to policy differences in Syria, human rights and legal matters.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan established a close bond with former U.S. President Donald Trump, but he has yet to speak to Biden since he became President on Jan. 20.
Turkey accepts the fact that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
The atrocities started with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople in 1915 and continued with a centralized program of deportations, murder, pillage and rape until 1923.
Ordinary Armenians were then driven from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.
Ottoman death squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1923 from a population of two million in 1914. Turkey estimates the total number of deaths to be 300,000.
The Armenian Genocide was an atrocity which occurred within the context of a wider religious cleansing across Asia Minor that lasted ten years and included Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. They were all Christians who were also subjects of the Ottoman Empire at the time.