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In historic move, Biden says 1915 massacres of Armenians constitute genocide

WorldApr 24, 2021 05:53PM ET
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4/4 © Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden departs from Washington 2/4

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a historic declaration that infuriated Turkey and further strained frayed ties between the two NATO allies.

The largely symbolic move, breaking away from decades of carefully calibrated language from the White House, was welcomed by the Armenian diaspora in the United States, but comes at a time when Ankara and Washington grapple with deep policy disagreements over a host of issues.

Turkey's government and most of the opposition showed rare unity in their rejection of Biden's statement. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey "entirely rejects" the U.S. decision which he said was based "solely on populism", while the opposition denounced it as a "major mistake".

Biden's message was met with "great enthusiasm" by the people of Armenia and Armenians worldwide, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote in a letter to the U.S. president.

In his statement, Biden said the American people honor "all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today."

"Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history," Biden said. "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."

In comments that sought to soften the blow, a senior administration official told reporters that Washington continued to see Turkey as critical NATO ally and was encouraging Armenia and Turkey to pursue reconciliation.

For decades, measures recognizing the Armenian genocide stalled in the U.S. Congress and most U.S. presidents have refrained from calling it that, stymied by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara. Ronald Reagan, the former U.S. president from California, a hub for the Armenian diaspora in the United States, had been the only U.S. president to publicly call the killings genocide.

Turkey accepts 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 the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.

In Montebello, California, a city in Los Angeles County that is home to many Armenian-Americans, members of the community held a small and somber ceremony during which they placed a cross made of flowers at a monument to the victims. Some attendees wore pins reading "genocide denied genocide repeated."

Raffi Hamparian, chairman of Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement that Biden's "principled stand ... pivots America toward the justice deserved and the security required for the future of the Armenian nation."

'RELATIONS ALREADY IN SHAMBLES'

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.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over issues ranging from Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems - over which it was the target of U.S. sanctions - to policy differences in Syria, human rights and a court case targeting Turkey's majority state-owned Halkbank.

Biden's declaration follows a non-binding resolution by the U.S. Senate adopted unanimously in 2019 recognizing the killings as genocide.

Previous U.S. presidents have abandoned campaign promises to recognize the Armenian genocide for fear of damaging U.S.-Turkish relations, said Nicholas Danforth, non-resident fellow for The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.

"With relations already in shambles, there was nothing to stop Biden from following through," said Danforth. "Ankara has no allies left in the US government to lobby against this and Washington isn't worried whether it angers Turkey anymore."

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan had established a close bond with former U.S. President Donald Trump, but since Biden took over, Washington has grown more vocal about Turkey's human rights track record. It has also stood firm on its demand that Ankara get rid of the Russian defense systems.

Biden had also delayed having a telephone conversation with Erdogan until Friday -- seen largely as a cold shoulder to the Turkish president -- when he informed him of his decision to recognize the massacres as genocide.

Despite the tense relations, Erdogan and Biden are due to meet in June on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels.

Saturday's announcement was slammed by the Turkish government and several opposition politicians. Faik Oztrak, spokesman for the main opposition Republican People's Party, said "it will open wounds that will be difficult to repair not only on U.S.-Turkey ties but also on a potential compromise between the people of Armenia and Turkey."

The U.S. Embassy in Turkey said its missions in the country would be closed on Monday and Tuesday for visa services due to the possibility of protests.

In historic move, Biden says 1915 massacres of Armenians constitute genocide
 

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Comments (16)
Catholic Man
CatholicMan Apr 25, 2021 2:17AM ET
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Cool, now do abortion.
Anthony Anthony
Anthony Anthony Apr 24, 2021 11:14PM ET
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Did he get a stroke in his brain?
Engin Rençber
Engin Rençber Apr 24, 2021 10:49PM ET
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whats happened to aztechs, mayans and indians?
Ab In
AI03 Apr 24, 2021 10:49PM ET
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vietnam, korea, afghanistan, japan, iraq, ...
Ab In
AI03 Apr 24, 2021 10:37PM ET
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Who accuse turkey of genocide doing america4 million in vietnam3 million in korea1 million in cambodia and laos1.5 million in afghanistan1 million in iraq350 thousand in hiroshima and nagasakialso killed 15 million indians..
Rick Baier
Rick Baier Apr 24, 2021 9:53PM ET
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joel hauser, setting thumbs down record. I believe it's time to deal with your past
John Wim
John Wim Apr 24, 2021 8:41PM ET
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Do you think Biden can remember what he is talking about?
Silence Dogood
Silence Dogood Apr 24, 2021 7:07PM ET
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The vegetable in chief is an im-be-cile..
Silence Dogood
Silence Dogood Apr 24, 2021 7:06PM ET
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War is not genocide.
John Miller
John Miller Apr 24, 2021 7:06PM ET
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so was the holocaust simply war too?
Silence Dogood
Silence Dogood Apr 24, 2021 7:06PM ET
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John Miller  Feeble attempt from a liberal.. sad. The Ottoman Empire was being attacked by a coalition including Britain and Russia. They were losing badly. The Armenian population which had lived in peace for generations there openly sided and supported the enemy forces. We’re they fairly defeated / eliminated? Nope. Was it war? Yep. The Holocaust occurred 25 years later when rules did exist. WWI was the last war without rules. When a ethnic subset of your population side with the invaders taking your country.. bad things are gonna happen.. and it did.
Catholic Man
CatholicMan Apr 24, 2021 6:52PM ET
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LOL, “historic”
Amon Inv
Amon Inv Apr 24, 2021 6:39PM ET
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Drive through Glendale and you'll see why it should happen again. Biden is insane
Joel Hauser
Joel Hauser Apr 24, 2021 4:40PM ET
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Rapture awaiting evangelical hicks supporting trump should be ashamed they did nothing when armenians were getting slaughtered by azerbaijan with support by mr.Putin.Jesus Christ would never approve of republicans.
Joel Hauser
Joel Hauser Apr 24, 2021 4:33PM ET
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The people of Armenia are devout Christians and so is President Joe Biden.Armenians will be ever grateful to him. God bless the President.
YouTube Account
YouTube Account Apr 24, 2021 4:33PM ET
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Joe says that none of the Commandments are absolute, so I'm not really sure how "devout" he is.
Catholic Man
CatholicMan Apr 24, 2021 4:33PM ET
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LOL, joe is no Catholic.
Ivan Delgadillo
Ivan Delgadillo Apr 24, 2021 4:32PM ET
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everything is "historic" right
Water Bender
Water Bender Apr 24, 2021 4:03PM ET
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The Basement Boy admin is only trying to stir up hate and dissension everywhere.
Chris Sundo
Chris Sundo Apr 24, 2021 4:03PM ET
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Disagree! You must be a Trump cult member driven to comment more by trying to force building a Trump sentiment than acknowledging the truth. -- You don't seem to get the purpose he's doing the acknowledgment for, a far greater purpose than rehashing the past. -- Goes to show again how SHORT-SIGHTED Trump fans are
جمشید سیاهی
جمشید سیاهی Apr 24, 2021 4:03PM ET
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gamshin
جمشید سیاهی
جمشید سیاهی Apr 24, 2021 4:03PM ET
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@.²1245à1
Catholic Man
CatholicMan Apr 24, 2021 3:55PM ET
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Actually, many historians say that wjile it was a horrible thing, it was not genocide. I doubt joe is aware of the subject matter.
Catholic Man
CatholicMan Apr 24, 2021 3:40PM ET
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This is what biden is focused on, the thing we’ve know about for a century?
Chris Sundo
Chris Sundo Apr 24, 2021 3:40PM ET
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Like Water Bender commenter above you seem clued out on the deeper purpose of Joe Biden's message.
Catholic Man
CatholicMan Apr 24, 2021 3:40PM ET
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yawn
 
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