24th of April 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden has recognized the Armenian mass killing in World War I as genocide on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, leading to a strained relationship between Turkey and the United States.
In his speech on Saturday, Biden stated “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.“
The recognition comes 106 years after the beginning of the mass deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. Forced deportations and massacres between 1915-1918, led to the deaths of up to 1.5 million people. The killing was carried out as the Ottoman empire was collapsing, and Turkey’s modern state was being established.
The U.S.-congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated that the statement was long overdue and that “Truth-telling and full acknowledgment of injustice can be one of the most important steps towards healing.”
According to the Armenian National Institute, the United States are now part of 30 countries that have recognized the Armenian genocide. Armenians have been long fighting for recognition of the killings as a genocide. Therefore, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan welcomed Biden’s statement by tweeting “the U.S. has once again demonstrated its unwavering commitment to protecting human rights and universal values.” Also, diverse activists stated that the fight for justice was recognized and will be passed on to the next generation.
President Biden’s statement was discussed controversially because of potential fallouts in the relationship with Turkey. Turkey has acknowledged that many Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were killed during the first world war but denies that the killings were systematically organized and should be characterized as genocide. U.S. presidents have long time prevented using the word “genocide“ in the context of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, due to the relationship with Turkey. The U.S. did not want to complicate the relationship between Ankara and Washington, due to Turkey’s importance as a Nato-Member and a key partner in the fight against the ISIS.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry rejected the statement by saying that “This statement of the U.S., which distorts the historical facts, will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people, and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.” Moreover, Turkey summoned U.S. ambassador, David Satterfield over recognition of genocide underlining that Biden’s statement had harmed the relationship between Turkey and the United States. Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish political scientist, said the recognition of the genocide would be a key moment in relations between Ankara and Washington but said economic factors may force Turkey to downplay the impact of the declaration, which was previously considered an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Turkey as a modern state. In this context, President Biden’s statement signals the prioritization of human rights despite potential fallout in the U.S. relationship with Turkey.
Overall the recognition of genocide is an important step towards peace, by remembering history and acknowledging the people that were and are still affected.