Biden says 1915 massacres of Armenians constitute genocide

US president makes historic declaration following the 106th anniversary of killings

Armenia marks the 106th anniversary of the 1915 massacres in the capital Yerevan  on Saturday. Photograph: Narek Aleksanyan/EPA

Armenia marks the 106th anniversary of the 1915 massacres in the capital Yerevan on Saturday. Photograph: Narek Aleksanyan/EPA

 

US 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 Mr Biden’s statement. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey “entirely rejects” the US decision, which he said was based “solely on populism”, while the opposition denounced it as a “major mistake”.

Mr 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 US president.

In his statement, Mr Biden said the American people honour “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,” Mr Biden said. “We honour 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.”

Pursue reconciliation

A senior administration official told reporters that Washington continued to see Turkey as a critical Nato ally and was encouraging Armenia and Turkey to pursue reconciliation.

For decades, measures recognising the Armenian genocide stalled in the US Congress and most US presidents have refrained from calling it that, stymied by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara. Ronald Reagan, the former US president from California, a hub for the Armenian diaspora in the United States, had been the only US 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 the first World War, 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 sombre 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 Mr Biden’s “principled stand. . . pivots America toward the justice deserved and the security required for the future of the Armenian nation”. – Reuters