Joe Biden expected to recognise massacre of Armenians as genocide

Move on anniversary of killing of estimated 1.5m civilians indicative of strained Turkey relations

Joe Biden is expected to recognise the Armenian genocide, becoming the first US president to formally designate as such the killings that occurred more than a century ago.

Though Ronald Reagan referred to the genocide in passing in a statement in 1981, successive US presidents have stopped short of using the description, despite promises from Democratic presidents to do so.

Mr Biden is expected to make the announcement to coincide with Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day on Saturday.

The attacks by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people that began during the first World War loom large in the collective memory of Armenian-Americans, who appear poised to secure a long called-for genocide designation from the US government.

Turkey is strongly opposed to the move.

The decision by the Biden administration is indicative of the current tensions between Washington and Ankara. Though a Nato ally, Turkey's decision to buy a military defence system from Russia has deepened tensions between the two countries. The US sanctioned Turkey for its purchase of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system late last year. Mr Biden has yet to speak to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, more than three months since his inauguration.


Former US ambassador to the United Nations and incoming head of USAid Samantha Power, who wrote a Pulitzer-prize winning book on genocide, welcomed the decision. Noting that Armenians and member of the Armenian diaspora had been pushing the for the recognition by the US of the genocide "for an eternity", she said they had promised survivors, parents and grandparents to fight the denial and "never gave up".

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress wrote to Mr Biden urging him to officially recognise the genocide.

"On April 24th, the world will mark the 106th anniversary of the first days of the Armenian Genocide, the systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, and the displacement of many more. Yet for decades, while leaders around the world recognise the first genocide of the 20th Century, the President of the United States has remained silent," the letter states. "We join with the proud Armenian American community and all of those who support truth and justice in asking that you clearly and directly recognise the Armenian Genocide in your April 24th statement."

Separately, the US House of Representatives voted on Thursday to grant statehood to Washington DC, the latest effort to give the capital city full representation in Congress. However, the proposal to create a 51st state faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it faces widespread Republican opposition.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent