US President Joe Biden kept a campaign promise on Saturday, saying massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a move vehemently denounced by Turkey amid frayed ties between the two NATO allies.
Biden used the weighty word “genocide” in his statement, after giving a heads up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the US commander in chief saying the move was meant to 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 ... 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," Biden said.
Political pundits said Washington’s move was largely symbolic and not unexpected, as last year then-candidate Biden commemorated Armenians 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.”
A number of countries have recognized the Armenian atrocities as genocide, including the Republic of Cyprus which became the first European nation to pass a resolution in 1975
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One. But Ankara contests the 1.5 million figure and further denies killings were either systematically orchestrated or constituted a genocide.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu took to Twitter saying “words cannot change or rewrite history.”
Cavusoglu also said Biden’s statement was “based solely on populism.”
“We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice,” Cavusoglu wrote.
Turkey's presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also took to Twitter to “advise the US President to look at (his country's) own past and present."
Biden’s historic statement came following a 2019 non-binding unanimous resolution passed by the US Senate in favor of recognizing the killings as genocide. Multiple attempts had been blocked prior to the vote citing concerns over the resolution and US ties with Turkey.
Ankara has previously called for a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia as well as international experts to tackle the issue.
Over two dozen countries have recognized the Armenian atrocities as genocide, including the Republic of Cyprus which became the first European nation to pass a resolution back on 24 April 1975.
In 2015, the Cypriot parliament also passed a law criminalizing denial of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, essentially modifying existing legislation that required prior conviction by an international court to make denial a crime.