President Biden Recognizes Armenian Genocide
President Biden announced today that the United States would officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, or the targeted persecution of the Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) during World War One.
President Biden announced today that the United States would recognize the Armenian Genocide, which began 106 years ago today during the height of World War I. The United States now joins 31 other nations, mostly in Europe, who have recognized the persecution of the Armenian minority of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide. The genocide lasted for around two years and as many as 1,5 million Armenians perished during the systematic campaign to remove them from the Ottoman Empire. Outlining the events surrounding the Genocide, President Biden said:
“Beginning on 24 April 1915 with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination.”
The genocide followed a system of operation similar to that of the Holocaust, with victims being forced on death marches and then interred in concentration camps, before dying of starvation, malnutrition, or worked to death. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire joined the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary, known as the Central Powers. As the tide of the war turned against the Central Powers and Ottoman military defeats stacked up, politicians in Istanbul (then still known by its ancient name of Constantinople), blamed defeats on “Armenian treachery” and looked for a solution to the “Armenian Question”. The Armenians themselves were targeted for many reasons, including their perceived cooperation with Russian and Persian forces, who hoped to lead an invasion of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians had been living under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and hoped to achieve independence for their homeland, a hope which was finally achieved only with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The issue of recognition of the genocide has often been political, as many countries with close ties to Turkey have demurred from recognizing the genocide, which the Turkish government has at various times called a fabrication or an exaggeration and not based in historical fact. Due to Armenia’s much smaller role on international politics compared to the key ally of Turkey, it has been difficult for Armenia’s leaders to persuade the world to recognize the Genocide. Turkey has often warned smaller nations against recognizing the Genocide and has protested against efforts to properly commemorate the events surrounding the Genocide. Turkey has maintained the position that the deportation of Armenians from their lands in the Ottoman Empire was a rightful act of internal politics during wartime.
Turkish politicians responded to the recognition by the United States with protest. The Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Turkey released the following official statement online in response to President Biden’s actions, according to The Guardian:
“It is clear that the said statement does not have a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence. This statement … will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship. We call on the US president to correct this grave mistake.”
Turkey has been a longtime ally of Western countries and was seen as an effective deterrent first to Soviet aggression and later to Islamic Extremism, but the continuing trend towards autocracy by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as Turkey’s attempts to grow its sphere of influence in Syria and the Aegean Sea has led to a rift in relations between Turkey and their NATO partners, as Turkey has improved their relationship with Russia and China in recent years. The announcement today by President Biden will surely grow this rift in relations, as both NATO and Turkey begin to reconsider their strategic alliance with each other. With a majority of the United States’ allies already recognizing the Armenian Genocide, it is unclear if the announcement today by President Biden will persuade other countries to follow suit with the United States.