US President Joe Biden yesterday enraged his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottomans a “genocide.” The term, never before used by a White House tenant, was a watershed act for the descendants of the hundreds of thousands of dead, as it defies decades of pressure from Ankara.
“We remember the lives of all those who died in the Armenian genocide of the Ottoman era and we pledge again to prevent such atrocity from happening again,” said Biden, who had informed Erdogan a day earlier that he would do so, in a attempt to appease the expected rejection of the NATO ally.
Despite making it clear Biden that his message was not intended to “blame”, but to ensure that “what happened is never repeated,” Erdogan immediately lashed out at what he interpreted as a serious offense. “It benefits no one that the debates – which historians should carry out – are politicized by third parties and become an instrument of interference in our country,” he said in a message to the Armenian patriarch in Istanbul.
Equally forceful was the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu. Words cannot change or rewrite history. We will not accept lessons from anyone about our history, “he said in a tweet published moments after the US president’s statement.
Despite the tensions generated with Ankara, Biden’s declaration is a great victory for Armenia and its extensive diaspora. Since Uruguay in 1965, countries like France, Germany, Canada, and Russia have acknowledged genocide, but the US never went to this extreme. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1917 by the Ottoman Empire, which suspected that the Christian minority conspired with the Russian adversary in World War I.