President Joe Biden upheld a promise he made on the campaign trail, and became the first President to formally recognize the systematic killing and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenias by the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the 20th century.
Biden used the term “genocide,” to describe and recognize that the events that took place between 1915 and 1923, and acknowledged it was a deliberate attempt to wipe out Armenians.
In a statement released by the White House, Biden was specific, articulating what Armenians have been waiting decades for. “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”
Every previous President has refrained from formally recognizing what happened for one reason; the fear of upsetting Turkey, which is a NATO ally and powerful presence in the Middle East.
On Friday, Biden reached out to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, and told him he would be issuing this statement on Saturday according to the Associated Press.
After Biden made the statement Saturday morning, the Foreign Minister of Turkey criticized it in a tweet. ”Words cannot change history or rewrite it. We will not be given lessons on our history from anyone. Political opportunism is the biggest betrayal of peace and justice. We completely reject this statement that is based on populism. #1915Events”
Biden said during the campaign that officially recognizing the genocide was important, because not calling what happened to Armenians would pave the way for future mass atrocities. It is believed to have begun on April 24, 1915, when Armenian leaders in Turkey were detained, deported and killed. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed, and others were forced from their homes, having to march into the Syrian desert, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands more.
An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed and 2 million were deported during the events that are know as Metz Yeghern.
On Saturday, huge crowds in Armenia turned out in the capital city to memorialize the victims, Creating a seven foot wall of flowers.
The decision by Biden is a huge victory for Armenians living in the United States, most notably in Glendale and other areas of Southern California. For decades they fought for this recognition, but were disappointed continuously by past Presidents, more concerned about angering Turkey.