White House: Biden, Erdogan agree to meet at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in June

Alonzo Simpson
April 25, 2021

President Joe Biden on Saturday plans to follow through on a campaign pledge to formally recognize that atrocities committed against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago in modern-day Turkey were genocide, according to USA officials familiar with the president's deliberations.

Biden became the first United States president to use the word genocide in a statement on the anniversary, a day after informing Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the decision and seeking to limit the furor from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally.

Lawmakers and Armenian American activists have lobbied Biden to make the genocide announcement on or before Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which presidents typically mark with a proclamation.

The politician noted that the recognition was made 'so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms'.

The statement is a victory for Armenia and its extensive diaspora.

Starting with Uruguay in 1965, nations including France, Germany, Canada and Russian Federation have recognised the genocide but a USA statement has been a paramount goal that proved elusive under other presidents until Biden.

Saturday's move by Biden fulfilled a 2020 campaign promise by the Democrat to Armenian-Americans, but risks pushing Turkey further into Russia's orbit.

Israel's Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid praised the move, saying that it is "an important moral statement by President Biden".

Across the world, "people are beginning to acknowledge and address and grapple with the painful historical facts in their own countries".

"If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs", he said.

Member of the European Parliament Manfred Weber (EPP Group) has called on Turkey to face history and fully recognize the reality of the Genocide.

Biden's declaration follows a non-binding resolution by the U.S. Senate adopted unanimously in 2019 recognizing the killings as genocide.

"We will not take lessons from anyone on our history", he tweeted.

"Nobody benefits from the debates - which should be held by historians - being politicised by third parties and becoming an instrument of interference in our country", Erdogan wrote.

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In the Armenian capital Yerevan, Taline Nourian, 41, said her people have been waiting for this moment for years.

Cavusoglu's foreign ministry struck a more strident tone. US presidents for decades have acknowledged Remembrance Day to mark the events of 1915 to 1923 but have avoided using the term "genocide" to sidestep alienating Turkey.

"It is clear that the said statement does not have a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence", it said.

The word "genocide" carries a particular stigma under global law, which defines it as the injuring or forcible removal of people with "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

"In 1915, 1.5 million of Armenians lost their lives in the massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire", he said in a vide message.

Armenian populations were rounded up and deported into the desert of Syria on death marches in which many were shot, poisoned or fell victim to disease, according to accounts at the time by foreign diplomats. "Affirmation of the Armenian Genocide enhances America's credibility and recommits the United States to the worldwide cause of genocide prevention", said Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.

Recognition has been a top priority for the Armenia and Armenian-Americans, with calls for compensation and property restoration over what they call Meds Yeghern - the Great Crime.

The much anticipated phone call took place more than three months after Biden's January 20 inauguration, a delay that is widely seen as a cold shoulder to Erdogan, who had enjoyed close ties with former president Donald Trump. The two also agreed to a bilateral meeting at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels in June.

A White House statement on the phone call said only that Biden urged a "constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements".

"We wanted it before Biden", she told AFP.

"We've seen through experience that concern about Turkey's reaction was always overblown", he said.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over issues ranging from Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems - over which it was the target of US sanctions - to policy differences in Syria, human rights and a court case targeting Turkey's majority state-owned Halkbank. In 2014, when he was vice president, Biden apologized to Erdogan after suggesting in a speech that Turkey helped facilitate the rise of the Islamic State group by allowing foreign fighters to cross Turkey's border with Syria.

Biden, during the campaign, drew ire from Turkish officials after an interview with The New York Times in which he spoke about supporting Turkey's opposition against "autocrat" Erdogan.

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