Biden’s Recognition of Armenian Genocide Pleases Christians but Angers Mostly-Muslim Turkey

The systematic killing and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Empire forces in the early 20th century was “genocide,” the United States formally declared on Saturday, as President Joe Biden used that precise word after the White House had avoided it for decades for fear of alienating ally Turkey.

Turkey reacted with furor, with the foreign minister saying his country “will not be given lessons on our history from anyone.” A grateful Armenia said it appreciated Biden’s “principled position” as a step toward “the restoration of truth and historical justice.”

Biden was following through on a campaign promise he made a year ago Saturday—the annual commemoration of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day—to recognize that the events that began in 1915 were a deliberate effort to wipe out Armenians.

While previous presidents have offered somber reflections of the dark moment in history, they have studiously avoided using the term genocide out of concern that it would complicate relations with Turkey, a NATO ally and important power in the Middle East.

But Biden campaigned on a promise to make human rights a central guidepost of his foreign policy. He argued last year that failing to call the atrocities against the Armenian people a genocide would pave the way for future mass atrocities. An estimated 2 million Armenians were deported and 1.5 million were killed in the events known as Metz Yeghern.

“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said in a statement. “We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Rene Leonian, president of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Eurasia, told CT he “salutes the courage” of the US president.

“Biden will open a new page for the American nation. This new page will also allow other countries to follow his example,” he said. “I deeply hope that in the future, the Turkish State will do an in-depth work collectively with its own people, to acknowledge the guilt of the Turkish authorities of 1915.”

“In a Christian spirit, reconciliation is possible when the culprit recognizes his fault, regrets, and asks for forgiveness,” Leonian told CT. “What is impossible for men is possible for God! I believe that through prayer, patience, and perseverance, we will get there.”

Paul Haidostian, president of evangelical Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon, told CT he found Biden’s word choice to be “gratifying.”

“Late recognition is naturally better than no recognition,” he said. “However, for me the use of the term genocide in a statement is not a simple sound bite. It is a commitment to justice, and those who have recognized genocide as a historical fact must know that this is not a posthumous medal on a coffin; rather, a commitment for pursuing the matter in various ways, academic, political, curricular, economic, etc.”

Haidostian described how he has expected a US pronouncement every year of his adult life, as has the wider Armenian diaspora.

“Having to wait year after year for 106 years, for presidents or parliaments of countries of the world to remember and call the atrocities in the proper way, has been painful and has represented the defeat of a sense of justice in the face of political strategy,” he told CT. “Armenian advocacy is not a political act or maneuver. It is the voice of the Armenian heart that has ached for so long.”

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a letter to Biden that recognition of the genocide “is important not only in terms of respecting the memory of 1.5 million innocent victims, but also in preventing the repetition of such crimes.”

Turkish officials struck back immediately.

“We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the US regarding the events of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted that “words cannot change history or rewrite it” and Turkey “completely rejected” Biden’s statement.

Minutes before Biden’s announcement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to the Armenian community and patriarch of the Armenian church calling for not allowing “the culture of coexistence of Turks and Armenians … to be forgotten.” He said the issue has been “politicized by third parties and turned into a tool of intervention against our country.”

The U.S. Embassy and consulates in Turkey issued a demonstration alert, and announced their offices would be closed for routine services on Monday and Tuesday as a “precautionary measure.” They cautioned Americans to avoid areas around U.S. government buildings and exercise caution in locations where foreigners gather.

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Source: Christianity Today