US president Joe Biden has formally recognised the systematic killings and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Empire forces in the early 20th century as “genocide”.
Mr Biden used a term for the atrocities that his White House predecessors have avoided for decades amid concerns over alienating Turkey.
With the acknowledgement, the American leader followed through on a campaign promise he made a year ago on the annual commemoration of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day to recognise that the events of 1915 to 1923 were a deliberate effort to wipe out Armenians.
Mr Biden used a presidential proclamation to make the pronouncement.
“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to prevent such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” the president said in the statement. “And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world. The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”
The Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement: “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.”
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted that “words cannot change history or rewrite it” and that Turkey “completely rejected” Mr Biden’s statement.
Minutes before Mr Biden’s announcement, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to the Armenian community and patriarch of the Armenian church, saying that “the culture of coexistence of Turks and Armenians” should not be allowed to be forgotten.
He said the issue has been “politicised by third parties and turned into a tool of intervention against our country”.
Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan called Mr Biden’s recognition “a powerful step”, saying that it “reaffirms the supremacy of human rights and values in international relations”.
He added: “From this point of view, it is an inspiring and inspiring example for all who want to build a just and tolerant international society together.”
And Mr Pashinyan said in a message to Mr Biden: “I highly appreciate your principled position, which is a powerful step towards the restoration of truth and historical justice, invaluable support to the descendants of the victims of the Armenian genocide.”
Turkey vehemently rejects the genocide label, conceding that many died in that era, but insisting that the death toll is inflated and the deaths resulted from civil unrest.
The Ottoman Empire undertook the genocide against Armenians beginning in 1915, a policy which continued during the initial years of the Republic of Turkey. It is estimated that at least 1.5 million Armenian Christians were killed or displaced from present-day Turkey, forcing many Armenians to resettle elsewhere and causing large Armenian populations to grow across the world, such as in California.
More recently, Turkey supported Azerbaijan’s aggressions against Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Azerbaijani troops alongside Turkish-paid Syrian mercenaries invaded the region and took control after a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement in December. Evidence of violence against Armenian civilians and destruction of religious sites during this conflict suggests some religious and ethnic hatred towards Armenian Christians still held by many, reminiscent of the genocide over a century ago.
International Christian Concern´s Advocacy Director, Matias Perttula, welcomed the statement by the president, saying: “We at ICC commend President Biden for standing up to Turkey with this designation. Armenian Christians continue to suffer because of the systematic Ottoman campaign of 1915, and the United States owes it to the Armenian community to stand with them in solidarity by recognizing their suffering. As heirs to the oldest Christian nation, Armenians are an integral part of the global community of Christians and ought to enjoy freedom from persecution.”
Additional reporting by Press Association