Joe Biden recognized the Armenian genocide on Saturday. He became the first President of the United States to qualify the death of 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 in this way.
His Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately reacted by denouncing “the politicization by third parties” of this debate. Turkey has “no lesson to receive from anyone on its history,” said its Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Armenian genocide is recognized by more than twenty countries and many historians but it is vigorously contested by Turkey. In Switzerland, only the National Council recognized it.
“We affirm history”
“Americans honor all Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Joe Biden wrote in a statement (read here). “We affirm history. We are not doing this to overwhelm anyone but to make sure that what happened never happens again, ”he added.
The Democratic president, who had promised during his electoral campaign to take the initiative on this issue, informed his Turkish counterpart on Friday of his decision during a telephone conversation. The two leaders agreed to meet in June on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels.
On the phone with the Turkish president, the tenant of the White House expressed his desire to build a “constructive bilateral relationship”, according to the brief American report which evokes the need for “effective management of disagreements”.
“Honor the victims”
It is “to honor the victims, not to overwhelm anyone”, insisted an American official, on condition of anonymity. “We continue to consider Turkey as a crucial ally within NATO,” she added. Without citing the United States, the Turkish president had sent a thinly veiled warning to Washington on Thursday. During a meeting with advisers, he warned that he would continue to “defend the truth against those who support the lie of the so-called ‘Armenian genocide’ (…) for political ends”.
Despite years of pressure from the Armenian community in the United States, no American president has so far dared to anger Ankara.
Recognition of Congress
The American Congressin a symbolic vote, but President Donald Trump, who had fairly good relations with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refused to use the word, speaking only of “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century”.
Armenians estimate that a million and a half of theirs were systematically killed during World War I by troops from the Ottoman Empire, then allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. They commemorate this genocide every year on April 24.
Turkey, resulting from the dismantling of the empire in 1920, recognizes massacres but rejects the term genocide, evoking a civil war in Anatolia, coupled with a famine, in which 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks have found the death.
“We must never forget or remain silent on this horrible and systematic campaign of extermination”, stressed Joe Biden during his campaign.
“If we do not fully recognize the genocide, if we do not commemorate it, if we do not teach it, the words ‘never again’ mean nothing,” he added.
Joe Biden’s announcement will not have legal effect, but it can only worsen tensions with a Turkey that the head of the American diplomacy Antony Blinken described as “so-called strategic partner” which “by many aspects does not behave like an ally ”.
The Democratic president claims to want to put the defense of human rights at the heart of his foreign policy. His government has confirmed the accusation of “genocide” made in the last days of Donald Trump’s presidency against China for the repression of Uyghur Muslims.