U.S. President Joe Biden recognizes the massacre of the Armenians as genocide — and is willing to risk a souring of relations with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The world will have to get used to it: The White House is henceforth going to call things as they are.
With the recognition of the massacre of the Armenians as genocide, the United States is acting in remarkably consequential fashion in more than one way. First, Joe Biden fulfills his campaign pledge from one year ago. Second, he follows up on what Congress had done in 2019 already: Back then, both chambers recognized the atrocities as genocide — and in a rare consensus at that (only a dozen Republicans voted against it). Third, the United States is following the example of other politically enlightened states, among them Germany, which have already declared the killing of approximately 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a genocide.
Just as in his dealing with Russia and Saudi Arabia, Biden breaks with his predecessor’s strange fondness for the autocrats of several countries. Donald Trump always used to flatter Erdogan (“I’m a big fan of the president”). Biden, on the other hand, is risking a further worsening of American-Turkish relations with his straight talk regarding the Armenian genocide. It will be interesting to see how the meeting of the two presidents at the NATO summit in Brussels in June plays out.
The White House is following the realization that politics begins with observing reality. It acknowledges that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is in fact a poisoning. It recognizes China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority as genocide (as did Trump’s secretary of state on the penultimate day of his tenure).
With his statement regarding the Armenian genocide, Biden also puts an end to an undignified American maneuver. Bill Clinton once prevented Congress from recognizing the genocide in order not to offend Turkey. Barack Obama broke his campaign promise to acknowledge the genocide. Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama urged the European Union to accept Turkey as a full member, fortunately without success. The last U.S. presidents generally pursued a policy of appeasement toward Ankara. This, it seems, is now changing.