Joe Biden Calls Armenian Slaughter ‘Genocide’

U.S.-Turkey relations are in such terrible shape that the president’s statement is just another brick in the structure that is already collapsing. “There hasn’t been a better time for a statement like this,” Karol Wasilewski from the Polish Institute of International Affairs tells Onet, commenting on Joe Biden’s move. According to Father Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zalewski, chaplain of the Armenian community of Poland, it is a “huge, positive surprise.”

On Saturday, Biden called the slaughter of Armenians a genocide. The U.S. president issued this statement on the anniversary of the crime. The announcement speaks of 1.5 million Armenians “deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination.”

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian Genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” the White House said.

For the U.S., it could mean further deterioration of relations with Turkey, which for years has denied that a genocide took place. Turkey’s government maintains that the events of 1915-1917, during which 1.5 million Armenians were killed, were not genocide but the results of war, which led to huge losses on both sides. In Turkey’s opinion, the number of Armenians killed is much lower.

What do people think of Biden’s decision to call the slaughter of the Armenians “genocide?”

Politically, especially for American-Turkish relations, this is a huge event. Biden is the first president since Ronald Reagan to use the term “genocide” to describe the Armenian experience during World War I. As a matter of fact, almost every president promised to do so, yet refrained, knowing that this would strike a huge blow to U.S.-Turkey ties, says Karol Wasilewski, a Turkish analyst from the Polish Institute of International Affairs, in an interview with Onet.

“In the meantime, so many problems have cropped up in those relations that at the moment it is hard to say how to treat the current event. Will it really be so significant, or will the Turks, despite their loud protests, rather simply move on?” the expert wonders.

Biden’s 1st Speech as President

“I expect declarations from the Turkish politicians to their citizens with the emphasis that what Biden said was primarily a political act without any legal significance. The Turks will, of course, claim that this is contrary to historical facts. But looking at the reactions of American experts, there is a prevailing conviction that this is not a huge problem, and even if it is, the Turks cannot afford at this stage to take a too harsh course toward the U.S., since this would be detrimental to the Turkish economy,” Wasilewski explained.

Will Biden’s statement have long-lasting consequences for Turkish-American relations? Relations are already in such bad shape that today’s statement is just another brick in the structure that is already collapsing. “This is why there has never been a better moment for a statement like this,” the expert said.

“Let’s keep in mind that two years ago, the House of Representatives called the slaughter of Armenians ‘genocide’ and did so on Oct. 29, which is the day when Turkey celebrates its most important national holiday — the Day of the Republic. Politically, this was a huge slap in the face. The fact that Biden decided to say that is simply the consequence of the direction in which the relations between the two countries are heading,” Wasilewski added.

“Turkey at the moment doesn’t have friends in Washington anymore. In recent years, it has really done everything in its power to put off Congress,” he stated. One such event that gained a lot of publicity took place during the visit of President Erdogan to Washington, D.C., in 2017, when his security beat up a group of protesting Americans. “Nothing angered Congressmen as much as this.”

“For me this is a huge surprise,” commented the Rev. Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zalewski, a clergyman who works on commemorating the Armenian Genocide. He further reminded us that the representatives of this nation who live in the U.S., especially in California, have appealed to successive presidents to recognize the genocide.

“Even those presidents who were very sympathetic toward the Armenian minority refrained from recognizing the genocide at the decisive moment. I think that it was the result of the situation in the Middle East and the fact that Turkey is no longer as credible. It’s a decision to change a certain political attitude toward Turkey and not a situation in which Biden would be so concerned with historical and moral issues,” Isakowicz-Zaleski pointed out.

But he notes that Biden’s decision “is important for the Armenian diaspora.” Three-fourths of Armenians have lived outside their country since the genocide. The largest clusters are in California, as mentioned above, or France. France and most of the NATO nations have recognized the genocide — except for the U.S., the most important member of the alliance. This has always been painful for the Armenians. “Some Congressmen along with certain communities have spoken out on the genocide, yet Biden did what was missing. This is a positive surprise,” he said.

The clergyman noted that the issue is important not only for Armenians. “Other Christian minorities were also victims of the then Ottoman Empire between 1915-1921, for example, Greeks and Assyrians. This is a very important declaration for the whole Christian world,” he explained.

The clergyman noted that a great majority of countries recognized the genocide, and recalled that the Vatican did so in 2001, and Poland in 2005, when the Polish Parliament passed a resolution a year after erecting a monument to commemorate the victims of the genocide — an Armenian cross, or khachkar, in Krakow near the Church of St. Nicholas.

The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide was committed by the Turks in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, between 1915 and 1917. According to contemporary Turkish estimates, 972,000 people were killed between 1915 and 1917. Earlier, the Turks estimated that 300,000 people were killed, while Armenians claimed the number of victims was 1.5 million.

The Armenian Genocide is the second most thoroughly documented and discussed genocide committed by state authorities on an ethnic group in modern history after the Holocaust.

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