According to US officials familiar with the president’s deliberations, President Joe Biden expects to follow through on a campaign promise to officially recognize the Ottoman Empire’s massacres against the Armenian people more than a century ago in modern-day Turkey as genocide on Saturday.
On Friday, Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in advance of his decision to use the word genocide to identify the killings and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in a presidential declaration commemorating Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
Presidents of the United States have recognized Remembrance Day to commemorate the events of 1915 to 1923 for decades but have avoided using the word “genocide” to avoid alienating Turkey.
Following Friday’s call, the US and Turkish governments issued separate statements that made no mention of the American plan to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Biden told Erdogan, according to the White House, that he wants to strengthen the two countries relationship and find a way to “manage conflicts effectively.”
They have decided to meet at the NATO summit in Brussels in June for a bilateral meeting.
As a nominee, Biden promised to accept the Armenian genocide as genocide, claiming that “silence is complicity.”
According to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to explain Biden’s deliberations and plans, Biden decided to meet with Erdogan before making the formal acknowledgment.
The two leaders spoke for the first time on Friday since Biden took office more than three months ago.
In Ankara, the delay had become a troubling sign; Erdogan had a strong relationship with former President Donald Trump and had hoped for a fresh start considering his past disagreements with Biden.
Erdogan reiterated his long-held argument that the United States is helping Kurdish fighters in Syria who are linked to the Iraq-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
Turkey has conducted military operations against PKK enclaves in northern Iraq and US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters in recent years.
The US State Department has classified the PKK as a terrorist entity, but Turkey has objected to the group’s links to Syrian Kurds.
According to a Turkish government statement, Erdogan also expressed concern about cleric Fethullah Gulen’s involvement in the United States, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt.
Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s, claims he has little to do with the coup.
During the vote, Biden attracted the wrath of Turkish officials after speaking about supporting Turkey’s opposition to “autocrat” Erdogan in an interview with The New York Times.
Following Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for a Turkish military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish party, Biden accused Trump of betraying US allies in 2019.
Biden apologized to Erdogan in 2014, when he was vice president, for implying in a speech that Turkey aided the emergence of the Islamic State group by encouraging foreign fighters to cross Turkey’s border with Syria.
Biden has been urged by lawmakers and Armenian American activists to make the genocide announcement on or before Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which presidents usually commemorate with a proclamation.
The acknowledgment of genocide will resonate outside Armenia, according to Salpi Ghazarian, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Armenian Studies, because Biden has stated that respect for human rights would be a core concept in his foreign policy.
“For decades, the American commitment to universal human values has been challenged both within and outside the United States,” she said. “It is important for people around the world to maintain hope and confidence that America’s aspirational ideals are still valid, and that we can, in reality, accomplish multiple goals at once. We should continue to trade and have other relationships with countries while also emphasizing that a country cannot get away with killing its own citizens.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Biden administration earlier this week that recognition would “harm” US-Turkish ties.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, refused to comment on Biden’s decision on Friday.
- President Joe Biden: AP