Washington, Apr 24 (EFE).- With the White House release Saturday of a statement describing the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as a result of the policies of Turkey’s then rulers as “genocide,” Joe Biden became the first president of the United States willing to offend the current Turkish government by using the highly freighted word for that horrible episode of World War I.
“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,” reads the statement marking Armenian Remembrance Day.
“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said.
Though Biden warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the content of the statement in a telephone call on Friday, the government in Ankara reacted with anger.
“We entirely reject this statement,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter. “We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice.”
In a subsequent communique, the foreign ministry said that the US had opened “a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.”
Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenian Christian citizens of what was then still the Ottoman Empire died, but vehemently rejects any suggestion that the deaths were due to a deliberate, systematic attempt to eliminate Armenians as a nation.
Many historians, however, regard the 1.5 million deaths that occurred amid the Ottomans’ mass deportation of Armenians from their ancestral lands to Syria as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Some perished from hunger or illness, yet many of the victims were killed outright by Ottoman troops.
More than two-dozen nations have formally designated the events of 2015 as a genocide and a succession of US presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, spoke of doing likewise only to desist out of concerns about damaging ties with NATO ally Turkey.
The US is home to a significant portion of the Armenian diaspora, with the largest concentration being in California.
“Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores,” Biden said in Saturday’s statement.
“We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame, but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” the president said.
Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, extended thanks to Biden on Saturday for what he called a “powerful step on the path of the re-establishment of truth and historical justice.” EFE llb/dr