In a move likely to antagonize restive NATO ally Turkey, President Joe Biden is expected to formally label the massacre of Armenians in World War I as genocide, according to a report Thursday.
According to Reuters, Biden will release a statement about the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, the precursor to the current Turkish state, on Saturday as the world recognizes Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
Biden will be the first president since Ronald Reagan to use the term “genocide” in reference to the deaths of Armenians during World War I.
— Armenian Genocide (@Genocideof1915) July 6, 2020
Foreign Minister Ara Aivazian of Armenia told The New York Times that “the recognition by the United States will be a kind of moral beacon to many countries.”
“This is not about Armenia and Turkey. This is about our obligation to recognize and condemn the past, present and future genocide,” he said Wednesday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saw things differently.
“Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties,” he said Tuesday, according to Reuters. “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs.”
An estimated 1.5 million people died during the campaign of the Muslim Ottoman overlords against the Christian Armenian minority.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former President Donald Trump hammered out a working relationship, but Erdogan has yet to speak with Biden since Biden took office.
Erdogan has defended the actions of the 1915 government, according to Bloomberg.
“The relocation of the Armenian gangs and their supporters, who massacred the Muslim people, including women and children, in eastern Anatolia, was the most reasonable action that could be taken in such a period,” he said on Twitter.
Ian Bremmer, founder of the Eurasia Group consulting firm, said Turkey’s response to the declaration is likely to be restrained.
“Erdogan is … unlikely to provoke the U.S. with actions that could further undermine Turkey’s weak economy,” he said, according to Reuters.
James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Turkey, said retaliation might come in subtle ways.
“It may be harder to get Erdogan to agree to specific policies,” Jeffrey said.
The slow deterioration of the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. gives Biden the opening to act, according to one commentator.
“In the past, the arm-twisting from Turkey was, ‘Well we’re such a good friend that you should remain solid with us on this,’” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, according to The Guardian. “But they’re proving to be not such a good friend.”
As Inauguration Day approaches, American-Armenians call on US President-elect @JoeBiden to keep his pledge to set the United States record straight on the #ArmenianGenocide during his presidency. #Inauguration2021 https://t.co/A90sBZBZ5S
— Armenian Genocide (@Genocideof1915) January 17, 2021
In 2019, the Senate passed a nonbinding resolution labeling the slaughter of Armenians as genocide. This week, more than 100 members of the House sent Biden a letter calling upon him to fulfill the promise he made during his campaign and call it “genocide.”