WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday that the United States intended to recognise the 1915 killings of Armenians during Ottoman rule as genocide, a potential further blow to the already frayed ties between the two Nato allies.
The much-anticipated first phone call between the two leaders took place more than three months after Biden’s Jan 20 inauguration, a delay that is widely seen as a cold shoulder to Erdogan, who had enjoyed close ties with former president Donald Trump.
The call also came a day before “Armenian remembrance day” on Saturday when Biden is expected to break away from decades of carefully calibrated White House statements that had previously described the events during World War I as “Metz Yeghern” (great evil).
Neither the White House statement on the phone call nor the account provided by the Turkish presidency made any mention of the issue.
“President Biden spoke today with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conveying his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements,” the White House said in a statement.
It said the two leaders agreed to meet on the margins of the Nato summit in June to have a wider conversation about their relations.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes during WW I, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
A statement from the Turkish presidency said Presidents Biden and Erdogan agreed on “the strategic character of the bilateral relationship and the importance of working together to build greater cooperation on issues of mutual interest”.
Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems to policy differences over Syria, human rights and legal matters.
Erdogan had established a close bond with Trump, but since Biden took over, Washington has grown more vocal about Turkey’s human rights track record.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2021