WASHINGTON / ISTANBUL: US President Joe Biden on Saturday recognised the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide, a watershed moment for descendants of the hundreds of thousands of dead as he defied decades of pressure by Turkey.

Biden became the first US president to use the word genocide in a statement on the anniversary, a day after informing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the decision and seeking to limit the furor from the Nato ally.

“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,” Biden said.

Ankara rages at US recognition of Armenia genocide

“We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.” The statement is a massive victory for Armenia and its extensive diaspora.

Turkey on Saturday accused the United States of trying to rewrite history, resoundingly rejecting US President Joe Biden’s decision to formally recognise the Armenian genocide.

From the streets of Istanbul to the halls of power, Turks were united in anger at Biden’s decision to side with Armenia, France, Germany, Russia and numerous other countries in their interpretation of the horrific World War I events.

“Words cannot change or rewrite history,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted moments after Biden announced his decision.

“We will not take lessons from anyone on our history.” Biden became the first US president to use the word genocide in a customary statement on the anniversary of the 1915 to 1917 massacre, which happened as the Ottoman Empire unravelled.

Starting with Uruguay in 1965, nations including France, Germany, Canada and Russia have recognized the genocide, but a US statement has been a paramount goal that proved elusive under other presidents until Biden.

Erdogan, in a statement to the Armenian patriarch in Istanbul, said that debates “should be held by historians” and not “politicised by third parties.” “Words cannot change or rewrite history,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted moments after Biden’s statement. “We will not take lessons from anyone on our history.” Explaining Biden’s thinking, an administration official pointed to the Democratic president’s vows to put a new priority on human rights and highlighted his outspokenness on systemic racism in the United States.

Across the world, “people are beginning to acknowledge and address and grapple with the painful historical facts in their own countries. It’s certainly something that we are doing here in the United States,” the official said.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2021

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