By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife and BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
WASHINGTON/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Christian rights activists welcome news that Joe Biden will become the first American president to formally recognize the massacre of Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire as an act of genocide.
The genocide in 1915 of an estimated 1.5 million mainly Christian Armenians by Ottoman Empire forces is marked annually worldwide on April 24. Turkey contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
Ronald Reagan was the last U.S. president to refer to the “genocide of the Armenians” when discussing the Holocaust in 1981. But he later backtracked on using the term while in office under pressure from Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed after World War I.
Biden made clear he would not backtrack by making good on a promise from his presidential campaign. He was to use the word “genocide” in remarks Saturday on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
Biden told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday about his intentions, according to officials familiar with the phone call. The call came after Representative Adam Schiff and 100 bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to Biden this week urging him to follow through on his campaign pledge and “right decades of wrongs.”
Turkey, an ally in the NATO military alliance, warned this week that such a move could harm relations. “Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” he added.
LOBBY FOR RECOGNITION
Efforts to recognize the genocide stalled for decades in the United States Congress, and presidents were careful not to upset Turkey. However, in 2019, the U.S. Senate passed a non-binding resolution recognizing the killings as a genocide, despite Turkish opposition.
Christian groups and others had lobbied for the recognition of the “Armenian Genocide.” Historians say that besides mass killings, Armenians also endured torture, rape, systematic deportations, and destruction of cultural and religious sites.
“The methods of extermination utilized against the Armenians bear striking resemblances to those subsequently used in the Holocaust,” said Christian advocacy group Christian Solidarity World Wide (CSW).
It referred to the mass extermination of six million Jews and others ordered by German leader Adolf Hitler. “The seeming international indifference following the Armenian genocide encouraged Hitler, who uttered the infamous remark: ‘Who talks nowadays about the destruction of the Armenians’,” CSW recalled in a statement.
The chief executive officer of CSW-USA, Kori Porter, suggested to Worthy News that Biden’s expected statement could help heal the wounds of history and prevent similar atrocities. “The importance of President Biden’s expected formal affirmation of the Armenian genocide cannot be overstated. Over a century after these crimes were committed, Armenians around the world have continued to be denied justice and truth.”
He added that by “recognizing what took place in the country, President Biden would go some way towards addressing this.” Porter stressed that CSW and its U.S. branch also urged “the international community to honor the lives lost in the Armenian genocide by intervening consistently in every situation where the risk factors and early warning signs of potential genocide are visible.”
NAGORNO KARABAKH CHRISTIANS
The world, he said, should be “working to end the current blockage in the international courts which mean that justice mechanisms for victims remain elusive.”
It was also to encourage Armenian Christians in the troubled region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where churches disappeared or were damaged in recent months of fighting over the territory with neighboring Azerbaijan.
The conflict saw Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim nation, reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas Armenian forces held for more than a quarter-century.
Christians said that during a visit to Nagorno-Karabakh in March, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev ordered removing medieval Armenian inscriptions from churches and other monuments. He reportedly claimed that the inscriptions were not genuine.
Fighting erupted between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces on September 27. It ended on November 10 when a Russian-brokered peace deal introduced a tense ceasefire.
Thousands were killed, and thousands fled their homes in the most bloody fighting in the region since the early 1990s.