Pressure is mounting on Joe Biden to fulfill his campaign promise of becoming the first US president to recognize the Armenian genocide, but Turkey has already warned Washington that such a decision will further harm bilateral ties.
Every year on April 24, Armenians worldwide hold demonstrations to commemorate the estimated 1.5 million people killed by the Ottoman Empire.
Armenia says this was an attempted extermination of its population. Turkey, meanwhile, admits that Armenians were killed but denies that it was genocide.
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to declare the killing of Armenians as a genocide.
Today, we remember the atrocities faced by the Armenian people in the Metz Yeghern — the Armenian Genocide. If elected, I pledge to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide and will make universal human rights a top priority. https://t.co/Afl5lMLPR3— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 24, 2020
Yet, the White House and State Department have been tight-lipped over potential plans to follow through.
“As a presidential candidate, President Biden commemorated the 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children who lost their lives in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. He said then that we must never forget or remain silent about this horrific campaign,” a State Department official told Al Arabiya English.
“This administration is committed to promoting respect for human rights and ensuring such atrocities are not repeated,” the official added.
The White House refused to comment when asked if Biden would speak later in the week on the matter.
Biden has yet to speak to Erdogan since taking office despite having phone calls with almost all leaders of major capitals. The US president has also been pressed by Republicans and Democrats alike to take a more rigid stance against Turkey.
Last month, a group of more than 35 senators penned a letter to Biden about the genocide.
“Administrations of both parties have been silent on the truth of the Armenian genocide. We urge you to break this pattern of complicity by officially recognizing that the Armenian genocide was a genocide,” the letter read.
Vice President Kamala Harris co-sponsored a resolution two years ago to recognize the genocide in Armenia when she was a senator.
In 2019, the Senate passed a resolution after Congress did the same to recognize the genocide. When the letter arrived at then-President Donald Trump’s desk, he refused to sign. The three presidents before Trump also moved against such a decision.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff Tuesday repeated the plea for Biden to deliver on his promise.
“We’ll look to you later this week to see if you will join the leaders in France, Germany, the European Union, the Vatican and 49 states in recognizing the genocide,” Schiff said in an open letter to Biden.
While the Armenian lobby is considered influential in Washington, so too is Turkey’s.
Former US presidents stopped short of following through on campaign promises for fear of ruining ties with a strategic NATO ally in Ankara. Turkey’s military plays an important role in the organization.
A century+ of US complicity in Turkey's denial of the #Armenian #Genocide represents the longest lasting foreign gag-rule in American history.#EndTheGagRule | https://t.co/CWxZR3kmm9 pic.twitter.com/N3IvuAEeFm— ANCA (@ANCA_DC) April 20, 2021
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seen his support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and attempts to expand Turkish influence in the Eastern Mediterranean result in strained ties with the international community.
Erdogan has also drawn the ire of Europe and Washington for Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system despite previous warnings that such a system could collect data on the US F-35 fighter jet.
For its part, NATO members said the purchase of weapons from Moscow violated pledges from member states to decrease dependence on Russian weapons.