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President Joe Biden Recognises the Armenian Genocide

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Roar writer Andrea Tonon on Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide.

President Joe  Biden makes History

In a recent statement regarding the Armenian genocide, President Biden declared:

“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. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”

President Biden is the first US president to formally recognize the killing of more than 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide carried out by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1917.

This is an unprecedented decision that will further inflame tensions with Turkey, a NATO ally. Several sources from the White House had warned before the public announcement that the president could change his mind at the last moment so as not to create diplomatic friction with Ankara.

There were immediate reactions from Ankara, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who declared that Turkey would “not take lessons from anyone on our history”. At the same time, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Mr Biden’s announcement “honoured the memory” of those who have been killed.

Joe Biden during the Presidential race already declared on April 24 2020 that:

“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.”

Today there are 30 countries in the world that recognize and remember the Armenian Genocide, which took place on April 24, 1915.

It was ignored for a long time until the UN Commission for Human Rights officially recognized it as a genocide that occurred during the twentieth century. One and a half million Armenians exterminated in Turkey between 1915 and 1916. Today the massacre is remembered by the Armenian people as the “Medz Yeghern“,  which translates to the great crime.

What was the Armenian genocide?

The brutal violence against the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks began in 1915. The killings started on April 24, 1915, when the first arrests were made among the Armenian elite in Istanbul and other cultural centres. The violence continued in the following days and within a few weeks more than a thousand Armenian intellectuals, including journalists, writers, poets, parliamentarians and many others, were deported and massacred on the way to imprisonment. Afterwards, the Ottoman government started to deport Armenians from Eastern Anatolia, which was inhabited mainly by Christian Armenians and Muslim Kurds.

The number of Armenians who died in this massacre is still extremely controversial. Turkish sources indicate the number of dead around two hundred thousand, Armenian sources states around 2.5 million have died. Several international historians today estimate that the death toll is between 1.2 and 1.5 million.

Why does turkey deny the existence of the Armenian genocide?

Turkey continues to argue that the genocide never happened. And certainly, Biden’s stance will not make relations very easy with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly denied the existence of the tragic event. It is not the first time that President Erdogan, his government and the state control media have tried to rewrite the history of Turkey. In Turkey, it is forbidden to use the term genocide alongside the word Armenian according to section 301 of Turkey’s penal code, which bans “denigrating Turkishness”.

Acknowledging the Armenian genocide caused by the Ottoman Turks would lead to prosecution by the authorities. Furthermore, the teaching curriculum in Turkish schools forbids studying the Armenian genocide. Several textbooks in schools describe the Armenian population of the time as traitors and that the measures taken by the Ottoman Empire were necessary and justified because they were at war.

The cultural potential of Turkey

Turkey has always been an incredibly diverse and multicultural country throughout history. But in recent years, Erdogan has tried to dismantle Turkey’s diversity through targeted policies, creating a very polarized society.

Turkey is an extraordinarily rich country full of different cultural heritages. It has the greatest potential to be a positive example of multinational, ethnic and religious tolerance and openness. But first of all, it has to face some dark chapters of its historical heritage in order to move on and reach this potential.

Acknowledging, questioning and understanding history is fundamental if a nation, community or society wants to aim for peace, prosperity and harmony among its citizens. Most of the time it is difficult to do so, but it is necessary.

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