Joe Biden broke with White House tradition on Saturday when he referred to the systematic killing and deportation of Armenians in the early 20th century by Ottoman Empire forces as a genocide. “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” the President said in a statement commemorating Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, the Associated Press reports. “We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”
Past presidents have intentionally not used the word “genocide” when referring to the Armenian Genocide—which began in 1915 and resulted in the massacre of 1.5 Armenians, per Reuters—in part to preserve the United States’ relationship with Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Minister was obviously not pleased with Biden’s word choice. “We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the U.S. regarding the events of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups,” he said, according to the AP.
The New York Times and other outlets have contextualized the President’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide as exemplary of his administration’s “commitment to human rights.” I find that a bit hard to believe given his administration’s apparent lack of interest in reuniting migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border or ending the detention of migrant families in ICE facilities and wonder whether the recent decline in American-Turkish relations, which the Times says are at an all-time low, influenced his decision to say something that would risk destroying that decades-old alliance.