Joe Biden Becomes First President to Officially Recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide

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Sean Neumann
·5 min read
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Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Joe Biden officially recognized the Armenian genocide of the early 1900s on Saturday, becoming the first U.S. leader to do so.

Saturday marks the annual Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which recognizes the Ottoman Empire's killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians from a traumatic period that lasted sometime between 1915 and 1923.

"Each year on this day, 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, 78, began his statement. "Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination."

The president added, "We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms."

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Continuing his message, Biden wrote, "Of those who survived, most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States. With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community."

"Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated," he continued.

Then, writing "as we mourn what was lost," Biden implored that we must look ahead to the future, "toward the world that we wish to build for our children."

"A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security," he said. "Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.

Closing out his statement, Biden said: "The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today."

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Lawmakers, celebrities and human rights activists have long asked for U.S. presidents to formally recognize the mass killing as genocide. (Ronald Reagan had made a passing reference to the Armenian genocide in a proclamation about the Holocaust in 1981.)

In 2019, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed measures that officially recognized the killings as a genocide.

In a letter sent to Biden on Tuesday, more than 100 House lawmakers urged the president to end the U.S. government's "shameful silence" on the Armenian genocide and asked him to "speak the truth" about "the mass slaughter of the Armenians."

Biden's recognition is likely to be met with backlash from Turkish leaders, who have successfully convinced past U.S. presidents to not call the mass killings a "genocide," according to the Associated Press.

"If the United States wants our relations to get worse, it's up to them," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during an interview on Turkish television this week, according to the AP.

Cavusoglu, 53, warned Biden's recognition of the genocide would "harm" Turkey's relationship with the country. But Biden promised during his 2020 campaign that he would recognize the Armenian genocide, saying "silence is complicity."

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Former President Barack Obama had similarly promised to recognize the genocide when he ran for president, but never officially referred to the post-World War I mass killing as such.

His empty promise prompted complaints from advocates and celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, who has visited the Armenian Genocide Museum and routinely spoken out about the 1900s atrocity.

Kardashian is Armenian through her father, Robert Kardashian Sr., who died in 2003. Kardashian's great-great-grandparents immigrated to Los Angeles in 1914, shortly before the genocide began.

The Keeping Up with the Kardashians reality star acknowledged Biden's recognition in a statement on social media. "This has been a long journey for the Armenian community and every year I felt we were getting clsoer and closer to recognizing the genocide as what it was. Finally that day has come," Kardashian wrote. "I'm so proud of my heritage, proud of the Armenian communities and grateful to President Biden for granting every Armenian this day and this truth."

KAREN MINASYAN/AFP via Getty Images Kim Kardashian and Khloe Kardashian

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In a 2015 TIME op-ed, Kardashian wrote that it was "very disappointing" Obama, 59, never recognized the genocide.

Kardashian often marks each year's anniversary of the Armenian genocide with a social media post and an emotional message.

In 2010, on the 100th anniversary of the genocide, Kardashian wrote that "we won't give up" in her push for awareness.

"I am saddened that still 100 years later not everyone has recognized that 1.5 million people were murdered," Kardashian said at the time. "But proud of the fact that I see change and am happy many people have started to recognize this genocide! We won't give up, we will be recognized by all soon!"

Sister Khloé Kardashian thanked Biden for recognizing the genocide on social media.

"In 1915, over 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered and tortured. Thank you President Biden for recognizing the genocide that happened 106 years ago," she wrote on her Instagram Story Saturday. "Thank you for honoring the stories, the pain, suffering and loss of the Armenian people. Today we honor our ancestors on Armenian Remembrance Day."