SULAIMANI (ESTA) — U.S. President Joe Biden told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday that he intends to recognize the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, Reuters cited sources familiar with the matter as saying.
The two leaders spoke by phone on Friday, more than three months after Biden’s inauguration in January 20.
The U.S. and Turkish governments, in separate statements on the call, made no mentions of the decision on the Armenian genocide recognition.
Sources familiar with the conversation told Reuters that Biden told Erdogan that he intends to announce the recognition of the Armenian massacre as genocide on Saturday.
Lawmakers and Armenian American activists have been lobbying Biden to make the genocide announcement on or before the Armenian remembrance day that presidents typically mark with a proclamation, the Associated Press.
Saturday marks the 106th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire’s mass killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians, whose descendants have pressed hard for the world to describe the massacres as genocide.
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had warned the Biden administration earlier this week that recognition would “harm” U.S.-Turkey ties.
Asked Friday if Biden would make a statement, State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters, “When it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow.”
A State Department official later clarified that her use of the term “Armenian genocide” did not signify a shift had already been made by the United States, and that any changes would come from the White House, AFP reported.
Biden, who during his decades as a senator forged close relations with the Armenian-American and Greek-American communities, promised during his presidential campaign to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Speaking in a statement on April 24, 2020 as a presidential candidate, Biden said: “We must never forget or remain silent about this horrific and systematic campaign of extermination.”
“If we do not fully acknowledge, commemorate, and teach our children about genocide, the words ‘never again’ lose their meaning. ”
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems – over which it was the target of U.S. sanctions – to policy differences in Syria, human rights and legal matters.
Erdogan had established a close bond with Trump, but since Biden took over, Washington has grown more vocal about Turkey’s human rights track record. It has also stood firm on its demand that Ankara get rid of the Russian defense systems.