Biden speaks to Erdogan as Armenian genocide question looms

Biden speaks to Erdogan as Armenian genocide question looms
3 min read
Biden and Erdogan have spoken on the phone to discuss relations between the two countries, ahead of an anticipated formal recognition of the Armenian genocide by the US.
Biden promised to recognise the genocide while campaigning [Getty]

President Joe Biden spoke with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday as Biden is weighing whether to move forward with a campaign pledge to formally recognise that atrocities committed against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago were genocide.

The White House, in a statement on the call, made no mention of the looming decision on the Armenian genocide recognition. But it said Biden told Erdogan he wants to improve the two countries' relationship and find “effective management of disagreements.” The two also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting at the NATO summit in Brussels in June.

Biden pledged as a candidate to recognise the World War I-era killings and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in modern day Turkey. He is expected to make the announcement Saturday to coincide with the annual Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day commemoration, according to US officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Officials said Biden could still change his mind, but wanted to speak with Erdogan before formally recognising the events of 1915 to 1923 as genocide —something that past US presidents had avoided out of concern about damaging relations with Turkey.

Friday's call between the two leaders was the first since Biden took office more than three months ago. The delay had become a worrying sign in Ankara; Erdogan had good rapport with former President Donald Trump and had been hoping for a reset despite past friction with Biden.

Biden, during the campaign, drew ire from Turkish officials after an interview with The New York Times in which he spoke about supporting Turkey’s opposition against “autocrat” Erdogan. In 2019, Biden accused Trump of betraying US allies, following Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for a Turkish military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish group. In 2014, when he was vice president, Biden apologised to Erdogan after suggesting in a speech that Turkey helped facilitate the rise of the terrorist group Islamic State by allowing foreign fighters to cross Turkey's border with Syria.

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.

Salpi Ghazarian, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Armenian Studies, said the recognition of genocide would resonate beyond Armenia as Biden insists that respect for human rights will be a central principle in his foreign policy.

Read more: How EU sanctions on Turkey reveal a divided Europe

“Within the United States and outside the United States, the American commitment to basic human values has been questioned now for decades,” she said. “It is very important for people in the world to continue to have the hope and the faith that America’s aspiraxtional values are still relevant, and that we can in fact to do several things at once. We can in fact carry on trade and other relations with countries while also calling out the fact that a government cannot get away with murdering its own citizens.”

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had warned the Biden administration earlier this week that recognition would “harm” US-Turkey ties.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday declined to comment on Biden's deliberations on the issue.

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