Updated: Apr 25, 2021
Washington, D.C. - On the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, U.S. President Joe Biden officially affirmed that the massacre of the 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish authorities between 1915 and 1923 was an act of genocide. This affirmation marks a watershed moment in U.S. history, as it reaffirms what has been U.S. policy since the creation of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, as reflected in the U.S. brief filed with the International Court of Justice, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly). It is also a categorical rejection of a decades-long, well-funded denial campaign by the Turkish government and a signature moment for human rights.
Releasing his statement on April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day, President Biden honored the symbolic date of the start of the Armenian Genocide, when the leadership of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire was arrested, imprisoned and eliminated. Thirty countries and 49 U.S. States have acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. Today’s U.S. action is expected to create the room for more countries to follow suit and an opportunity for Turkey to come to terms with its past.
The recognition of the Executive Branch results in all three branches of the U.S. government officially affirming the Armenian Genocide, following the overwhelming 405 to 11 vote in the House adopting an Armenian Genocide resolution in October 2019, and by its passage in the Senate via unanimous consent in December 2019.
President Biden stayed true to his 30-year documented record of Armenian Genocide acknowledgement, from the time he began serving as Delaware’s Senator, through his 2020 presidential campaign, when he pledged: “Joe Biden will recognize the Armenian Genocide and make universal human rights a top priority for his administration so that such a tragedy can never again occur.” As a Senator, Biden was among the most informed and diligent supporters in using the term Armenian Genocide. His 1989 chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee’s passage of such legislation was historic for its result but also as a reflection of his command of the historical facts.
U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, alerted in his July 1915 report to the U.S. Department of State and the White House, that “a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion.” Ambassador Morgenthau, who served from 1913-1916, appealed to the U.S. government and humanitarian organizations to stop the genocide and send humanitarian assistance to the survivors and refugees.
Ambassador Morgenthau’s cables, along with eyewitness reports of American consuls, missionaries and businessmen, make up part of the over 30,000 pages documenting the Armenian Genocide, as well as their heroic acts of intervention to save lives. Through his efforts, the Near East Relief was formed, and over $2.5 billion in today’s dollars was raised at the time to help the survivors of the first genocide of the twentieth century.
At the time, former President Theodore Roosevelt stated that the atrocities committed by the “Turks on the Armenians” was “so hideous that it is difficult to name them…people whose little children are murdered and their women raped.” In a letter to Cleveland Dodge, who led the congressionally chartered Near East Relief organization headquartered in New York City, President Roosevelt stated further that it “was the greatest crime of the war, and failure to act against Turkey is to condone it…”
Ronald Reagan was the first U.S. president who used the word genocide to describe the Armenian atrocities during his Holocaust Remembrance Statement on April 22, 1981: “Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it – and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples – the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.”
President Biden had the courage to say what his predecessors for the past 100 years have always known.
“The Assembly, all Armenians and our friends around the world profoundly thank President Biden for this Armenian Genocide reaffirmation in honor of the victims, survivors, and the principle of universal human rights around the world,” said Assembly Co-Chairs Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian. “We have been fortunate to have been helped by countless prominent and not so prominent but heroic individuals in advocating for Genocide awareness, education, and prevention. We are sad that they are not all with us today but know they, like all people who are sincerely committed to human rights, are smiling with pride on President Biden and today’s historic statement.”
“President Biden’s statement pays important tribute to the victims of the Armenian Genocide and their families,” added Assembly President Carolyn Mugar.
In a September 2019 letter from President Biden to the Assembly, he stated: “The United States must reaffirm, once and for all, our record on the Armenian Genocide...We must never forget or remain silent about this horrific and systematic campaign of extermination that resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Armenian men, woman, and children and the mass deportation of 2 million Armenians from their homes. If we do not fully acknowledge, commemorate, and teach our children about genocide, the words ‘never again’ lose their meaning. The facts must be as clear and as powerful for future generations as for those whose memories are seared by tragedy. Failing to remember or acknowledge the fact of a genocide only paves the way for future mass atrocities.”
“President Biden’s affirmation of the Armenian Genocide marks a pivotal milestone in the arc of history in defense of human rights,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “By standing firmly against a century of denial, President Biden has charted a new course. Affirmation of the Armenian Genocide enhances America’s credibility and recommits the United States to the worldwide cause of genocide prevention.”
Below is the statement by the President of the United States on Armenian Remembrance Day:
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. 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. 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.
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.
Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes 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. 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.
The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.