U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to make an announcement on April 24 amid speculation that he will recognize the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide.
Biden, who as a presidential candidate pledged that if elected he would take the largely symbolic step, is expected to release the statement on April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on April 23 she had nothing to release about Biden’s campaign pledge, and State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said only that reporters could expect an announcement on April 24.
During and immediately after World War I, Ottoman Turks killed or deported as many as 1.5 million Armenians — a Christian minority in the predominately Muslim empire. Many historians and some other nations, including France and Germany, consider the killings genocide.
Armenians for decades have pressed for the word to be used to describe the killings and deportations, but the label is adamantly rejected by Turkey.
The White House said that Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the eve of the expected announcement.
Reuters quoted sources familiar with the conversation as saying that Biden told Erdogan that he intended to recognize the mass killing and forced deportations of Armenians as genocide in a statement to be issued on April 24.
A White House statement about the call however said only that Biden conveyed his “interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.”
The leaders also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in June in Brussels “to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues,” the statement added.
Erdogan’s office said during the call that “both leaders agreed on the strategic character of the bilateral relationship and the importance of working together to build greater cooperation on issues of mutual interest.”
Ankara insists the deaths were a result of civil strife rather than a planned Ottoman government effort to annihilate Armenians. Turkey also claims fewer Armenians died than has been reported.
Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2019 to recognize the Armenian genocide but the Trump administration made clear that it would maintain the status quo.
Other U.S. presidents have refrained from formally using the term genocide amid worry about damaging relations with the NATO ally.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned that if Biden recognizes the killings as genocide, it would sour bilateral relations.
Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement that Biden would be “effectively ending the longest lasting foreign gag-rule in American history.”
Hamparian said the recognition would represent a “powerful setback to Turkey’s century-long obstruction of justice for this crime, and its ongoing hostility and aggression against the Armenian people.”
He also voiced hope for greater U.S. alignment against Turkish-backed Azerbaijan, which last year fought a six-week war with Armenia, ending with a Russian-brokered cease-fire under which a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by ethnic Armenian forces.