President Joe Biden is expected to formally recognize the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War One as an act of genocide, sources said on Wednesday, a move likely to infuriate Ankara and further strain already frayed ties between the two NATO allies.
The move would be largely symbolic but would mean breaking away from decades of carefully calibrated language from the White House and come at a time when Ankara and Washington are already at loggerheads over a string of issues.
Biden is likely going to use the word “genocide” as part of a statement on April 24 when commemorations for the victims are held around the world annually, two sources familiar with the matter said, cautioning that he could still choose not to.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday told reporters the White House would likely have “more to say” about the issue on Saturday, but declined to elaborate.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment and the White House National Security Council had no comment beyond what Psaki said.
A year ago, while still a presidential candidate, Biden commemorated the 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children who lost their lives in the final years of the Ottoman Empire and said he would back efforts to recognize those killings as a genocide.
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.
For decades, measures recognizing the Armenian genocide stalled in the U.S. Congress and U.S. presidents have refrained from calling it that, stymied by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan established a close bond with former U.S. President Donald Trump, but he has yet to speak to Biden since he became president on Jan. 20.
While Turkish and American officials have held talks since then, the Biden administration has stepped up pressure on Turkey by frequently expressing its discontent over Ankara’s human rights track record, and the gap between the two sides over a host of issues including Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons systems and policy differences in Syria remains.
Any move by Biden to recognize the mass killings as a genocide will further harm already strained ties between the NATO allies, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.
In 2019, the U.S. Senate passed a non-binding resolution recognizing the killings as a genocide, in a historic move that deeply angered Turkey.