U.S. President Joe Biden has formally recognized the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide.
“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," Biden said in an April 24 statement that was released on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
“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,” Biden added.
With the formal acknowledgment, Biden followed on his campaign promise that if elected he would take the largely symbolic step.
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 announcement.
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 ahead of the announcement 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.