Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2021 / 09:24 am (CNA).
Christian advocates praised President Joe Biden for officially recognizing the Armenian genocide over the weekend.
“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 stated on Saturday, April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day.
Biden’s historic statement marked the first official recognition of the genocide by a U.S. president, and the first time since Reagan that a sitting president referred to the genocide by name.
Turkey, which has long denied that a genocide took place, criticized the statement. A spokesman for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday called the statement “simply outrageous,” Reuters reported.
Advocates for religious freedom praised Biden’s statement, however.
Toufic Baaklini, president of the group In Defense of Christians (IDC), stated on Saturday that “IDC sends its deepest thanks and congratulations to President Biden on becoming the first president in U.S. history to recognize the Armenian Christian Genocide.”
“While we hope that this brings some solace and consolation to Armenians around the world who have fought for this day, we also hope that it will portend greater reflection and a renewed commitment to speak up and stand against the perpetration of crimes against humanity everywhere,” stated Tony Perkins, vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), on Saturday.
April 24 marked the 106th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide, when Ottoman authorities began arresting Armenian intellectuals and leaders in Constantinople. The empire commenced a campaign of mass displacement, family separation, death marches, starvation, and other abuses inflicted upon the empire’s mostly-Christian Armenian population. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians perished in the genocide.
The empire targeted other minorities as well, including Greek, Syriac, and Chaldean Christians. On Saturday, advocates insisted that the atrocities inflicted on these populations be remembered.
“IDC also remembers the additional 1.9 million Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, and Maronites who were also killed for their Christian faith, and further calls on the administration to recognize the devastating effect this genocide had against the region’s greater Christian community,” the group stated.
“The White House commendably joins the U.S. Congress in recognizing as genocide the horrific killings of countless Armenians—as well as Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other religious and ethnic minorities—in the final years of the Ottoman Empire,” said Gayle Manchin, chair of USCIRF, on Saturday.
While U.S. officials have at times called the slaughter of Armenians “genocide,” they have largely refrained from official recognitions of the genocide due to the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a NATO member.
The U.S. did submit a written statement on the Armenian genocide to the International Court of Justice in 1951, and President Ronald Reagan mentioned it in a 1981 statement in remembrance of the Holocaust. Joint congressional resolutions in 1975 and in 1984 used the term “genocide.”
In 2019, the U.S. House passed a resolution recognizing the genocide; efforts to pass a resolution in the Senate were stymied, reportedly at the request of the White House which did not want the resolution to encourage Turkey to accept a missile system from Russia. The Senate did eventually pass a genocide resolution before the end of the year.
USCIRF called Saturday’s recognition “a significant and long overdue step to acknowledge the reality of the nature of those atrocities.”
Remembrance of the genocide must spur efforts to fight present-day genocides, said USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava.
“This includes refocusing efforts on a genocide determination for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people and working to hold the Chinese government accountable for the genocide and crimes against humanity that it continues to perpetrate against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang,” Bhargava stated.
Last week, the U.S. bishops’ conference and leaders of the U.S. Armenian Catholic Church issued statements in advance of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Armenian church leaders asked Biden to recognize the genocide by name.
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