It was a genocide: Biden affirms a historical fact

President Joe Biden’s proper labeling as genocide the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago fulfills a long-overdue historical duty that his White House predecessors have cowardly avoided.

The mass deportations, murders and death marches of the ancient Christian nation living among a Muslim majority began with the arrests of leading Armenians by the Ottomans on April 24, 1915, during World War I. The Ottomans were allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary against Russia, France and Britain.

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Maybe the Ottomans thought that Armenians residing in their empire would be sympathetic to Russia or maybe they wanted to expel this minority. Either way, they launched a campaign of destruction against a civilian population with catastrophic results.

Perhaps the most important witness was the American ambassador, Henry Morgenthau Sr., whose son would be FDR’s treasury secretary and whose grandson would be the longtime Manhattan district attorney.

There was no word crime the ambassador saw, as “genocide” wouldn’t be coined by Raphael Lemkin for another 30 years. But Lemkin included the Ottoman annihilation of the Armenians in the same category as the German extermination of the Jews: planned and willful killing of an ethnic group.

That it took decades for formal U.S. policy to catch up with Lemkin’s clear definition was due to pressure from the modern Republic of Turkey, which wrongly sees an indictment of the defunct Ottoman Empire as a blemish on the Turks of today.

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The huffing and puffing reaction of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was typical: “The U.S. president has made baseless, unjust and untrue remarks about the sad events that took place in our geography over a century ago. I hope the U.S. president will turn back from this wrong step as soon as possible.”

Erdogan said that “you cannot pin the genocide accusation on the Turkish people.” No one is. The Ottomans did the crime, not the Turkish people. But the crime was genocide.