President Joe Biden on Saturday issued the document Armenian Americans have pursued for decades: a declaration that the Ottoman Empire’s slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian civilians was genocide.
It’s a deceptively simple action, carrying no force of law. Yet it’s a bold move for Biden, who has gone beyond what any American president has ever been willing to do. Until now, presidents have declined to formally apply the term “genocide” for fear of sparking a backlash from Turkey, which vigorously denies it. According to the Turkish account, World War I-era violence between Muslim Ottomans and Christian Armenians led to large casualties on both sides. According to most historians, however, the evidence is clear the Turks engaged in a years-long ethnic cleansing campaign that included forced death marches and mass starvation.