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Senators call on Biden to officially recognize Armenian genocide

Senators call on Biden to officially recognize Armenian genocide
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A bipartisan coalition of nearly 40 lawmakers led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges MORE (D-N.J.) is urging President Biden to become the first U.S. president to officially recognize the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide. 

No U.S. president has officially labeled the actions by the Ottoman Empire, which officially ended in 1922 before Turkey became an independent republic in 1923, a genocide. 

Doing so would provoke a battle with Turkey, and previous U.S. governments, including the Obama administration, decided against doing so to preserve a strong working relationship with Turkey.

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The episode sparked sharp disagreements within the administration at the time, with Samantha PowerSamantha PowerThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden bumps up vaccine eligibility amid 'life or death' race Biden relies on progressive foe to lead immigration rollbacks The Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today MORE, Obama's special assistant on human rights and multilateral affairs, personally lobbying Obama to label it a genocide in 2009. Obama declined to do so, as recounted in Power's memoir "The Education of an Idealist," because he thought it would hamper efforts at the time to broker peace between Turkey and Armenia.

Biden as a presidential candidate in a Medium post commemorated Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day last April. 

At the time, Biden wrote, “It is particularly important to speak these words and commemorate this history at a moment when we are reminded daily of the power of truth, and of our shared responsibility to stand against hate — because silence is complicity.” 

“If we do not fully acknowledge, commemorate, and teach our children about genocide, the words ‘never again’ lose their meaning,” he said, adding that he as commander in chief would “support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide and will make universal human rights a top priority for my administration.”

In their letter, the senators wrote that from 1915 to 1923, the Ottoman Empire “systematically sought to eliminate the Armenian population, killing 1.5 million Armenians and driving hundreds of thousands more from their homeland.” 

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The senators cited Biden’s 2020 statement, writing Friday that Biden should officially recognize the genocide as president “to make clear that the U.S. government recognizes this terrible truth.” 

“We join the Armenian community in the United States and around the world in honoring the memory of these victims, and we stand firmly against attempts to pretend that this intentional, organized effort to destroy the Armenian people was anything other than a genocide,” the letter continued. “You have correctly stated that American diplomacy and foreign policy must be rooted in our values, including respect for universal rights.”

“Those values require us to acknowledge the truth and do what we can to prevent future genocides and other crimes against humanity,” the senators added. 

The senators urged Biden to follow in their example, citing their unanimous passage in December 2019 of a resolution recognizing the facts of the Armenian genocide, adding that the House that same year overwhelmingly passed its own similar resolution. 

“Administrations of both parties have been silent on the truth of the Armenian Genocide,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to break this pattern of complicity by officially recognizing that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide.” 

When reached for comment, a senior administration official noted Biden’s statement on the Armenian genocide as a presidential candidate, adding in a statement to The Hill, “He said then that we must never forget or remain silent about this horrific campaign. And we will forever respect the perseverance of the Armenian people in the wake of such a great tragedy.” 

The official said the Biden administration “is committed to promoting respect for human rights and ensuring such atrocities are not repeated. A critical part of that is acknowledging history.”

Power has been nominated by Biden to serve as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.