'Of course it’s genocide': How Biden fulfilled a promise to Armenians that Obama wouldn’t

But when the two chatted, Hamparian received no further apology. What he heard from the former national security officer was remorse.

“We were on the wrong side on this issue,” said the former official. “We should have done that right.”

That former officer was Antony Blinken.

Blinken now serves as Secretary of State and has helped correct an injustice that Obama alums – from President Joe Biden down – have long regretted.

Today, on the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Biden did what no other US president had done, mainly out of fear of alienating Turkey – and officially calling the now hundred-year-old massacre genocide. The slaughter began in 1915 during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, especially in what is now Turkey.

It was Biden himself in 2009, then vice president of the Hamparis group, called the Armenian National Committee of America to spread the news of Obama’s decision to withdraw his pledge, citing a vow made by the Turkish government, a NATO ally . that it would improve relations with Armenia. Despite years of pressure, Obama refused to make the designation official and instead chose it on his last Armenian Memorial Day in office Let’s call it a massacre and the “first mass atrocity”. ”

Interviews with current and former diplomats, elected officials, and Armenian-American leaders familiar with Biden’s decision tell the story of a new president and the upper echelons of his national security team, many of whom regretted not realizing the atrocities, than you were in power before.

On the 2019 campaign, Biden was at a fundraiser in the Boston area moderated by Larry Lucchino, former President and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, when he saw Anthony Barsamian, co-chair of the Armenian Congregation of America and held out his hand.

“I know how important the Armenian genocide is to you. Of course it’s genocide, ”Biden said, according to Barsamian. “I didn’t even have to say anything. He led with it.”

After Biden’s election, members of Armenian groups were invited to two calls with the Biden team, one during the transition and another week after Biden took office, according to a person who described the conversations with POLITICO. The second call, led by Acting Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Reeker, focused in part on the genocide but stopped to make a full-fledged pledge.

The Armenian community had previously heard promises.

In 2000, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, was on the verge of bringing a resolution to Congress, but after phone calls from then-President Bill Clinton and his political representatives against him, it was rejected – a move that ultimately became one of his GOP colleague, Rep., Cost James E. Rogan (R-Calif.), His seat.

Weeks later, Rogan paid the award in his district, where there is a large Armenian community, and lost the re-election to then Senator Adam Schiff.

For the Armenians it was a long road with small and large obstacles. For years they fought with newspapers to stop referring to the slaughter as “alleged” genocide or to put the word genocide itself in quotation marks.

But even after decades of inaction in Washington, they got wise, realizing that it was almost certain that if a new president didn’t get through in the first year of his tenure, he didn’t.

In recent months, this has meant a big boost in Congress and frequent contact with their Legislative Master, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). Menendez had tabled a 2019 resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, which was seen as a turning point after Congress overwhelmingly approved it.

Menendez touched on the subject in the confirmation negotiations of Blinken and Samantha Power, a candidate for the US Agency for International Development – an Obama graduate who has publicly expressed her regret over the Armenian genocide during it Term of office has not recognized. While Menendez increased public pressure, the Senator was convinced that Blinken and his team would not step back from the designation – even if they wanted to. During the campaign, the president and his top aides signaled that the official appointment has priority and that a promise has been made a year ago today to recognize the genocide. Menendez believed the administration was penned in, according to a source familiar with the senator’s thinking.

An already frosty US relationship with Turkey may also have given the government a little more license to make the genocide official. Biden previously caused a stir in Turkey after calling Erdogan an “autocrat”. Last year the US imposed sanctions on Ankara after the Turkish government bought air defense systems from Russia.

Biden has long vowed to make global human rights a priority. In less than 100 days, his government approved sanctions against senior Russian government officials in retaliation for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, sharply criticized China for cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong, and warned governments from Ethiopia to Myanmar of the consequences of endangering civilian lives.

On Friday, Biden spoke to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan – the first time since Biden took office – to inform him of the upcoming appointment. The White House’s official reading of the conversation, however, did not include this crucial detail.

The current name marks decades of lobbying efforts by the Armenian community, often unmanned and exaggerated by Turkish lobbyists who showered Washington power brokers with cash and warned that recognizing the genocide would jeopardize relations with an important ally.

But Biden’s decision was also a decision for decades.

“This is something he has brought to me multiple times in the last 20 years,” said Dick Harpootlian, a longtime Biden friend. Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and former Democratic Party leader who is also of Armenian descent, grew up with family members who told him about atrocities. Harpootlian brought up the subject almost every time he saw Biden, he said. “He had no hesitation in referring to what happened as genocide.”

On Saturday when the President’s statement Biden finally came and didn’t crush any words.

“We remember the lives of all those who died during the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman era, and we re-commit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever occurring again. From April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by the Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred or marched to their deaths in an extermination campaign, ”said the president. “We’re not doing this to blame, but to make sure what happened is never repeated.”

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