Seth Udinski, FISM News
In an historic political announcement on Saturday, President Biden publicly declared the 1915 mass killing of roughly 1 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks to be a genocide. Biden’s comments are a delight to Armenians worldwide, while the predominantly Muslim population in Turkey is infuriated. President Biden becomes the first U.S. president to formally name the mass killing a “genocide,” and the first since President Reagan to refer to them as a “genocide” publicly. Biden said Saturday,
The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today. Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.
The historical significance of this announcement is fascinating. For centuries, the Armenian population in the Turkish region existed as a largely Christian minority in Muslim-dominated lands. In the late Middle Ages, the Muslim Ottoman Empire was born under Sultan Osman I. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Ottoman Turks conquered much of the Near East and began to penetrate Christian Europe. In 1453 under Sultan Mehmet II, the Turks sacked and destroyed the Byzantine Empire in one of the great tragedies of historic Christendom.
In the 16th century, the Turks conquered large portions of Eastern Europe and the empire grew to nearly match the size of the Roman Empire. The Turks reached the gates of Vienna in the 1520s, threatening to conquer and destroy the Christian West as they had done to the Christian East. With Western Christendom in disarray in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, it would have likely been no match against the Turks.
But that was the high water mark of the Ottoman Empire. They could not conquer Vienna, and after a final loss in Austria in 1683, the empire began to decline. For several hundred years, the Turks lost much of the land they’d conquered, and by the start of World War I, the Empire was on its deathbed.
In a last ditch attempt to regenerate the Empire, the Ottomans looked inward. The imperial leaders ordered a “cleansing” of sorts, in which the resident Armenians, many of whom belonged to a strand of Eastern Christianity from the apostolic age, would be destroyed. Some historians indicate that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Turks during the massacre between 1915 and 1917.
To President Biden’s credit, he did not mince words for the sake of political correctness in referring the event as a genocide, though he may have only done so for political maneuvering. Regardless of the President’s motives, the leaders of Turkey, the Muslim successor to the Ottoman Empire in the regions surrounding Istanbul, were enraged by the President’s announcement. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, responded in this way:
We entirely reject this statement. We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past. Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice.