As vice president, Biden dealt frequently with Erdoğan and made four trips to Turkey, including in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt. But since then he’s offered a less-than-rosy view of the Turkish leader.
Biden spoke by telephone with Erdoğan on Friday, his first conversation with the Turkish leader since taking office. The long period without communication had been interpreted as a sign Biden is placing less importance on the US relationship with Turkey going forward.
In a readout of the call, the White House said Biden “convey[ed] his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.”
Earlier this week, US officials had been sending signals to allies outside the administration — who have been pushing for an official declaration — that the President would recognize the genocide. Addressing the potential move in an interview with a Turkish broadcaster this week, Turkey’s foreign minister said, “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs.”
The government of Turkey often registers complaints when foreign governments describe the event, which began in 1915, using the word “genocide.” They maintain that it was wartime and there were losses on both sides, and they put the number of dead Armenians at 300,000.
Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both avoided using the word genocide to avoid angering Ankara.
The declaration will not bring with it any new legal consequences for Turkey, only diplomatic fall-out.
The number of Armenians killed has been a major point of contention. Estimates range from 300,000 to 2 million deaths between 1914 and 1923, with not all of the victims in the Ottoman Empire. But most estimates — including one of 800,000 between 1915 and 1918, made by Ottoman authorities themselves — fall between 600,000 and 1.5 million.
Whether due to killings or forced deportation, the number of Armenians living in Turkey fell from 2 million in 1914 to under 400,000 by 1922.
While the death toll is in dispute, photographs from the era document some mass killings. Some show Ottoman soldiers posing with severed heads, others with them standing amid skulls in the dirt. The victims are reported to have died in mass burnings and by drowning, torture, gas, poison, disease and starvation. Children were reported to have been loaded into boats, taken out to sea and thrown overboard. Rape, too, was frequently reported.
In 2019, the House and Senate passed a resolution recognizing the mass killings of Armenians from 1915 to 1923 as genocide. Prior to its passage, the Trump administration had asked Republican senators to block the unanimous consent request several times on the grounds that it could undercut negotiations with Turkey.
This story has been updated with additional information.