US President Joe Biden yesterday said the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a historic declaration that infuriated Turkey and is set to further strain frayed ties between the two Nato allies.
The largely symbolic move, breaking away from decades of carefully calibrated language from the White House, will likely to be celebrated by the Armenian diaspora in the United States, but comes at a time when Ankara and Washington have deep policy disagreements over a host of issues.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey "entirely rejects" the US decision which he said was based "solely on populism".
Biden's message was met with "great enthusiasm" by the people of Armenia and Armenians worldwide, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote in a letter to the U.S. president.
In his statement, Biden said 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," Biden said.
In comments that sought to soften the blow, a senior administration official told reporters that Washington encouraged Armenia and Turkey to pursue reconciliation and continues to view Ankara as a critical Nato ally.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
A year ago, while still a presidential candidate, Biden commemorated the 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children who lost their lives in the final years of the Ottoman Empire and said he would back efforts to recognize those killings as a genocide.
Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over issues ranging from Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems - over which it was the target of US sanctions - to policy differences in Syria, and over human rights issues.