A bipartisan group of 38 Senators including high-ranking members and committee chairs sent a letter to US President Joe Biden on Friday urging him to recognise the Armenian Genocide.
“We write today to strongly urge you to officially recognise the truth of the Armenian Genocide,” the senators, led by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez, wrote to Mr Biden.
No US President has ever used the word 'genocide' to refer to the killings of Armenians that took place between 1915 and 1923 in the Ottoman Empire. Fears of antagonising Turkey and creating an even deeper rift with the Nato ally had prevented the US executive branch from taking such a step.
But Mr Biden pledged last April that he would recognise the events as genocide if elected president. Now, the 38 senators are trying to hold him to his word.
“In the past, you have recognised the Armenian Genocide as genocide … We call on you to do so again as president to make clear that the US government recognises this terrible truth,” the letter said.
Last year, Mr Biden tweeted, “if elected, I pledge to support a resolution recognising the Armenian Genocide and will make universal human rights a top priority.”
The letter said 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.” Turkey has disputed these accusations and called accusations of a genocide against Armenians during that period “null and void".
Several countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Portugal, Russia and Uruguay have formally recognised that genocide was committed against the Armenians.
The letter is now calling for Mr Biden to do so on April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
Following votes in the Senate and the House in 2019, the senators said, “Congress has already made its position clear. It is time for the executive branch to do so as well.”
Besides Mr Menendez, the letter was signed by senior Democratic, Republican and Independent senators. They are: John Cornyn (R), Chuck Schumer (D), Mitt Romney (R), Dick Durbin (D), Rob Portman (R), Sheldon Whitehouse (D), Susan Collins (R), Chris Van Hollen (D), Kevin Cramer (R), Ed Markey (D), Marco Rubio (R), Sherrod Brown (D), Ted Cruz (R), Jack Reed (D), Debbie Stabenow (D), Ron Wyden (D), Dianne Feinstein (D), Catherine Cortez Masto (D), Jacky Rosen (D), Cory Booker (D), Michael Bennet (D), Tammy Baldwin (D), Alex Padilla (D), Elizabeth Warren (D), Ben Cardin (D), Bernie Sanders (I), Bob Casey (D), Patrick Leahy (D), Gary Peters (D), Raphael Warnock (D), Tammy Duckworth (D), John Hickenlooper (D), Richard Blumenthal (D), Amy Klobuchar (D), Angus King (I), Tina Smith (D) and Jeff Merkley (D).
The letter comes in the middle of growing tension between the US and Turkey.
Mr Biden has still not called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since entering office on January 20. Unlike its predecessor, the Biden administration has been more vocal in condemning Turkey’s human rights violations.
Just this week, Secretary of State Tony Blinken issued two statements criticising Ankara.
On Wednesday, Mr Blinken said, "the United States is closely following events in Turkey, including troubling moves on March 17 to strip Member of Parliament Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his parliamentary seat."
On Friday, Mr Erdogan took Russia's side in the ongoing spat between Mr Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr Erdogan said that it was both "unacceptable" and "not fitting of a president" for Mr Biden to call Mr Putin "a killer".
Turkey came under US sanctions this year for its acquisition of the Russian S-400 system.