The century-old atrocities against Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in modern-day Turkey were genocide, Biden said in a historic announcement on Armenian Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the beginning of the tragic era on April 24, 1915.
“It’s a long-awaited affirmation of what happened to Armenians,” said Purutyan, whose grandparents survived the genocide. “It’s very important to have my government on record affirming what happened to my people and calling it rightly what it is: a genocide.”
Biden used the term in the opening line of his statement.
“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” the president said.
The genocide led to the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders and 1.5 million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths, Biden said, in a “campaign of extermination.”
“We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history,” said Biden, using the Armenian term for genocide. “And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”
American presidents for decades have acknowledged Remembrance Day to mark the Ottoman Empire events of 1915 to 1923 but avoided using the term “genocide” to sidestep alienating Turkey, a key NATO ally.
In Boston, people gathered Saturday evening on Boston Common for a march to Armenian Heritage Park on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the genocide.
Massachusetts is home to a vibrant Armenian community. The Armenian Church of Our Savior in Worcester, which was built in 1890, is the first Armenian church in the United States.
One of the country’s best known Armenian enclaves is in Watertown, where many immigrants found work during the late 19th-century at the Hood Rubber Co..
In 1990, the state designated April 24 as a day of remembrance for Armenian genocide victims, according to Mass Humanities. Biden signaled his intention to recognize the genocide in a speech he delivered a year ago on Armenia’s official day of remembrance of the genocide.
Purutyan, who is Massachusetts chairman for the Armenian Assembly of America, said his deceased parents, Kalost and Zabel Purut longed for a US president to recognize the Armenian genocide before their deaths.
“They were just so passionate to see this day,” said Purutyan, who was born in Istanbul and moved to United States when he was a teenager.
Sarah Ignatius, executive director of the National Association for Armenian Studies & Research in Belmont, said she was thrilled by Biden’s announcement.
“It took a lot of courage for Biden to speak the truth and stand up for human rights around the globe,” she said.
Ignatius spoke from Washington, D.C., where she is visiting her 100-year-old father, former US Navy secretary Paul R. Ignatius.
“It will go a long way toward helping to prevent future genocide by recognizing what happened in the past to Armenians,” she said.
Ignatius said her father wrote about the importance of recognizing genocide in his 2011 memoir, “Now I Know in Part.” While her grandfather left the Ottoman Empire and resettled in the United States in 1903, she said her great-aunt and her family stayed behind and died during the atrocities.
“I feel in a certain way that we can breathe a sigh of relief and say the truth has won out and continue to do our work,” Ignatius said.
In Watertown, the Armenian Museum of America lauded Biden in a statement.
“The failure of the international community to respond decisively to this epic tragedy encourages other regimes to conduct similar murderous campaigns, and it was a precursor to the Holocaust,” said the statement, which also referred to the recent bloodshed in Artsakh, an enclave of ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan.
“We have witnessed the ongoing legacy of the Genocide in Artsakh in recent months, where Azerbaijan is carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing and cultural erasure,” the museum said.
The perpetrators of the Armenian genocide were never held accountable, the statement said, and the Turkish government has continued to deny it happened.
“Prevention and punishment for the crime of genocide remains a challenge for all people who believe in a world based on human rights and justice. Therefore, we applaud President Biden for recognizing the Armenian Genocide in his statement to the community on April 24,” the museum said.
Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, whose grandparents fled Marash, now known as Kahramanmaraş in modern Turkey, said he encouraged members of Biden’s campaign and White House administration to recognize the genocide.
Previous US presidents have promised to acknowledge the atrocities, but have not followed through, he said.
“We always felt disheartened because we would get a commitment and then that commitment would be unfilled year after year and administration after administration,” Koutoujian said.
He shared a photograph of his deceased grandparents, Abraham and Zarouhi, from their wedding day in Marash in 1909. Abraham Koutoujian eventually made it to Allston, where he reunited with Zarouhi, who had fled to Syria after the genocide began, the sheriff said.
“They had great American pride,” he said. “They really loved this country.”