Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has denounced the declaration by United States President Joe Biden that 1915-1917 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, and called for the decision to be rescinded immediately rescinded.
“The US President has made baseless, unjust and untrue remarks about the sad events that took place in our geography over a century ago,” Erdogan said after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, adding “I hope the US President will turn back from this wrong step as soon as possible.”
Biden’s historic recognition that the deaths of 1.5 million Armenian children, women and men during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire amount to genocide infuriated NATO ally Turkey, which responded that the announcement had opened a “deep wound” in relations already strained over a host of issues.
The Ottoman Empire was founded by Turkish tribes in Anatolia in 1299, controlling vast sectors in Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa until its disintegration in 1922. While modern-day Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, it adamantly disputes the number of victims and denies their deaths were part of a systematically orchestrated campaign tantamount to genocide.
32 world governments and parliaments around the world have now dformally recognize the Armenian Genocide, including the Israeli Knesset in 2016.
In his first comments since Biden’s statement, an infuriated Erdoğan claimed the upsetting move diminished bilateral ties while insisting Turkey still seeks the establishment of “good neigbourly” ties with Armenia.
The Turkish President then pointed an accusatory finger of its own historical treatment of Native Americans. “If you say genocide, then you need to look at yourselves in the mirror and make an evaluation,” charged Erdoğan, saying “what happened is clear” in reference to behavior by European settlers in the pre-and-post colonial US.
“While all these truths are out there, you cannot pin the genocide accusation on the Turkish people,” he insisted.
He then repeated a call for Turkish and Armenian historians to form a joint commission to investigate claims the Ottomans perpetrated an ethnic cleansing campaign a century ago.
The Turkish leader went on to blast Washington for having failed to find a solution to the decades-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and accused the White House as having stood by as massacres unfolded in Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
The US, Russia and France attempted to mediate a 6-week conflict between ethnic Armenian forces with Azeri forces, who seized swathes of territory in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The fighting was ultimately halted by a Russia-brokered deal in November, locking in territorial gains for Azerbaijan, backed by its close ally Turkey.
Baku has criticized Biden’s statement on the Armenian Genocide, while Yerevan has praised it.
“The falsification of history, attempts to “rewrite history” and its use for political pressure are unacceptable,” said Azerbaijan‘s Foreign Ministry in a statement on Saturday, alleging that the US decision is “misrepresenting the events that happened 100 years ago”.
In contrast, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sent a letter of gratitude to the US President underscoring that the US decision is critical, particularly in the wake of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.
“The recognition of the genocide is a matter of truth, historical justice and security to the Republic of Armenia, especially in the light of the events that took place in our region last year,” read text of the letter, which was published on Pashinyan’s presidential website.
The US recognition comes at a time when Ankara and Washington have been struggling to repair relations that were badly-frayed over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 defense system from Russia that resulted in US sanctions, compounded by policy differences over Syria as well as separate legal matters.
Even though Erdoğan said he expected to “open the door for a new period” during discussion of all bilateral disputes with Biden at the upcoming NATO summit in June, he warned that ties would deteriorate further the two nations are able to compartmentalize issues.
“We now need to put aside our disagreements and look at what steps we can take from now on, otherwise we will have no choice but to do what is required by the level our ties have fallen to on April 24,” he said, alluding to the date on which the US officially recognized the Armenian Genocide.