Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on U.S. counterpart Joe Biden to immediately reverse his declaration that 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a move he said was upsetting and diminished bilateral ties.
Biden's historic declaration on Saturday has infuriated its NATO ally Turkey, which has said the announcement had opened a "deep wound" in relations that have already been strained over a host of issues.
In his first comments since the White House statement on Saturday, Erdogan said "the wrong step" would hinder ties and advised the United States to "look in the mirror."
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Yet the Turkish president added he expected to "open a new door" in ties and discuss all agreements with President Biden at a NATO summit in June.
"The U.S. 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, and repeated a call for Turkish and Armenian historians to form a joint commission to investigate the events.
"I hope the U.S. president will turn back from this wrong step as soon as possible."
"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," Erdogan said.
He also slammed the United States for having failed to find a solution to the decades-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh - where the United States, Russia and France were mediators - and said Washington had stood by as massacres unfolded.
"If you say genocide, then you need to look at yourselves in the mirror and make an evaluation. The Native Americans, I don't even need to mention them, what happened is clear," he said, in reference to the treatment of Native Americans by European settlers. "While all these truths are out there, you cannot pin the genocide accusation on the Turkish people."
Turkey’s foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest Biden's declaration.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal met with David Satterfield late Saturday to express Ankara’s strong condemnation. “The statement does not have legal ground in terms of international law and has hurt the Turkish people, opening a wound that’s hard to fix in our relations,” the ministry said.
Turkey rejects the use of the word "genocide", saying both Turks and Armenians were killed in the World War I-era fighting, and has called for a joint history commission to investigate. For years, American presidents have avoided using “genocide” to describe what Armenians call Meds Yeghern, or the Great Crime.
The announcement comes as Turkish-American relations suffer from a host of issues. The U.S. has sanctioned Turkish defense officials and kicked Turkey out of a fighter jet program after the NATO member bought the Russian-made S400 defense system.
Ankara is frustrated by Washington's support of Syrian Kurdish fighters linked to an insurgency that Turkey has fought for decades. Turkey has also demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric accused of orchestrating a bloody coup attempt against Erdogan's government in 2016. Gulen lives in the U.S. and denies involvement.