Turkey Summons U.S. Ambassador After Biden Calls Mass Killing of Armenians 'Genocide'

Ankara says Biden's statement has no legal basis and that it caused a 'wound in ties that will be hard to repair'

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaking in Pittsburgh, March 2021
U.S. President Joe Biden speaking in Pittsburgh, March 2021Credit: Jonathan Ernst / AP

Turkey's foreign ministry said it summoned the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara over President Joe Biden's recognition of the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, adding it had conveyed Turkey's "strong reaction."

Biden said on Saturday that the 1915 killings constituted genocide, a historic declaration that infuriated Turkey and further strained frayed ties between the two NATO allies.

In a statement, the ministry said deputy foreign minister Sedat Onal had told U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield that the statement had no legal basis and that Ankara "rejected it, found it unacceptable and condemned in the stongest terms". It said the statement had caused a "wound in ties that will be hard to repair".

With the acknowledgement, Biden followed through on a campaign promise he made a year ago Saturday — the annual commemoration of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day — to recognize that the events of 1915 to 1923 were a deliberate effort to wipe out Armenians.

Torchlight procession march during a demonstration to mark the 106th anniversary of the massacre and honors the victims of Armenian Genocide, in Yerevan, Armenia, earlier todayCredit: Grigor Yepremyan / AP

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 Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Saturday the United States should look to its own past in response to President Joe Biden's recognition of the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

"We strongly condemn and reject the U.S. President's remarks which only repeat the accusations of those whose sole agenda is enmity towards our country," Kalin said on Twitter.

"We advise the U.S. President to look at (his country's) own past and present."

Meretz Lawmaker Tamar Zandberg called on Israel to recognize the Armenian genocide as well following Biden’s announcement, “This is a historic recognition of one of the most heinous crimes in human history. The time has come that Israel drop its political interests, operate in the interest of the most basic justice, and recognize the Armenian genocide.” Zandberg added, “The Jewish nation cannot aid attempts to erase history.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry released a statement saying: "Israel recognizes the terrible suffering of the Armenian people. Particularly these days, the nations of the world must make sure that events like these do not occur." The ministry did not use the term "genocide."

On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that he intends to recognize the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, sources familiar with the conversation told Reuters, a potential further blow to the already frayed ties between the two NATO allies.

The much-anticipated first phone call between the two leaders took place more than three months after Biden's January 20 inauguration, a delay that is widely seen as a cold shoulder to Erdogan, who had enjoyed close ties with former president Donald Trump.

The call was also a day before Armenian Remembrance Day when Biden is expected to break away from decades of carefully calibrated White House statements that had previously described the events during World War One as "Metz Yeghern" (great evil).

Neither the White House statement on the phone call nor the account provided by the Turkish presidency made any mention of the issue.

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