Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned the US 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 US Ambassador David Satterfield that the statement had no legal basis and that Ankara "rejected it, found it unacceptable and condemned in the strongest terms." It said the statement had caused a "wound in ties that will be hard to repair."
For decades, measures recognizing the Armenian genocide stalled in the US Congress and US presidents have refrained from calling it that, stymied by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara.
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
"We have lived together in peace in this land for centuries, we find peace under the shadow of our crescent and star flag," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in response to the announcement. Turkey’s foreign minister also reacted to the announcement, telling a local news channel that such a move would harm relations with the United States.
That sentiment was echoed by Turkey’s main opposition party, The Republican People’s Party, in a statement released on Thursday, denouncing the possible move by Biden.
“This is unjust, unwarranted and inappropriate. We do not accept this characterization,” the party said in its statement.
Turkey, where many revere the Ottoman Empire, accepts that Armenians were killed but has long refuted equating the deaths with genocide.
“Genocide recognition is going to be a large blow to the Turkish government,” said Berk Esen, an assistant professor of political science at Sabancı University in Istanbul.
He says Biden has been angered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies that went against US interests and believes the Turkish president can’t respond too strongly while he is dealing with a major spike in COVID-19 cases and an economic crisis in his country.
Relations with the US are especially important to Turkey’s economy, which strongly relies on foreign investment.Reuters and Kristina Jovanovski/The Media Line contributed to this report.