WASHINGTON – Turkey says it summoned the U.S. ambassador to Ankara to condemn President Joe Biden’s declaration that the World War I-era massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire constituted a genocide.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal told U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield late Saturday that Biden’s statement had no legal basis and that Ankara “rejected it, found it unacceptable and condemned [it] in the strongest terms.”
The Ankara government said the United States, a NATO ally, had caused a “wound in ties that will be hard to repair.”
Earlier Saturday, Biden became the first U.S. president to make the genocide declaration in connection with the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire — the predecessor to modern-day Turkey — between 1915 and 1923.
Armenians say they were purposely targeted for extermination through starvation, forced labor, deportation, death marches, and outright massacres.
Turkey denies a genocide or any deliberate plan to wipe out the Armenians. It says many of the victims were casualties of the war or murdered by Russians. Turkey also says the number of Armenians killed was far fewer than the usually accepted figure of 1.5 million.
Moments after Biden made his statement Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, “Words cannot change or rewrite history. We will not take lessons from anyone on our history.”
Biden’s statement fulfilled a campaign promise and came on the same day that Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day was observed in Armenia and by the Armenian diaspora.
“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,” Biden said in a statement. “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”
Biden had told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Friday that he intended to make the genocide declaration, although Erdogan has yet to make a public statement about Biden’s decision. The two leaders also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting at the NATO summit in Brussels in June.
In a letter Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged Biden to become the first U.S. president to recognize the killings as genocide.
“The shameful silence of the United States Government on the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide has gone on for too long, and it must end,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to follow through on your commitments and speak the truth.”
Cavusoglu said last week that Biden’s recognition of the killings as genocide would harm relations between the NATO allies.
Cavusoglu said Saturday that Biden’s recognition “distorts the historical facts, will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people, and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.”
“We call on the U.S. president to correct this grave mistake, which serves no purpose other than to satisfy certain political circles, and to support the efforts aiming to establish a practice of peaceful coexistence in the region, especially among the Turkish and Armenian nations, instead of serving the agenda of those circles that try to foment enmity from history,” Cavusoglu added.