The foreign minister of Turkey summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest President Joe Biden’s decision to designate as genocide the killing and deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal met with U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield late on April 24 to condemn the declaration.
“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 Turkish foreign ministry said.
Earlier on April 24, Biden followed through on a campaign promise and recognized the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians beginning in 1915 as genocide. The Ottoman Empire was the predecessor to modern-day Turkey.
“We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” Biden said in a statement, which didn’t include any references to Turkey.
Biden released the statement on April 24, the anniversary of the day in 1915 when Ottoman authorities began arresting Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The statement prompted statements of condemnation from Turkish officials.
Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on April 25 that Biden’s genocide designation is “unfair and unfortunate” and Turkey will respond in various ways over the coming months.
“There will be a response to this,” Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman and adviser, told Reuters in an interview.
Kalin didn’t specify whether Ankara would restrict U.S. access to the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, which has been used to support the international coalition fighting ISIS terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, or other measures it may take.
Turkey rejects the use of the word “genocide,” saying Turks and Armenians both were killed in the World War I-era fighting and has called for a joint history commission to investigate. U.S. presidents have avoided using the word “genocide” for years.
The announcement comes as Turkish–American relations suffer from a host of issues. The United States 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 United States and denies involvement.
Erdogan and Biden spoke on the phone on April 23 for the first time since the 2020 U.S. election.
Kalin, the spokesman for Turkey’s president, wrote on Twitter on April 25: “President Erdogan opened Turkey’s national archives & called for a joint historical committee to investigate the events of 1915, to which Armenia never responded. It is a pity @POTUS has ignored, among others, this simple fact and taken an irresponsible and unprincipled position.”
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.