The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest President Biden‘s recognition over the weekend that the former Ottoman Empire’s mass killing of Armenians was a genocide.
While Armenia spent the weekend praising Mr. Biden‘s declaration, White House officials anticipated Ankara‘s harsh reaction to the first time an American president has called the World War I-era atrocities that killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians a genocide.
Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had not publicly addressed the issue as of Sunday night, Turkey‘s diplomatic community issued statements throughout the weekend.
Turkey‘s state-owned TRT World reported that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara “entirely rejects” Mr. Biden‘s recognition of the 1915 Armenian events as genocide.
The rejection came hours after Mr. Biden made global headlines Saturday by issuing a statement coinciding with Armenian Remembrance Day that “the American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”
“We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history,” the president said. “We remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”
It remains to be seen whether the declaration will harm U.S. relations with fellow NATO member Turkey, which already have been running low amid a range of disputes.
There are signs Mr. Erdogan may not seek confrontation over the weekend’s developments. Armenian and Turkish media reported Saturday that he had issued a conciliatory statement to the Armenian community in Turkey.
“I remember with respect the Ottoman Armenians, who lost their lives under the harsh conditions of the First World War, and offer my condolences to their grandchildren,” Mr. Erdogan said, according to Public Radio of Armenia.
However, Mr. Erdogan has held past conferences denying the Armenia genocide and has a history of seizing on such issues to stir nationalist sentiment in Turkey.
At the moment, the Turkish president is seen to be treading carefully in early interactions with the Biden administration. He had good rapport with former President Donald Trump and is now seen to seeking a reset with Washington, despite past friction with Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden is believed to have forewarned Mr. Erdogan in a phone call Friday that the genocide declaration would occur Saturday. However, the White House did not publicly reveal such details, saying only that Mr. Biden used the call to express his administration’s desire for “a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.”
A Turkish government statement after the call said Mr. Erdogan raised concerns to Mr. Biden about the presence in the United States of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of having orchestrated a failed 2016 coup attempt against the Erdogan government. Mr. Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s, denies involvement in the coup.
As a presidential candidate last year, Mr. Biden promised to make the Armenian genocide designation if elected, though many candidates had spoken similarly but not followed through when in power in the interest of maintaining good relations with Turkey.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian hailed Mr. Biden‘s announcement on Saturday.
“Thank you, Mr President! Recognizing the Armenian genocide is a courageous and inspiring act,” Mr. Sarkissian tweeted. “It’s Important for the Armenian nation and for all those who seek justice worldwide. It opens new prospects for US-Armenian relations. It also makes this world a better place!”
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said Mr. Biden‘s move “effectively ended the longest-lasting foreign gag-rule in American history.”
The Senate passed a resolution in 2019 that had recognized Turkey‘s genocide of the Armenian people, but the Trump administration said the move did not change the U.S. position on the subject.
In 2019, President Trump called the killings “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century,” but stopped short of using the word “genocide.”
Mr. Biden said of the Armenians who survived, “most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States.”
“With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community,” the president said. “Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future — toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security.”
In Ankara, meanwhile, Turkish officials said Ambassador David Satterfield responded to being summoned and met late Saturday with Turkey‘s deputy foreign minister.
The meeting came after the foreign ministry issued a statement asserting that Mr. Biden‘s announcements were politically motivated and lacked any “scholarly and legal basis.”
“The nature of the events of 1915 does not change according to the current political motives of the politicians or domestic political considerations. Such an attitude serves only a vulgar distortion of history,” the ministry said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted: “We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.