Turkey says Armenian genocide bill 'an insult', summons U.S. envoy
(Updates with Erdoğan comments in third paragraph, foreign minister in sixth.)
Turkey slammed a U.S. decision recognising the mass killing of Armenians early last century as genocide and summoned the country's ambassador.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the resolution, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by 405 votes to 11 on Tuesday, was devoid of any truth. It was approved on the anniversary of the formation of the Turkish republic.
“We see such an accusation as the greatest insult made to our nation," Erdoğan said in a speech to his party deputies in parliament. “A country whose history is filled with stains of genocide, slavery and exploitation has no right to say something or to lecture Turkey.”
Turkey and the United States have been embroiled in a political dispute over a Turkish military incursion into northern Syria that began in early October. U.S. President Donald Trump paved the way for the operation by withdrawing troops from the border region, sparking criticism in Congress that he had abandoned the Kurds. Ankara says Kurdish forces that it has been battling in Syria are terrorists allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an autonomy-seeking armed group in Turkey.
Most scholars recognise that genocide was committed by the Ottoman Empire from 1915. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died. Turkey denies that such a slaughter took place and has lobbied governments and parliaments around the world to refrain from recognising the events as genocide.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry demanded an explanation from Ambassador David Satterfield during a meeting on Wednesday. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the resolution amounted to "revenge" for Turkey's military operation.
Earlier on Tuesday, the U.S. House also voted 403 to 16 to impose economic sanctions on Turkey for the Syria incursion. Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) militants there have been staunch allies of the United States in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).
“If we ignore history, then we are destined to witness the mistakes of the past be repeated,” Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, said before Tuesday’s vote. “Recent attacks by the Turkish military against the Kurdish people are a stark reminder of the danger in our own time.”
“If only Turkey had taken the lead to address sadness that haunts Armenians to this day over 1915. If only Turkey had taken the lead to address Kurdish grievances and abuses they suffered regardless of the militants of the mountains. If only Turkey had stayed out of Syria,” Ziya Meral, senior resident fellow at the U.K.-based Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research, said in comments on Twitter.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also criticised the House resolution envisaging economic sanctions on the country.
The bill “is incompatible with the spirit of our NATO Alliance,” the ministry said in a separate statement. “It also contradicts with the agreement reached on Syria with the U.S. Administration on 17 October,” it said in reference to an agreement on a cessation of hostilities in northern Syria reached with the White House two weeks ago.
U.S. officials have failed to discern the difference between a NATO ally and terrorists and “should understand that they cannot achieve anything with the threats of unilateral sanctions”, it said.
The sanctions bill envisages freezing the assets of senior Turkish political and military leaders and blocking their travel to the United States. It would prohibit arms transfers to Turkey if the weapons could be used in Syria, mandates an investigation of Erdoğan’s personal wealth and would impose punishment on state-run Turkish bank Halkbank.
Erdoğan said the resolution was aimed at targeting him, his family and his ministers directly, adding that he strongly rejected it.
The bill faces potential obstacles in the Senate, where leading Republicans have called for a delay in order to give time for the Trump administration to find a diplomatic solution with Turkey.