Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 26 denounced U.S. President Joe Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide, saying the move would have a “destructive impact” on relations between the two countries.
In a televised address following a cabinet meeting, Erdogan told Biden to first “look in the mirror” before blaming the Turkish nation for committing genocide, pointing to the deaths of millions of Native Americans.
“You cannot get up and put the genocide label on the Turkish nation,” Erdogan said in his first major remarks on the issue.
Biden on April 24 became the first U.S. president to use the word genocide in a formal statement to describe the World War I-era massacre and deportation of Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The date commemorates the anniversary of when on April 24, 1915, thousands of Armenian intellectuals suspected of hostility toward Ottoman rule were rounded up in Istanbul.
Previous U.S. administrations have avoided using the term genocide for decades in order not to provoke Turkey, a NATO ally and important regional power.
But Biden felt an opportunity to make an “historical acknowledgement of what took place in 1915” based on a “deep respect for the importance of universal human rights,” U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on April 26.
Describing Biden’s position as “unfounded and contrary to facts,” Erdogan repeated the Turkish position that the issue should be left to historians and not politicians. For years, Turkey has said it will open its archives to a joint history commission to address the issue.
“We believe that these comments were included in the declaration following pressure from radical Armenian groups and anti-Turkish circles. But this situation does not reduce the destructive impact of these comments,” Erdogan said.
He added that he will meet with Biden during a NATO summit in June to discuss “opening a new door” on relations.
“Now we need to look at how we will take steps toward the future. Otherwise, there will be no other choice but to put into effect the policies required by the new low to which our relations have sunk,” he said.
Tense U.S.-Turkish Relations
Biden’s statement came at a time of already tense relations between Turkey and the United States over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system, U.S. ties with Kurdish forces in Syria that Turkey considers linked to its own Kurdish militants, and a host of other matters.
Erdogan also criticized the United States for having failed to find a solution in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh — where the United States, Russia, and France were mediators — and said Washington had stood by as massacres unfolded.
“Unfortunately, more than 1 million Azeri brothers were forced from Karabakh. All of Karabakh was burned and destroyed,” he said, referring to displacement that occurred nearly three decades ago.
Turkey backed Azerbaijan in the conflict last year, in which Azerbaijan took back swathes of lands in the Nagorno-Karabakh region it had lost to ethnic Armenian forces in the early 1990s.
Weaving through Turkey’s view of history, Erdogan went on to describe numerous “Armenian lies” and criticize the West for “double standards.”
During and immediately after World War I, Armenians and many historians say as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed, in what Armenians call “The Great Crime.” Armenians have documented mass murder, banditry, raping of women, pillaging of property, and other atrocities.
As the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey objects to the use of the word genocide and says that hundreds of thousands of Muslims also died in Anatolia at the time due to combat, starvation, cold, and disease.
The official Turkish position is that Armenian revolutionaries constituted a fifth column allied with Russia during World War I, and that the mass deportation and accompanying Armenian deaths were not premeditated or intentional. Turkey puts the number of Armenian dead at a couple of hundred thousand.
“You can find mass graves of Turks who were murdered in our country, but nowhere you can find an Armenian mass grave,” Erdogan claimed.
“A million Turks and Kurds are said to have been massacred by Armenian gangs. April 24 is the day when the leaders of Armenian gangs were arrested [in Istanbul]. In fact, nothing in the sense of human tragedy has happened on this day,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan also said that as many as 10 million ethnic Turks and Muslims were killed or expelled from the Balkans and Caucasus in the final decades and years of the Ottoman Empire due to Western-backed ethnic nationalism and Russian expansion.
“Half of our nation has its origins in being exiled,” he said. “As Turkey, we never seek to exploit our own pain.”