Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said charges that the Ottoman Empire committed a genocide against the Armenians are being used as “blackmail” against Turkey, insisting that Ankara will “never” accept such accusations.
On Thursday, the German parliament voted to label the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as “genocide”, prompting Ankara to recall its ambassador.
In his strongest reaction yet, Erdogan said on Saturday the German parliament’s resolution will have no impact on Turkey’s position on the issue.
“The Armenian issue is a useful blackmail opportunity against Turkey all around the world, and it is even starting to be used as a stick,” he said in a televised speech.
“I am addressing the whole world. You may like it, you may not. Our attitude on the Armenian issue is clear from the beginning. We will never accept the accusations of genocide.”
Turkey agrees that many Armenians died in ethnic fighting and the deportation process between 1915 and 1917 during World War I, putting its estimate at 300,000 casualties.
Armenia says 1.5 million died in the process in what it calls a “genocide”.
‘Stop being a barrier’
The dispute sparked alarm over the potential damage to relations between Turkey and Germany at a sensitive time when the two sides are working together to implement a deal seeking to stem the flow of refugees into the European Union.
“Either we find solutions to our problems in a fair way, or Turkey will stop being a barrier in front of the problems of Europe,” Erdogan said. “We will leave you to your own worries”.
Speaking after Thursday’s vote, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who skipped the ballot due to “public engagements”, emphasised on the close ties between the two countries and said that Germany’s relations with Turkey remain “broad and strong”.
“There is a lot that binds Germany to Turkey and even if we have a difference of opinion on an individual matter, the breadth of our links, our friendship, our strategic ties, is great,” Merkel said.
Yet, Erdogan expressed disappointment over Merkel’s stance, saying he wished she had taken part “and cast her vote”.
“Now I wonder how, after such a decision, German officials will look me and our prime minister in the face,” Erdogan said on Saturday in interviews published in several Turkish newspapers.
He added that Germany has no right to comment on genocide, given its own history during World War II and in Namibia.
“The countries that are blackmailing us with these Armenian genocide resolutions have the blood of millions of innocents on their hands.”
‘This is our difference’
In his speech to Turkish businessmen, Erdogan also mentioned that Turkey is currently hosting tens of thousands of Armenian citizens as economic migrants. He claimed that Turkey can send them back to Armenia, just like Europeans are sending refugees back to Turkey.
“Just like Europeans are doing now [to the refugees] we could have sent them [Armenians citizens living and working in Turkey] to Armenia. We can do that.”
“Is Europe taking in refugees at the moment?” he added. “Right now Turkey is hosting three million refugees. This is our difference.”
But, at the end of his speech, Erdogan said that “Turkey has no problems with the EU.
“We can’t nurture enmity towards a region that is home to five million people from Turkey,” he said.
“We do not demand positive discrimination,” he said, “We just want the EU to be just and principled.”
Edward Nalbandian, Armenia’s foreign minister, said the German parliament’s decision was a “valuable contribution” to the “international recognition and condemnation of the Armenian genocide”.
On the centenary of the events, which was commemorated on April 24, 2015, the European Parliament published a non-legislative resolution in which they urged Turkey to recognise the genocide.