Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced United States President Joe Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide as “groundless” and harmful to bilateral ties.
Biden’s historic declaration on Saturday infuriated the US’s NATO ally Turkey, which has said the announcement had opened a “deep wound” in relations that have already been strained over a host of issues.
In a televised address on Monday, Erdogan said “the wrong step” would hinder ties and said Turkey still sought to establish “good neighbourly” ties with Armenia.
“The US president has made comments that are groundless and unfair,” Erdogan said.
“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.”
The Armenians – supported by historians and scholars – say 1.5 million of their people died in a “genocide” committed under the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
Ankara accepts that both Armenians and Turks died in huge numbers as Ottoman forces fought tsarist Russia.
But Turkey vehemently denies a deliberate policy of genocide and notes that the term had not been legally defined at the time.
Biden tried to temper the expected Turkish anger by calling Erdogan for the first time since taking office in January.
The two leaders agreed in the Friday phone call to meet on the sidelines of a NATO summit in June.
But Erdogan said on Monday that Biden needed “to look in the mirror” when calling the century-old events a genocide.
“The Native Americans, I don’t even need to mention them, what happened is clear,” he said, in reference to the treatment of Native Americans by European settlers.
“While all these truths are out there, you cannot pin the genocide accusation on the Turkish people.”
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said that “historically, this has been about 40 years in the making in terms of successive presidents promising to do this declaration and then learning once they were in office that for strategic interests, it may not be in the US’s best interests to do so.
“That dynamic has changed. The feeling in the US is that it’s a result of Turkey’s actions, not the US’s actions that have resulted in this declaration,” Halkett said.
She added that the US administration views Turkey as a NATO partner but believes that Turkey has not always reciprocated.
Biden’s statement came at a time when Ankara and Washington have been struggling to repair ties, strained when Turkey bought S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, resulting in US sanctions, policy differences in Syria and legal matters.
Erdogan said he expected to “open the door for a new period” in ties and discuss all disputes with Biden at the NATO summit in June, but warned that ties would deteriorate further unless the allies could compartmentalise issues.
“We now need to put aside our disagreements and look at what steps we can take from now on, otherwise we will have no choice but to do what is required by the level our ties fell to on April 24,” he said.