Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday demanded that U.S. President Joe Biden reverse his declaration that the World War I-era massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide.
In his first comments since Biden’s statement on Saturday, Erdogan said the U.S. leader “has made baseless, unjust and untrue remarks about the sad events that took place in our geography over a century ago.”
Erdogan said he hoped Biden “will turn back from this wrong step as soon as possible.”
The Turkish leader also advised Biden to “look in the mirror” at the slaughter of Native Americans by European settlers as the United States developed the western half of its territory in the 19th century.
“While all these truths are out there, you cannot pin the genocide accusation on the Turkish people,” he said.
Erdogan said the Biden statement opened a “deep wound” in its relations with the United States, a NATO ally, at a time when U.S.-Turkey relations are already frayed. The U.S. imposed sanctions when Turkey purchased Russian air defense systems over the protests of U.S. and NATO allies.
Nonetheless, the Turkish leader said he expects to “open the door for a new period” in ties with the U.S. and discuss all disputes with Biden at a NATO summit in June.
“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 have fallen to on April 24,” he said.
Late Saturday, Turkey says it summoned David Satterfield, the U.S. ambassador to Ankara, to condemn the declaration by Biden, the first U.S. president to declare that the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire — the predecessor to modern-day Turkey — between 1915 and 1923 constituted genocide.
Armenians say they were purposely targeted for extermination through starvation, forced labor, deportation, death marches and outright massacres.
Turkey denies a genocide or any deliberate plan to wipe out the Armenians. It says many of the victims were casualties of the war or murdered by Russians. Turkey also says the number of Armenians killed was far fewer than the usually accepted figure of 1.5 million.
Moments after Biden made his statement Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted, “Words cannot change or rewrite history. We will not take lessons from anyone on our history.”
Biden’s statement fulfilled a campaign promise and came on the same day that Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day was observed in Armenia and by the Armenian diaspora.
“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Biden said in his statement. “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”
Biden told Erdogan in a phone call Friday that he intended to make the genocide declaration.