Turkey rejected the US House of Representatives’ official recognition of the “Armenian genocide” a century ago, warning it risks harming ties “at an extremely fragile time” for international and regional security.
In a landmark move on Tuesday, the House approved a resolution calling the early 20th-century killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks “genocide”. The chamber voted 405 to 11 in support of the measure.
“The resolution which has apparently been drafted and issued for domestic consumption is devoid of any historical or legal basis,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement after the vote.
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“The resolution itself is also not legally binding,” the statement said.
“As a meaningless political step, its sole addressees are the Armenian lobby and anti Turkey groups … The debate on the events that occurred in 1915 belongs to the realm of history, not politics.”
On Wednesday morning, Turkey summoned the US ambassador to the country over the resolution.
US politicians delivered a two-punch rebuke to Turkey on its national day, with the genocide measure passing alongside a bill that imposes sanctions over Ankara’s assault on Kurdish-controlled territory in northeastern Syria, which was made possible by the withdrawal of American troops.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was honoured to join her colleagues “in solemn remembrance of one of the great atrocities of the 20th century: the systematic murder of more than 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children by the Ottoman Empire”.
Previous efforts to pass similar legislation failed because of Turkish diplomatic opposition.
Although Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in ethnic fighting and deportations between 1915-17 during World War I, it has rejected the label of genocide.
Turkey says both Armenians and Turks died as a result of World War I, but contests the figures, putting the death toll in the hundreds of thousands.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu condemned Tuesday’s vote, saying it was “null and void”.
“Those whose projects were frustrated turn to antiquated resolutions. Circles believing that they will take revenge this way are mistaken. This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null&void for our Government and people,” Cavusoglu tweeted.
Ruined big game
w/#OperationPeaceSpring. Those whose projects were frustrated turn to antiquated resolutions.Circles believing that they will take revenge this way are mistaken.This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null&void for our Government&people.
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) October 29, 2019
In 2017, newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump criticised the killings as “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century”, but in keeping with long-standing US practice, he stopped short of using the word genocide.
Before being elected in 2008, Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama had pledged to recognise the “genocide”, but ultimately did not do so during his two terms in office.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hailed the House move, tweeting it was a “bold step towards serving truth and historical #justice that also offers comfort to millions of descendants of the Armenian Genocide survivors”.
The House also passed a bipartisan measure that imposes sanctions on senior Turkish officials involved in the decision to launch the country’s military campaign in Syria, and a Turkish bank with ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It also requires the Trump administration to penalise Turkey’s procurement of a Russian-made missile-defence system known as the S-400.
A similar sanctions bill was introduced in the US Senate, but no vote has been taken.