Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed supporters of the recognition of the World War I-era killings of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide following reports that US President Joe Biden was preparing to recognize the kililngs as genocide, local media reports said.
“Our president noted that he would continue to defend the truth against the so-called ‘Armenian genocide’ lie and those who back this politically motivated slander,” Erdoğan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said in a written statement released on Thursday after a meeting between the president and his top advisers.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), however, has chosen a more direct approach and called on Biden in a written statement issued on Thursday to act “responsibly” and “prudently” so as not to harm strategic relations between Washington and Ankara.
“The [use of the] political wording in question may inflict incurable damage on Turkey-US relations, which have already been going through a difficult period,” the CHP leader warned, adding that recognizing the massacre of Armenians as genocide would be an “unjust, improper and unfair” move on Biden’s part.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said in an interview this week that Biden’s move would sour bilateral relations. “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” he said.
Biden is expected to announce the genocide designation on April 24 by using the word “genocide” as part of a statement he will issue on the 106th anniversary of the mass killings that began in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire was battling Czarist Russia during World War I in the region that is now Armenia, according to US media reports.
If Biden lives up to the expectations, his move, despite being largely symbolic, would mean breaking away from decades of carefully calibrated language from the White House and make him the first US president to recognize the massacre of Armenians as genocide.
The expected move would also infuriate Ankara, which accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute genocide.
The reports about Biden came after more than 100 members of Congress, led by Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote to the president urging him to make good on a campaign promise to recognize the genocide.
The US Congress formally recognized the killings as genocide in December 2019 in a symbolic vote.
Although Erdoğan had established a close bond with former President Donald Trump, he has yet to speak to Biden since he assumed office on Jan. 20.
While Turkish and US officials have held talks since then, the Biden administration has intensified pressure on Turkey by frequently expressing its discontent over Ankara’s human rights record and the gap between the two sides over a spate of issues including Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system and differences in policy toward Syrian Kurds.