October 30, 2019 / 4:25 PM / 17 days ago

Turkey says U.S. vote on Armenia genocide will damage ties

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey condemned a decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to recognise the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide, saying on Wednesday it would damage the “critical” relationship between the NATO allies.

Armenia praised Tuesday’s vote, which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hailed on Twitter as “a bold step towards serving truth and historical #justice”.

But in Turkey, government ministers and officials said the timing of the vote, after weeks of international criticism of Ankara’s military incursion against Syrian Kurdish forces, showed it was politically motivated.

The Foreign Ministry said U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield had been summoned on Wednesday.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in two weeks, said he had not decided yet whether the trip was going ahead.

Asked whether he would make the visit after recent developments, Erdogan said the issue remained “a question mark”.

Speaking to lawmakers from his AK Party, Erdogan said the resolution won support because of the fallout in the United States over Ankara’s operation in northeast Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, which was the main U.S. partner in the battle against Islamic State in Syria.

“These efforts... were passed by the House of Representatives, using a negative air that has formed against our country among the American public,” Erdogan said. “In a sense, they were being opportunistic.”

Erdogan said an Armenian militant group killed more than 40 diplomats in attacks on Turkish missions in 21 countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

“We reject... unilateral judgements on events more than a century ago, that don’t even mention Turkey’s losses,” he said.

Erdogan’s communications director called Tuesday’s vote deeply troubling. “Those who voted for this resolution will be responsible for the deterioration of a critical strategic relationship in a turbulent region,” Fahrettin Altun said.

Altun repeated a call by Erdogan to form a historical commission to investigate the events.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.

“THWARTED GAME”

The House of Representatives also backed legislation calling on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey over its offensive in northern Syria.

Ankara had reached separate agreements with Moscow and Washington to remove YPG fighters from its border. The agreement had led to Trump lifting sanctions on Ankara.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the two resolutions were passed because Turkey had “thwarted the game” in Syria by reaching agreements with Russia and the United States.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, October 30, 2019. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

“They are trying to avenge this, there is no other explanation,” he told reporters.

Turkey’s parliament also condemned the U.S. resolutions. IN a statement, parliamentary speaker Mustafa Sentop said the move was “the last straw” and that it fuelled enmity between the allies rather than contribute to friendship.

Ties between Washington and Ankara have been under pressure over issues including Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems and Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed 2016 military coup.

Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun, Editing by Dominic Evans and Timothy Heritage

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