The European Parliament has passed a resolution urging Turkey to use the 100th anniversary of the killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians under Ottoman rule to "recognize the Armenian genocide" and help promote reconciliation between the two peoples.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan pre-empted the announcement by stating that his country would disregard any motion from Brussels that called on Ankara to recognize the “Armenian genocide.” It also follows a high-profile spat between Turkey and the Vatican, after the Pope voiced the opinion that the massacre ammounted to the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians died in clashes with Ottoman soldiers beginning in 1915 — when Armenia was part of the empire ruled from Istanbul — but denies hundreds of thousands were killed and that this amounted to genocide.
The vote in Brussels takes place against a backdrop of growing tensions between Ankara and the international community over the characterization of the tragedy ahead of commemorations of the killings this month.
“Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on Armenian genocide claims, it would go in one ear and out the other,” Erdogan told a news conference at Ankara airport before departing on an official visit to Kazakhstan and before the vote took place.
“It is out of the question for there to be a stain, a shadow called ‘genocide’ on Turkey,” he said.
Turkey is seeking to become a member of the European Union but its accession talks have stalled amid EU misgivings over Ankara's human rights record and civil society reforms sought by Brussels.
The resolution voted for Wednesday "encourages Turkey" to use the anniversary "to recognize the Armenian Genocide and thus to pave the way for a genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples."
The EU parliament had itself recognized the killings as genocide in 1987.
The vote also came just days after Pope Francis became the first head of the Roman Catholic church to publicly call the killing of Armenians “genocide” on Sunday, prompting Turkey to summon the Vatican's ambassador and recall its own.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday that the pontiff has joined “an evil front” plotting against Turkey.
“An evil front is being formed before us...Now the pope has joined it and these plots,”Davutoglu said.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed as genocide.
Turkey says hundreds of thousands of both Turks and Armenians lost their lives as Ottoman forces battled the Russian Empire for control of eastern Anatolia during World War I.
Davutoglu said Turkey was willing to confront its history, but added: “We won't allow our nation to be insulted through history, we won't allow Turkey to be blackmailed through historic disputes.”
Around 100,000 Armenians still reside in Turkey, including those who are Turkish citizens and those who are not, and they are never mistreated, Erdogan said Wednesday.
“Both citizens and non-citizen Armenians are enjoying the opportunities of our country. We could have deported them, but we didn't,” the president added.