Turkish-Swedish row over genocide label

March 12, 2010 at 12:41 PM
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ANKARA, Turkey, March 12 (UPI) -- Turkey recalled its ambassador to Sweden and canceled bilateral meetings after lawmakers in Stockholm called the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman-era Turks genocide, a few days after rowing with Washington over the same issue.

Ankara also canceled a March 17 summit between the nations and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's corresponding visit to Sweden. The diplomatic crisis comes a week after Ankara recalled its ambassador to the United States because a congressional committee approved a similar resolution.

Erdogan's office strongly condemned the Swedish resolution, which labels the 1915-23 killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians genocide, saying in a statement it was "unsubstantiated," and "replete with immense errors." It added the resolution was adopted to please domestic voters ahead of the September national elections in Sweden.

"This resolution adopted with domestic political motives does not befit Turkey-Sweden relations and the close cooperation and friendship between our peoples," the statement reads. "Those who believe that historical facts and Turkey's opinion regarding its own history will be changed by decisions adopted by foreign Parliaments for political gains are gravely mistaken."

The Swedish government also criticized the resolution, which passed by one vote.

"Historical events should not be judged at a political level but should be left to the parties concerned to discuss on the basis of current research," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a statement posted on a Swedish government Web site. "The decision will not help the debate in Turkey, which has become increasingly open and tolerant as Turkey has developed closer relations with the European Union and made the democratic reforms these entail."

Observers say Turkey's recent conflicts with Washington and Stockholm over the genocide label threatens an already stalled peace process that hit its high last October when Turkey and Armenia, after decades of conflict, signed documents to re-establish ties and reopen the countries' mutual border.

Armenia says Turks killed up to 1.5 million Armenians when the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I. Many historians say the killings amount to genocide, a charge Turkey strongly denies by pointing to the chaotic circumstances during the breakup of the empire.

Ankara is also critical of Armenia's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in neighboring Azerbaijan. Turkey in 1993 severed ties with Armenia when it fought a war with Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.

The "genocide" label is important to Armenians scattered around the world. An estimated 5.7 million Armenians live abroad, including 1.4 million in the United States, significantly outnumbering the 3.2 million living in the small, landlocked country itself.

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