Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to recognise the killing of 55 million Native Americans at the hand of European settlers in a tit-for-tat attack on Washington’s decision to rebuke Ankara for the Armenian genocide.
The US Senate voted in favour of recognising the genocide last week, a move initially stalled by Republicans at the urging of Donald Trump – who had been due to meet with the Turkish leader at the time.
However, with the bill now passed, Mr Erdogan has threatened to respond by recognising US killings of Native Americans – saying the deaths of millions of indigenous people at the hands of European settlers should also be viewed as a genocide.
Speaking on the pro-government A Haber news channel, he said: “We should oppose [the US] by reciprocating such decisions in parliament. And that is what we will do.
“Can we speak about America without mentioning [Native Americans]? It is a shameful moment in US history”
But Turkey denies the killings amounted to genocide, instead marking up the deaths of Armenians and Turks as the consequences of the ongoing war. It claims a lower death toll of hundreds of thousands.
While the ramifications of the US legislation are largely symbolic, its timing and the targeting of a sore spot for the Turkish state have been seen by many as a direct challenge to the Middle Eastern country’s foreign policy.
The bill began its passage through congress in the aftermath of the Ankara’s decision to move troops into Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria, exploiting a power vacuum left by the withdrawal of American forces to attack Kurdish militias who had served as allies to the US.
But Turkey’s leader was not alone in wanting the issue of indigenous Americans addressed – with left-wing Democrat Ilhan Omar refusing to back the bill until the deaths of Native Americans and the transatlantic slave trade were viewed in the same light by congress.
A University College London team estimates that 55 million indigenous people died following the conquest of the Americas that began at the end of the 15th century.
The majority of these deaths are believed to have been caused by disease – with indigenous people unable to build immunities to diseases that had never previously crossed over the Atlantic to the Americas.
War, slavery and displacement also contributed to the decline of indigenous populations.
The Senate unanimously voted Thursday to pass a resolution that called the mass killings of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, prompting an angry rebuke from Ankara.
The US federal government recognizes 567 Indian nations in 33 states, including 229 in Alaska. The United States denies that native populations of North America had experienced genocide, even in controversial cases like the Sand Creek Massacre and the Long Walk of the Navajo.