Sweden scrambled to contain damage to ties with Turkey after its parliament labelled the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians as genocide, a week after a similar vote by a US congressional panel dealt a blow to relations between Ankara and Washington.
The Swedish resolution, passed by a single vote on Thursday, will hurt ties with one of Turkey’s strongest supporters in the European Union, when Ankara’s relations with the bloc are already strained by the slow pace of accession talks.
Turkey has recalled its ambassador in Stockholm for consultations, and cancelled a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister, scheduled for next week. The visit was intended to promote trade and investment, and to discuss ideas for joint work on reconstruction in Afghanistan, a Turkish official said.
Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister, said the vote did not reflect government policy and warned it would undermine a reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia – which had agreed a committee of historians should discuss the 1915 massacres.
”The Government worked actively to make this clear to [parliament] before the debate,” he said. “The decision will not help the debate in Turkey, which has become increasingly open and tolerant.”
Mr Bildt has been a vocal backer of Turkey’s EU bid, warning opponents last November it would be a “mistake of historic proportions” to shut the door to Ankara.
Turkey denies deportations and killings of ethnic Armenians constituted genocide, arguing many Turks also died in the chaos of the Ottoman empire’s collapse. The Swedish resolution provoked additional outrage because it also said other Christian groups – Assyrians, Syrians, Chaldeans and Pontic Greeks, had suffered genocide.
A sizeable Turkish community in Stockholm includes ethnic Assyrians as well as Kurds and Turks, and one concern is that the vote could inflame existing tensions between these groups.
Yet in comparison with last week’s strident reaction to the US vote, Turkish ministers appeared to downplay the significance of the decision in Stockholm.
Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s EU negotiator, said Turkey was “disappointed” by the decision. An earlier prime ministry statement said it “did not befit Turkish-Swedish relations and the close cooperation and friendship between our peoples”, but blamed the outcome on lobbyists and pre-election political manoevres.
“Turkish-Swedish relations will be different – it will take some time to come to a point of normalisation,” the official said, but acknowledged that the annual debate in the US, leading up to the president’s commemoration of the massacres on April 24, was more explosive. “I don’t think it will be as brutal as the US,” he said.
Opposition politicians were more outspoken. Turkish media cited Kemal Anadol, the CHP party’s deputy chairman, saying Sweden had no right to take such a decision having “opened a corridor for Hitler’s army… to invade its neighbour Norway.”
Sweden’s ambassador to Ankara, Christer Asp, said Stockholm would work to limit damage from the dispute but acknowledged the risk of “consequences” for bilateral trade relations.