Turkey says Sweden vote to hurt peace bid with Armenia

ANKARA Fri Mar 12, 2010 12:10pm EST

1 of 2. A Workers Party supporter holds a placard that reads: 'We did not genocide, defended homeland' during a protest near the Swedish consulate in Istanbul March 12, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Murad Sezer

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ANKARA (Reuters) - A resolution by the Swedish parliament branding the World War One killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide could hurt peace efforts between Turkey and Armenia, Turkey's prime minister said on Friday.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Stockholm after the vote in the Swedish parliament on Thursday. The move came a week after Ankara called home its envoy to the United States over the approval of a similar resolution by a U.S. congressional panel.

"This can hurt relations between Turkey and Armenia," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said during the opening of a factory near Istanbul.

Although Turkey has been quick to say that both resolutions will hurt the chances of resolving its dispute with Armenia, steps toward a normalization of ties had already stalled in recent months.

Turkey and Armenia agreed last year to establish diplomatic ties and open their border if their parliaments approved peace accords, but the votes have not taken place and the governments have accused each other of trying to rewrite the texts.

Ankara has demanded that ethnic Armenian forces pull back from frontlines of the disputed mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh as a condition for ratifying the peace deal.

Although Ankara accepts many Christian Armenians perished in killings that began in 1915, it denies that up to 1.5 million died and that it amounted to genocide -- a term employed by many Western historians.

The issue of the Armenian massacre is so sensitive here that Turks seem willing to risk ties with their main allies over it.

European Union member Sweden is one of the strongest supporters of Ankara's bid to join the bloc, while the United States is considered a strong ally of NATO member Turkey.

"STAB IN THE BACK"

Foreign legislatures, including those of France, Russia, Greece, Germany, Belgium and Canada, have passed similar resolutions. Each time, Turkey has reacted angrily, temporarily cutting trade, defense and other ties.

Already fuming over last week's U.S. House resolution, Turks felt particularly hurt by the vote in Sweden, a country that is viewed more favorably than France or Germany, whose leaders oppose Turkish membership in the EU.

Sabah daily captured the mood in a front-page headline: "Our 'friend' Sweden has stabbed us in the back with one vote!"

Fatih Altayli, editor-in-chief of Haberturk daily, was more sarcastic: "Soon, there will be no Turkish ambassadors left abroad and no foreign country our officials can visit."

The votes have whipped up nationalist passions, and some analysts say they may tilt Turkey further away from Europe and toward fellow Muslim countries such as Iran.

In a rare outburst, parliamentary speaker Mehmet Ali Sahin said on Friday Western countries whose assemblies have passed such resolutions should "look in the mirror, if they want to find criminals." He mentioned no specific country.

Sweden's center-right coalition government has distanced itself from the resolution, which passed by a 131-130 vote.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Friday he "deplored" the vote and said it won't have an immediate consequence on the government's policies toward Turkey. Bildt and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu were due to meet in Helsinki.

(Additional reporting by Mia Shanley in Stockholm; Editing by Noah Barkin)

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