Lawmakers in the Netherlands overwhelmingly voted Thursday to label as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks more than a century ago. Turkey condemned the move, which is likely to further ratchet up diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Despite the vote in the lower house of the parliament, acting Foreign Affairs Minister Sigrid Kaag said that the Dutch government wouldn’t follow the parliament’s lead. Kaag says the Cabinet will “continue to exercise restraint” in the politically charged issue.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event viewed by many scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey disputes the description, saying the toll has been inflated and considers those killed victims of a civil war.
After the vote, Turkey said it “strongly condemns” the Dutch lower house’s decision. And referring to the failure of a Dutch battalion of U.N. peacekeepers to halt the slaughter of Bosnians in 1995, Turkey said the vote had no legal binding and validity.
“The baseless decisions taken by the parliament of a country that turned a blind eye to a genocide — whose pain still has not eased — in Srebrenica, in the middle of Europe, have no legal binding or validity,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said it had taken note of the Dutch government’s decision not to follow parliament’s lead. Around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb troops in Srebrenica.
Kaag told lawmakers in the Second Chamber of parliament that the Dutch government only recognizes events as genocide if that description is supported by a binding U.N. Security Council resolution or a verdict from an international court.
She said that because those conditions haven’t been met for Armenia, “the Cabinet will not follow the chamber in this judgment.”
However, Kaag did say that the government would comply with a motion calling on the administration to send a representative to a service in April in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, commemorating the massacre.
Dozens of countries have recognized the mass killings as genocide, including nearly half of the member states of the European Union. The U.S. has stopped short of calling the deaths genocide.
When Germany’s parliament overwhelmingly voted in 2016 to label the killings as genocide, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Germany.
Ankara doesn’t have that diplomatic rebuke available with the Netherlands — relations between the two NATO allies are at such a low ebb that neither country currently has an ambassador in the other’s capital.
Relations between the two countries were plunged into crisis last year over the Dutch refusal to allow Turkish ministers to campaign in the Netherlands before a referendum that gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more power.