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Turkish PM takes step to Armenian conciliation 24 avril 2014

Posted by Acturca in Caucasus / Caucase, History / Histoire, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Guardian (UK) Thursday, April 24, 2014, p. 22

Constanze Letsch, Istanbul Agencies

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has offered his condolences to the families of more than 1 million Armenians who were massacred during the first world war, in Turkey’s most conciliatory remarks yet over the highly contested episode.

Speaking on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Armenians, Erdogan said the mass killings by Ottoman forces – seen by many as the first genocide of the 20th century – were « inhumane ».

« The incidents of the first world war are our shared pain, » Erdogan said in an official statement that was translated into nine languages, including Armenian It was the first time that a Turkish leader had used such explicit language in relation to the deeply divisive episode.

The interpretation of the mass killings in 1915 remains a highly contentious issue in the country and abroad, and has fuelled bitter controversy between Armenia and Turkey. Armenia has urged Turkey to recognise the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians as genocide. Turkey, which puts the death toll at 500,000, says they died of fighting and starvation, and categorically rejects the term.

« Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the first world war, » Erdogan said. « Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences – such as relocation – during the first world war should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another.

« It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners, will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner.

« And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren. »

Despite his conciliatory tone, Erdogan also said it was « inadmissible » for the events of 1915 to be used as an excuse today for hostility against Turkey.

Orhan Dink, brother of the murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, welcomed the statement. « Today’s message of condolence is a very important step, » he said. « If democracy is to be built in Turkey, this is one of the most basic bricks to do so. Both for Armenians in Turkey and for me it is important that the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey makes such a statement. Some might say that it came late, but the important thing is that this first step was made. This step has to bring both societies towards normalisation. »

But Erdogan’s words were dismissed as « cold-hearted and cynical » by an influential US-based Armenian advocacy group.

The executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America said that Turkey was increasingly isolated over its version of what happened in 1915. « Ankara is repackaging its genocide denials, » Aram Hamparian said in response to Erdogan’s remarks. « The fact remains that, as this cold-hearted and cynical ploy so plainly demonstrates, Turkey is, today, escalating its denial of truth and obstruction of justice for the Armenian genocide. »

Turkey shut its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan and that country’s claim on Karabakh. Efforts at thawing the ice stalled in 2010, but foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s December visit to Armenia raised hopes that the relationship might improve.

In his statement, Erdogan repeated Turkey’s offer to establish a joint historical commission in which academics and researchers of both countries would study the events of 1915 together, an offer that Armenia has declined up until now. He said that the issue should not be used for political gains.


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