Opposition criticizes Erdoğan’s reaction to Obama message

Opposition criticizes Erdoğan’s reaction to Obama message

April 29, 2009, Wednesday/ 17:24:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
Opposition leaders have been critical of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's comments following US President Barack Obama's statement commemorating Armenians killed in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal said yesterday that Erdoğan in a way accepted Obama's "unacceptable" remarks, opining that the prime minister's response to the words of the US president was "not harsh enough."

"Muslims' concerns have been ignored [in Obama's remarks.] There was even a number spelled out, 1.5 million, [by the US president]. This is the terminology that Armenian propagandists use," he said, addressing his party's deputies in Parliament. "He [Obama] had no concerns about harming the relations between Turkey and the United States."

Armenians say 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a systematic campaign in eastern Anatolia, while Turkey vehemently rejects the claims of genocide, saying the killings came as the Ottoman Empire was trying to quell civil strife and that Muslim Turks were also killed in the clashes. Turkey proposes the establishment of a joint committee of historians to study the World War I events, an offer dismissed by Armenia, which claims the genocide is a historical fact.

Obama refrained from using the word genocide in his traditional message, in order not to harm an ongoing process of reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, but called the events "one of the great atrocities of the 20th century" and used the Armenian phrase "Meds Yeghern" to describe the events twice throughout the speech. The term is commonly translated as "Great Calamity."

Another dimension to the "genocide" issue is the talks between Turkey and Armenia on how to restore ties, severed in 1993 after Armenia occupied part of Azerbaijan's territory in a war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey and Armenia announced last week that they have achieved solid progress in talks on the normalization of their relations and that they had agreed on a road map. The opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the CHP have both criticized the government's efforts to restore ties with Armenia without Armenian concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and have urged the government to immediately take steps in order not to alienate Azerbaijan.

In his speech, Baykal apologized to the Azerbaijanis on behalf of Erdoğan. "The AK Party [ruling Justice and Development Party] is here today but it may not be here tomorrow. However, Turkey is always on the side of Azerbaijanis."

Also speaking to his parliamentary group yesterday, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said that PM Erdoğan's message to Obama was weak as the term the US president used was a description of "genocide." He also said the government had made an agreement with Armenia without first securing a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

"[Armenian President Serzh] Sarksyan even dared to say that Karabakh will remain as part of Armenia. The prime minister's silence over this is unacceptable," he said.

Bahçeli also questioned the role of President Abdullah Gül, who said on the weekend that Turks who perished at the hands of rioting Armenians should also be remembered, accusing him of being the "shadow foreign minister." US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey was summoned to the Foreign Ministry headquarters on Saturday as Turkish officials expressed "views, comments and assessments as well as the reaction" of Turkey to Obama's message. No official protest was conveyed to the envoy.

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