A Turkish diplomatic source told Today's Zaman the basic starting point for Turkey is that the events of 1915, or any other historical event, should be discussed by historians rather than parliaments. “Parliaments dealing with this issue do not bring any benefit. Additionally, this kind of step does not contribute to the process. It undermines the work of historians and both countries,” said the official.
The debate was initiated last Tuesday by an Israeli cabinet minister's remark that the Jewish state ought to change its policy and recognize the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as an act of genocide.
"I think it is definitely fitting that the Israeli government formally recognize the Holocaust perpetrated against the Armenian people," said Gilad Erdan, Israel's minister of environmental affairs, adding that the Israeli government had not formally changed its policy on the past tragedy of the Armenians and that Israel should definitely support an open and thorough discussion analyzing the data and facts.
A Turkish diplomatic official, when asked whether such a move by Israel would interfere with ongoing processes between Turkey and Armenia, stated that no decision taken by the parliament of any nation, including Israel, would affect Turkey's stance on the issue. “Our stance, thought and decision is clear. Additionally, the Armenian court's decision is also clear. The decision taken by the Armenian court is actually blocking the process,” said the official, adding that an explanation for the timing of the debate taking place in the Knesset should be requested from Israeli officials.
Arieh Eldad of the ultranationalist National Union dismissed accusations that raising the issue now was ill-timed. "A few years ago people said we couldn't talk about it because of our good relations with Turkey. Now people say we can't talk about it because of our bad relations with Turkey," said Eldad, adding that when people are reluctant to address moral and ethical issues there is always a claim that the timing of such a discussion is wrong.
Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin denied the debate was related to deteriorating ties with Turkey, saying there was no intention to provoke Turkey. “The Turks will definitely be angry, but there is no intention to provoke, only to remember," he told Israel's Army Radio. “Those who demand recognition of the massacre are not engaged in lobbying, they are simply seeking historic justice. The free world must learn these lessons so it won't happen again,” said Rivlin.
Israel has long avoided acknowledging the mass killings of Armenians as genocide, in deference to already strained ties with Turkey, which was until recently its closest ally in the Muslim world.
Turkish-Israeli relations worsened in May 2010 when Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a ship carrying humanitarian aid to breach Israel's Gaza blockade, killing eight Turkish nationals and one US citizen. Relations have remained strained since then.
Armenian historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks during World War I in a deliberate policy of genocide.
Turkish governments and the majority of Turks deny the charge of genocide, arguing that there was heavy loss of life on both sides during conflict in the area.