Erdoğan offers Turkey's first condolences to Armenians for 1915

Erdoğan offers Turkey's first condolences to Armenians for 1915

A family of Armenian deportees is seen in this undated handout photo taken by Armin Wegner, a German 2nd Lieutenant stationed in the Ottoman Empire. (Photo: Reuters)

April 24, 2014, Thursday/ 11:16:29/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
In a historical first for the Turkish Republic, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has extended condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians who lost their lives in 1915.

His surprising statement came on Wednesday, ahead of April 24, when Armenians commemorate the events they describe as genocide under Ottoman rule.

The statement, which came on the eve of the 99th anniversary of start of the events of 1915, was issued by the Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday in nine languages -- Turkish, German, French, English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, West Armenian and East Armenian -- a move to make a sure the statement is heard and understood.

“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 twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren,” said the statement.

“Regardless of their ethnic or religious origins, we pay tribute, with compassion and respect, to all Ottoman citizens who lost their lives in the same period and under similar conditions,” Erdoğan said.

Ankara's policy is that the 1915 events do not amount to genocide, and Turkey argues that both Turks and Armenians were killed when Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire during World War l in collaboration with the Russian army, which was then invading eastern Anatolia.

“The 24th of April carries a particular significance for our Armenian citizens and for all Armenians around the world, and provides a valuable opportunity to share opinions freely on a historical matter,” the statement said.

“It is indisputable that the last years of the Ottoman Empire were a difficult period, full of suffering for Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Armenian and millions of other Ottoman citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin.

“Any conscientious, fair and humanistic approach to these issues requires an understanding of all the sufferings endured in this period, without discriminating as to religion or ethnicity,” Erdoğan said.

“Certainly, neither constructing hierarchies of pain nor comparing and contrasting suffering carries any meaning for those who experienced this pain themselves,” Erdoğan said, quoting a Turkish proverb, “fire burns the place where it falls.”

“It is a duty of humanity to acknowledge that Armenians remember the suffering experienced in that period, just like every other citizen of the Ottoman Empire,” he said.

“In Turkey, expressing different opinions and thoughts freely on the events of 1915 is the requirement of a pluralistic perspective as well as of a culture of democracy and modernity,” the prime minister continued.

“Some may perceive this climate of freedom in Turkey as an opportunity to express accusatory, offensive and even provocative assertions and allegations. Even so, if this will enable us to better understand historical issues with their legal aspects and to transform resentment to friendship again, it is natural to approach different discourses with empathy and tolerance and expect a similar attitude from all sides,” he said, adding that Turkey will “continue to approach every idea with dignity in line with the universal values of law.”

Stressing that “using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible,” Erdoğan described the incidents of World War I as “our shared pain.”

“To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility,” he said.

Relocation of Armenians

“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 among towards one another,” Erdoğan said, taking a conciliatory tone. “In today's world, deriving enmity from history and creating new antagonisms are neither acceptable nor useful for building a common future.”

“The spirit of the age necessitates dialogue despite differences, understanding by heeding others, evaluating means for compromise, denouncing hatred, and praising respect and tolerance,” he said.

Turkey, he continued, has “called for the establishment of a joint historical commission in order to study the events of 1915 in a scholarly manner.”

“Scholarly research to be carried out by Turkish, Armenian and international historians would play a significant role in shedding light on the events of 1915 and an accurate understanding of history,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey has opened its archives to all researchers.

“The people of Anatolia, who lived together for centuries regardless of their different ethnic and religious origins, have established common values in every field from art to diplomacy, from state administration to commerce. Today they continue to have the same ability to create a new future,” the prime minister said.

PM's statement mostly welcomed

“It is a very important statement. I very much welcome this message,” lawyer and human rights activist Orhan Kemal Cengiz told Today's Zaman on Wednesday.

“Ending a 100-year-long denial gives hope to everyone. Following a strict denial policy by Turkey, it is hopeful to get a message of condolences from the prime minister himself. It is the start of healing,” he added.

"It is a very important step that for the first time a prime minister has extended condolences without adding a ‘but' on April 24. From now on, the Armenian issue will be discussed in Turkey more freely,” Cengiz said.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said that “there is nothing to be discussed. This much torment is too much for this nation.”

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Faruk Loğoğlu said, “Condolence is a sacred notion, so there is no need to take offence.” Loğoğlu, a former diplomat, asked why the Turkish government was so late in making such a statement, adding, “We (Turkey) share their pain. But there is an exploitation of history, this is what we are against.”

Yavuz Semerci, a columnist for the Habertürk daily, tweeted that Turkey has left behind its “ostrich policy” with prime minister's statement, which shows that Turkey is on a “constructive path” on the issue.

“Increasingly isolated internationally, Ankara is repacking its genocide denials,” the director of the US-based Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), Aram Hamparian, said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Prime Minister Erdoğan, in his statement today, attempts, in vain, to escape responsibility for the Armenian Genocide, by somehow downgrading this still unpunished international crime to the level of a simple, unresolved bilateral conflict. Neither the facts nor any of the world's commonly accepted codes of law or morality support this twisted view,” Hamparian said.

"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," he added.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution on April 11 commemorating the “Armenian Genocide” and clearing the way for the resolution to see a vote on the Senate floor. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the committee, and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced the resolution on April 3.

The resolution calls on the Senate “to remember and observe the anniversary of the Armenian genocide on April 24, 2014” and says the US president “should work toward an equitable, constructive, stable, and durable Armenian-Turkish relationship that includes the full acknowledgement by Turkey of the facts about the Armenian genocide.”
 
US President Barack Obama is expected to make a statement on the events of 1915 on April 24. Since he became president, Obama has refrained from using the word “genocide” to describe the events of 1915.

Erdoğan said late on Wednesday that he doesn't expect a different US statement from the previous ones, saying that there is a need to kick start the normalization in a broad sense.

Meanwhile, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle welcomed Erdoğan's 1915 statement, highlighting that reconciliation is a "key EU value."

THE MESSAGE OF THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY, RECEP TAYYIP ERDOĞAN ON THE EVENTS OF 1915
(UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION)

“The 24th of April carries a particular significance for our Armenian citizens and for all Armenians around the world, and provides a valuable opportunity to share opinions freely on a historical matter.

It is indisputable that the last years of the Ottoman Empire were a difficult period, full of suffering for Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Armenian and millions of other Ottoman citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin.

Any conscientious, fair and humanistic approach to these issues requires an understanding of all the sufferings endured in this period, without discriminating as to religion or ethnicity.

Certainly, neither constructing hierarchies of pain nor comparing and contrasting suffering carries any meaning for those who experienced this pain themselves.

As a Turkish proverb goes, “fire burns the place where it falls”.

It is a duty of humanity to acknowledge that Armenians remember the suffering experienced in that period, just like every other citizen of the Ottoman Empire.

In Turkey, expressing different opinions and thoughts freely on the events of 1915 is the requirement of a pluralistic perspective as well as of a culture of democracy and modernity.

Some may perceive this climate of freedom in Turkey as an opportunity to express accusatory, offensive and even provocative assertions and allegations.

Even so, if this will enable us to better understand historical issues with their legal aspects and to transform resentment to friendship again, it is natural to approach different discourses with empathy and tolerance and expect a similar attitude from all sides.

The Republic of Turkey will continue to approach every idea with dignity in line with the universal values of law.
Nevertheless, using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible.

The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain. To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility.

Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the First World War. 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 among towards one another.

In today’s world, deriving enmity from history and creating new antagonisms are neither acceptable nor useful for building a common future.

The spirit of the age necessitates dialogue despite differences, understanding by heeding others, evaluating means for compromise, denouncing hatred, and praising respect and tolerance.

With this understanding, we, as the Turkish Republic, have called for the establishment of a joint historical commission in order to study the events of 1915 in a scholarly manner. This call remains valid. Scholarly research to be carried out by Turkish, Armenian and international historians would play a significant role in shedding light on the events of 1915 and an accurate understanding of history.

It is with this understanding that we have opened our archives to all researchers. Today, hundreds of thousands of documents in our archives are at the service of historians.

Looking to the future with confidence, Turkey has always supported scholarly and comprehensive studies for an accurate understanding of history. The people of Anatolia, who lived together for centuries regardless of their different ethnic and religious origins, have established common values in every field from art to diplomacy, from state administration to commerce.
Today they continue to have the same ability to create a new future.

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 twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.

Regardless of their ethnic or religious origins, we pay tribute, with compassion and respect, to all Ottoman citizens who lost their lives in the same period and under similar conditions.”

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