Ankara reacts to Washington and Paris over ‘genocide’

People attend a memorial service in İstanbul on Tuesday to mark the 97th anniversary of the 1915 events in which thousands of Armenians died at the end of the Ottoman Empire. (Photo: AA)

April 25, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:40:00

The Turkish Foreign Ministry in a statement has rejected US President Barack Obama's remarks on the 1915 incidents, saying Turkey considers every aspect of Obama's statements “problematic,” and they have accused French politicians of exploiting controversial historical issues for political gain.

The statement released on Tuesday night said Obama's remarks, in an annual statement commemorating Armenians who perished during World War I in Anatolia, contain “distortions of history" and noted that Turkey is saddened by his statement marking the anniversary of the 1915 deaths. The statement also added that Obama exhibited a baseless approach that reflects only Armenian arguments in marking the 1915 tragedy.

Ankara urged Washington to avoid making similar remarks that would damage Turkish-American relations and instead asked the US to encourage the Armenian side, which it accused of avoiding an investigation of shared historical facts, to be realistic and reconciliatory.

The statement said Obama's remarks -- based on domestic political considerations and with “selective justice” in mind -- complicate the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process.

Obama avoided using the word “genocide” in his April 24 statement, referring instead to the deaths as “Meds Yeghern” -- meaning “great tragedy” in Armenian. "Today, we commemorate the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In doing so, we honor the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred or marched to their deaths in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire," Obama said in his statement.

In his message, Obama said he has consistently stated his own view of what occurred in 1915. “My view of that history has not changed," he said. He also called for “a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts,” saying that “moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past.”

Maxime Gauin, a history researcher at Ankara's International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), said that Armenian lobby does not have a political significance in US at the national level. “They are only being influential in some of the provinces like New Jersey, having a significant Armenian-American population,” he said.

Turkey has also accused French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande of exploiting the World War I-era deaths of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire to garner votes from its sizeable Armenian community ahead of the second presidential run-off.

The statement said declarations by the French presidential rivals regarding the 1915 events are “another example of the exploitation of controversial historical issues for political gain.”

The statement added that it is unfortunate that history is politicized based on various goals, and that prejudiced behavior won't help further justice or create a better understanding of history.

The Turkish government has also urged French politicians to exercise restraint as statesmen and said it's impossible to obtain results through an outside, artificial imposition on a subject where the involved states should reach a solution. The statement added that similar statements are detrimental to peace efforts in the region.

An estimated 500,000 Armenians live in France, and many have pressed to raise the legal statute regarding the massacres to the same level as the Holocaust by punishing the denial of genocide.

Turkey denies Armenian claims of genocide, saying there were deaths on both sides as Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire in collaboration with the Russian army, which was then invading eastern Anatolia, to establish an independent Armenian state.

The Turkish ambassador to France was recalled and all official contact halted in retaliation for a vote in the French Parliament making it a crime to deny the Word War I-era mass killings of Armenians was genocide.

France formally recognized the killings as genocide in 2001 but provided no penalty for anyone denying that. The bill, which was rejected by the French Constitutional Council in February, set a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($59,000) for those who deny or “outrageously minimize” the deaths of Armenians in World War I, putting such action on a par with denial of the Holocaust.

Turks and Armenians held demonstrations on opposite sides outside of the Turkish embassy in Washington on April 24, the day Armenians commemorate the anniversary of the 1915 incidents.

Turks from Washington and New York as well as Azerbaijani people gathered outside the embassy, carrying the flags of Turkey, Azerbaijan and the United States.

Armenians also carried banners against Turkey and called on Obama to recognize the 1915 incidents as “genocide" during their protest.

Later, Turks and Armenians dispersed peacefully. Turkish Ambassador to Washington Namık Tan invited Turks and Azerbaijanis to the embassy after the protest.

Tan said, "We are proud of our history." He said the Turkish nation doesn't want any problems with other countries and added that they do not have any problems with the Armenian people, either.

Similar demonstrations were also held in İstanbul's Taksim Square by Turks and Turkish-Armenians on April 24.

A sit-down protest organized by the Say No to Racism and Nationalism initiative in Taksim Square was attended by a group of public figures, including the wife of murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Rakel Dink; Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) İstanbul deputies Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Sebahat Tuncel; former Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) head Ufuk Uras; and journalists Oral Çalışlar, Hüseyin Hatemi and Hilal Kaplan, as well as other intellectuals.

Also, in Yerevan, thousands of Armenians marched to mark the 97th anniversary of the 1915 events with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan, while some nationalist groups burned Turkish flags in the streets of the capital. The Armenian community in Beirut and Moscow also organized protests.

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