ISTANBUL (RFE/RL) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded late last Wednesday that President Serge Sargisian withdraw and apologize for remarks which he claimed amount to Armenian territorial claims to Turkey.
The president’s office quickly denied that claim and accused the Turkish government of distorting the statements made by Sargisian at a July 23 meeting with students from Armenia and the diaspora. Sargisian also released the text of the comments.
“Sargisian committed a serious blunder , ” Erdogan said during a visit to Azerbaijan. “He himself confirmed his historical blunder.”
“He must apologize and correct his blunder,” he said at a joint news conference with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
Erdogan referred to Sargisian’s answer to a question asked by one of the Armenian students in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor. The latter wondered whether Armenians will ever be able to reclaim lands in what is now eastern Turkey, which many of them call “Western Armenia.”
The area for centuries formed a part of Armenian kingdoms before being conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Its indigenous Armenian population was massacred or deported en masse during the Genocide.
“It depends on you and your generation,” Sargisian replied to the student. “I believe that my generation has fulfilled its task: when it was necessary in the beginning of the 1990s to defend a part of our father land — Karabagh — from the enemy, we did it.”
“If you, boys and girls of your generation, spare no effort, if those older and younger than you act the same way, we will have one of the best countries in the world,” he said.
Sargisian stressed at the same time that a country’s international standing is often “not conditioned by its territory. A country should be modern, it should be secure and prosperous, and these are conditions which allow any nation to sit next to the respectable, powerful and reputed nations of the world,” he said.
In Erdogan’s words, Sargisian thereby told young Armenians to be ready for a future war with Turkey. “What Serge Sargisian did is a provocation, an attempt to instill spite and hatred in his country’s youth,” charged the Turkish premier.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned Sargisian’s remarks in similarly strong terms earlier this week.
Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian rebutted Ankara’s attacks, saying that the Turks did not read the Armenian leader’s answer in full or are “simply saying what they want to say.”
“In any case, this hysteria is not only artificial but should also make many people draw conclusions,” Kocharian said in a statement.