First-Ever Message by Turkish Leader on ‘Shared Pain’ Gets Mixed Reactions

ISTANBUL (Combined Sources) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech on April 23 in which he expressed his condolences to those who “shared pain,” was interpreted by many in the West and Europe as a softening of Turkey’s staunch denial. Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora, however, disagreed with that interpretation.

Stefan Fule, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy wrote on his Twitter page, “We encourage Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement about Armenians. Reconciliation is a key value to EU. We hope this spirit will take a continuous nature.”

US Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki noted: “We encourage PM Erdogan’s historical recognition of Armenians’ sufferings of 1915. We are assured that this is a positive sign towards the possibility of achieving recognition of complete, honest and just facts which, we hope, will enable improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations.”

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) took a different stance, saying, “Being more and more internationally isolated Ankara ‘re-wraps’ Genocide rejection.”

Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia said of Erdogan’s statement: “What took place in 1915 in Turkey wasn’t a result of war, Mr. PM, rather it was a genocide carried out upon the Armenian nation, in the legal and political meaning of the word. A genocide organized and realized by your ancestors, by Taleat and Enver Pashas. Therefore, the Armenian nation doesn’t expect Turkish condolence and morality; it expects recognition and compensation of the Armenian Genocide.”

Thomas de Waal, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment specializing primarily in the South Caucasus writes on “Is Erdogan’s announcement a sign of change in Turkey, or a calculated political move? Both. The ruling Justice and Development party representing Erdogan has done more for Armenia than any other Turkish government during the last 50 years. It has abolished the ban on open discussion of the 1915 issue, allowed common Turkish people to use the word genocide and to see Armenian churches re-opened in Turkey. Although this is only the start towards the recognition of the great tragedy of all Armenian population under Ottoman Empire, the tone of the PM’s announcement makes us believe that he wants this to become the end of the issue. And of course, Armenian-Turkish land-border remains closed.”

President Serge Sargisian, on a trip to the Czech Republic at the fifth anniversary of Eastern Partnership, mentioned in his speech that Turkey continues to try to escape its own past, by distorting history by its denial.

The president pointed out that, as Turkey seeks membership in the European Union, it paradoxically maintains the only closed border (with Armenia) in the European sphere.

Hayk Demoyan, director of the Genocide Museum in Yerevan sent a letter to the Turkish premier, in which he wrote, “Unfortunately, your announcement contains components expressing Turkey’s official position, which doesn’t reflect reality. Let me say that nowadays many Turks don’t even believe in what you call ‘1915 events’. Judging from Turkish visitors’ impressions written in the guestbook of our Genocide museum, they all want to know the truth which was distorted and hidden from them during all Turkish history. There is a clear and powerful expression: Truth gives freedom. However with such an announcement you are attempting to mislead the Turkish youth,” wrote Demoyan.

Orhan Dink, a Turkish Armenian whose brother, journalist Hrant Dink, was assassinated in 2007 by ultra-nationalists for holding Turkey responsible for the Genocide, said: “For the prime minister of the Turkish Republic to make such a statement is far-reaching for the Armenians who live in Turkey, and for myself.”

Below is the full statement by Erdogan:

“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.”

(ArmeniaNow and Haaretz contributed to this report.)