Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets the acting head of the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey, Aram Ateşyan, May 1 in Ankara. AA Photo
The religious leader of Turkey’s Armenians expressed optimism as he praised Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent extension of condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians killed in World War I by Ottoman soldiers. Aram Ateşyan, the acting head of the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey, also stressed that “mutual sacrifices” were required to build a viable friendship and a bridge of peace.
“Whatever is required for friendship, both sides shall make sacrifices. I can’t know what will happen. If you want to be friends, it is not just about saying ‘I love you’ to that person. That is not love, love requires sacrifice. Both sides shall make sacrifices so a bridge of friendship is built,” Ateşyan told reporters on May 1 after a meeting with Erdoğan.
He was accompanied by leading figures of the Armenian community during the meeting with the prime minister, which came days after Erdoğan reiterated on April 29 a call for Armenia and Armenians living abroad to participate in “research” with Turkey to document what happened.
While maintaining that the time had come for the Armenian and Turkish people to “come together,” Ateşyan said “nobody should play the three monkeys” by willfully ignoring the grievances experienced, in which tens of thousands of people lost their families.
Historians estimate that between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. However, Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and claiming that those killed were victims of civil war and general unrest.
Describing Erdoğan’s condolence message as a “watershed,” Ateşyan referred to the story of the dove and the olive, from the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark.
“Like the dove that the Prophet [Noah] sent, our honorable prime minister extended an olive branch. We cannot ignore it. This olive branch is a peace symbol. We don’t want this branch to dry out. Now we want to plant this branch and want it to yield fruit,” Ateşyan said, adding that “everybody’s support” was necessary to make this happen.
“Two societies lived together in fraternity for centuries and today we are longing for those days. Our call is to both sides: Come next to each other and lay the foundation of the bridge of friendship and peace,” he said.
“I believe that this first step initiated by our honorable prime minister has been met with appreciation by the majority of our community. As the Patriarchate, we also regard it with appreciation,” the patriarch added.
In response to questions, Ateşyan said Erdoğan did not disclose anything with regard to further reconciliation steps.
Ateşyan said he left the meeting in happiness and hopeful for the future.
Erdoğan issued condolences to the descendants of Armenians killed on April 23, a day before Armenians marked 99th anniversary of what many recognize as genocide. A prominent American-Armenian group rejected the message, demanding that Turkey admit that genocide happened.
“We are saying, let’s wipe away the tears, push prejudices to one side, and reveal historic truths in an objective manner,” Erdoğan also said on April 29, addressing the parliamentary group of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“I hope Armenia and the Armenian diaspora recognize our courageous step and reciprocate in the same courageous manner,” he said.