Deconstructing Turkish PM’s statement on Armenian tragedy

Deconstructing Turkish PM’s statement on Armenian tragedy

“The statement was certainly as dramatic and impressive as it was unexpected,” Richard Giragosian told me, speaking about Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s message on the Armenian tragedy.

The director of a Yerevan-based think tank, Giragosian was in Istanbul to also take part in a commemoration that will take place in Istanbul. As he rightly pointed out, there have been several historic firsts during the decade-long rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Holding commemorations by civilians in Turkey on April 24 only started a few years ago and not only does the number of participants rise each year, but so does the number of cities in which these activities are taking place.

According to Giragosian, this statement came as a surprise because Erdoğan was perceived to be the person who killed the 2009 normalization initiative with Armenia, rushing to Baku without waiting for the ink to dry in the protocols signed with Yerevan.

Here in Turkey, I don’t think we were that surprised. That’s not to say it was expected. The fact is that we have now become acquainted with the element of surprise in Erdoğan. After all, he was the one instructing the head of intelligence to start talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at a time when he was using a very aggressive rhetoric on the Kurdish issue. 

While the Armenian diaspora will probably not be impressed by the message, it adds new “firsts” in the process of breaking the taboos about the World War I mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans.

One of the firsts is that it is the first time a Turkish PM has issued a statement about the “issue.” It is not a statement issued as a counter reaction to the statements made all over the world. In a way, it has perhaps started a tradition whereby we might have a statement each year on the eve of April 24.

Of course it does not name the “issue.” But Turkey now officially recognizes the “pain” of the Armenians. And obviously, the statement talks about the pains suffered by all at that time, since it wants to refrain from singling out the Armenians. This is the result of an effort to show that Armenians were not targeted just because they were Armenians, but that they got a share of the suffering at the time.

Still, by saying “certainly, neither constructing hierarchies of pain nor comparing and contrasting suffering carries any meaning for those who experienced this pain themselves,” Turkey accepts the fact that it is no consolation for Armenians that others have suffered too. After all, as was said in the statement: “As a Turkish proverb goes, ‘fire burns the place where it falls.’”

The statement goes on saying, “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.” This is, in a way, another first, as it legitimizes the commemoration activities both in Turkey and throughout the world.

By issuing an official statement and accepting the commemoration efforts as normal; Turkey for the first time officially recognizes April 24, as the day of remembrance.

So if I were to recap: Independent of any previous statement made by Turkish officials here and there, the official statement issued by the PM with this specific timing means Turkey officially recognizes, for the first time, the suffering of the Armenians, as well as April 24 as the day of remembrance.

While the statement implies that Turkey is ready to listen with tolerance to all discourse, even that of genocide, it sends a warning to the Armenian diaspora about their planned activities for next year when it says “using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible.”

Finally, the most important sentence in the statement comes at the end: “The Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century, rest in peace and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.”

Trust me, if issuing a statement becomes a state tradition, we will have many more daring messages in the future.