PM Erdoğan stresses 'shared pain' in statement on Armenian issue

PM Erdoğan stresses 'shared pain' in statement on Armenian issue

PM Erdoğan stresses shared pain in statement on Armenian issue

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has issued a landmark statement on the eve of the commemoration of the 99th anniversary of 1915. AA Photo

Turkey has issued a first-ever statement offering condolences to the descendants of slain Ottoman Armenians just a day before of 99th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan highlighted the “shared pain” endured during the 1915 events in a historic statement April 23 on the Armenian issue, expressing condolences on behalf of the Turkish state to the grandchildren of Armenians who lost their lives “in the context of the early 20th century.”

In a first-of-its-kind statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, Erdoğan said April 24 carries “particular significance for our Armenian citizens and for all Armenians around the world.”

Click on the languages to read the complete statement in English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian

Speaking to reporters April 23, Erdoğan said it was always Turkey that had taken steps for reconciliation but that it was now the Armenian side’s turn to take steps toward Turkey. 

Arguing that all ethnicities in the late years of the Ottoman Empire experienced a hard time full of pain, Erdoğan called for a just, humane and conscientious bearing to commemorate all tragedies experienced during the era.

“The incidents of World War I are our shared pain. To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility,” he said.

Erdoğan’s statement also stressed the importance of freedom of expression and respect for plurality regarding history.

“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,” the statement said.

“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,” he said.

“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,” Erdoğan said.

“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,” he said.

“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 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren,” he said.

Armenians will mark the 99th anniversary of the tragedy this year on April 24, the date on which the mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians started when a telegram by Ottoman Interior Minister Talat Paşa ordered provincial governors and commanders – especially in the eastern regions to which the Tsarist Russian army was advancing – to forcibly deport the Armenian population.

Armenians describe the events as “genocide” and demand its recognition by Ankara. Turkey claims the killings should be understood in the context of World War I.

A resolution that recognizes the killings of Ottoman Armenians as a genocide, which passed at the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on April 10 by bipartisan vote, failed to reach the floor earlier this month.

“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,” Erdoğan’s statement said. “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.”

Statement a surprise

The statement was a complete surprise to some Armenian analysts, who said Erdoğan’s statement was like an “olive branch” and an “expression of humanity.”

“[The statement] was unexpected because Erdoğan was percieved to be the main obstacle in the reconciliation process with Armenia. This statement is almost like an olive branch,” said Richard Giragosian, the director of the Yerevan-based think tank Regional Studies, adding that it was significant that he talked about “common pain.”

“It was done in a very sophisticated manner since it was also publised in both Eastern and Western Armenian,” he said, adding that it targeted the Armenian diaspora, Yerevan and internal public opinion.

“I believe Ankara is also trying to reach out to Yerevan since I know that the Armenian goverment has told the Turkish government that it will delegate the activities for the centenial of 1915 to the Armenian diaspora. In other words, it will be the diaspora rather than the Armenian government that will take center stage for the activities,” Giragosian said.

Touching on the different public perceptions of Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, he said: “Erdoğan has been a polarizing leader; the statement almost sounded as if it was President Abdullah Gül speaking. This statement gives a softer image of Erdoğan and reflects his confidence after [the March 30] elections as well as prior to presidential elections.”