Turkey's main opposition party blames ruling AKP for 'genocide defeat'

Turkey's main opposition party blames ruling AKP for 'genocide defeat'

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Turkeys main opposition party blames ruling AKP for genocide defeat

After serving as Turkey’s special representative for Iraq from 2007 to 2009, Murat Özçelik served as Turkey’s ambassador in Baghdad until October 2011, when he was appointed as the head of Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security.

The reason for the growing international tendency to recognize the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as genocide is the Sunni Islamist policy pursued by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a senior main opposition party leader has claimed. 

“This has turned into a Turkey-bashing campaign. And this is because of the AKP and its policies drifting Turkey towards being a Sunni Islamist country,” Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Head Murat Özçelik told the Hürriyet Daily News on April 14. 

Armenia says up to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians were killed in a genocide starting in 1915. Turkey denies that the deaths amounted to genocide, saying the death toll of Armenians killed during mass deportations has been inflated and that those killed in 1915 and 1916 were victims of general unrest during World War I.

Recalling that Pope Francis described the 1915 incidents as “genocide” and that the European Parliament will likely vote in favor of recognizing the genocide, calling on EU member countries to do the same, Özçelik criticized the government for underestimating the impact of the 100th anniversary of 1915. 

“In the past, Turkey had certain arguments against genocide claims that worked until now. But it was well-known that there would be dynamism [in efforts to let it be recognized as genocide] in the centennial of the incident. Turkey should have carried out its work based on this fact,” Özçelik said. 

By using the word genocide, the Pope issued an indirect call on Christian countries to recognize the Armenian genocide, said Özçelik, who is also retired ambassador. 

“It’s a very important development. The European Parliament will also call on EU countries to do so [recognize the events as genocide]. Another question is whether the United States will now also use the same word,” he said. 

The reason why Western countries are no longer hesitant to recognize the Armenian genocide at the expense of angering Turkey and putting their interests in danger is the fact that the government is speedily drifting east and becoming an Islamist country, Özçelik claimed. 

“EU countries and the West in general have recently realized how radical Islam can be threatening. They also observe that Turkey, once a secular and democratic country aligned with the West and often introduced as a model country is parting ways,” he added. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambition to become a super-president and his “efforts to turn Turkey into an Islamist country” through the upcoming elections were also being watched by the West, Özçelik said. 

Criticism of the Pope

Although very critical of the government for the “defeat against Armenian claims,” Özçelik also slammed Pope Francis for his words. 

“Seven million Jews were slaughtered during the Holocaust in an unprecedented systematic way with the aim of demolishing an entire race. Therefore it’s very wrong to compare this by describing [the 1915 incidents] as the first genocide of the 20th century. A primary pleasure of the Christians is to shift responsibility over its genocide crime by highlighting another suffering. They cannot evade responsibility this way,” he said. 

Every historical incident should be assessed within its own context, Özçelik said. 

“These things are not comparable. The deportation of Armenians had a historical background. What Turks did cannot be put in the same equation with what Stalin or the Nazis did,” he said.