21st Mar 2018

Turkish PM offers 'condolences' to Armenia over WWI killings

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement went further than previous Turkish leaders on the issue (Photo: Fortum Sverige)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday (23 April) offered condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians killed by Ottoman leaders one hundred years ago during World War 1.

"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 in a statement translated into nine languages, including Armenian.

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He described the events as having "inhumane consequences" but said this should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing "compassion and mutually humane attitudes" towards one another.

His comments go further than previous statements by Turkish leaders on the issue but did not describe the mass killings as genocide.

The exact events of 1915-16 as the Ottoman empire broke apart remain a highly sensitive issue between the two sides.

Armenia says that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed and that this constitutes genocide – a term also used by some EU states such as France and Belgium.

Turkey, which puts the death toll much lower, says many of the deaths were part of World War 1 fighting and ethnic Turks were killed too.

Although Erdogan's tone was conciliatory the Turkish leader said it is "inadmissible" for Armenia to use the events "as an excuse for hostility against Turkey".

He also reiterated Ankara's position that the period should be remembered "without discriminating as to religion or ethnicity" and called for the setting up of a joint historical commission.

Armenia has until now refused the idea of a commission fearing Turkey will use it to push its version of events.

Relations between the two sides remain difficult despite a symbolically important visit by the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu last year in which he called the 1915-16 events a "mistake".

Their mutual border has been closed since 1993 and remains closed now despite an agreement in 2009 that they would normalise relations.

The Armenian National Committee of America reacted with scepticism to Erdogan's statements.

Aram Hamparian, the committee's executive director, said they amounted to a "repackaging" of genocide denials and called them a "cynical ploy".

Etyen Mahcupyan, a Turkish columnist of Armenian descent, was more nuanced, however. He called Erdogan's statement "a first", reports AFP.

"It's very important. This reference to the suffering and offering of condolences, it's a first – symbolic even," Mahcupyan told broadcaster CNN-Turk.

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