YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s government and leading political parties on Tuesday dismissed as disingenuous “condolences” offered by Turkey to descendants of victims of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks a century ago.
They argued that Ankara continues to vehemently deny that 1.5 million or so Armenians were victims of a genocide masterminded and perpetrated by the Ottoman regime of the Young Turks.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Turks “understand what the Armenians feel” about the 1915 mass killings and deportations. “We remember with respect the innocent Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives and offer our deep condolences to their descendants,” he said. “It is both a historical and humane duty for Turkey to uphold the memory of Ottoman Armenians and the Armenian cultural heritage.”
Davutoglu at the same time urged Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora to stop campaigning for greater international recognition of the genocide, saying that Turks were also massacred during the First World War. “Laying all blame – through generalizations – on the Turkish nation by reducing everything to one word and compounding this with hate speech is both morally and legally problematic,” he said.
Davutoglu went on to call on “all third parties” to avoid using the word genocide in order to honor “the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during the relocation in 1915.”
His statement was issued four days before Armenians around the world will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the genocide. It followed a series of furious statements by Turkish leaders, including Davutoglu, condemning Pope Francis and the European Parliament for again publicly recognizing the genocide last week. The Turkish premier went as far as to accuse the pontiff of inspiring anti-Turkish “racism.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry scoffed at Davutoglu’s latest statement on Tuesday. “The author of last year’s denialist statement by [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan this year published it on his own behalf,” the ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, wrote on Twitter.
Balayan referred to first-ever official Turkish condolences to descendants of genocide victims which Erdogan offered in April 2014. Erdogan’s move, which highlighted a softening of the traditional Turkish policy of aggressive genocide denial, was hailed by the West but dismissed by Yerevan.
“The successor state to the Ottoman Empire must recognize and condemn the genocide,” Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), said, commenting on Davutoglu’s remarks.
“The genocide is a historical fact and their failure to see it only discredits them,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“That is a continuation of the policy of [genocide] denial,” said Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “So our fight will go on. We hope that one day a representative of the Turkish state will not only publicly use the term [genocide] but also take steps to restore the rights of the Armenian people.”
Giro Manoyan, a senior member of another major opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), likewise saw ulterior motives behind the Turkish condolences. He said that Ankara is thereby trying to keep more countries, notably Germany, from recognizing the genocide.
The Armenian leaders say that the Turkish government showed disrespect for the memory of the massacred Armenians by timing this year’s commemoration of the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli to coincide with the April 24 ceremonies to mark the genocide centennial.
The Armenian position is backed by most Western historians specializing in research of crimes against humanity. “The historical record on the Armenian Genocide is unambiguous and documented by overwhelming evidence,” the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) said in a 2007 statement.
The New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) similarly concluded in 2003 that the Armenian massacres “include all of the elements of the crime of genocide” as defined by a 1948 UN convention.