While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won over many Armenians at home with his "condolences" on the 99th anniversary of the World War I mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, the president of Armenia was much less than impressed, AFP reported Friday.
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“The Armenian genocide . . . is alive as far as the successor of Ottoman Turkey continues its policy of utter denial,” said President Serzh Sarikisian. “The denial of a crime constitutes the direct continuation of that very crime.”
The genocide of as many as 1.5 million Armenians was carried out by Turkish Ottoman troops in 1915. Modern-day Turkey vehemently denies this, claiming that the Armenians were among the victims of World War I, not of genocide, and that the Ottoman Empire bore no guilt for those deaths. Virtually all historians of those events say the Turkish claim is refuted by massive evidence from the time, and that it amounts to genocide denial. Erdogan did not veer from the traditional Turkish line in his statement on Wednesday.
"The incidents of the first world war are our shared pain. … Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the first world war," he said.
Still, he went on to express the hope that Armenians as well as ethnic Turks could "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."
Orhan Dink, a Turkish Armenian whose brother, journalist Hrant Dink, was assassinated in 2007 by ultra-nationalists for holding Turkey responsible for the genocide, said: "For the prime minister of the Turkish Republic to make such a statement is far-reaching for the Armenians who live in Turkey, and for myself.”
The deputy of the Armenian patriarchal seat in Istanbul, Monsignor Aram Atesyan, called Erdogan's remarks “a moving historical statement, which eased our pain.”
The United States, a close ally of Turkey which does not officially recognize that a genocide was committed against the Armenians, or that Turkey bears any historical responsibility for it, said via State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki: "We welcome Prime Minister Erdogan's historic public acknowledgment of the suffering that Armenians experienced in 1915."
The European Union called Erdogan's statement "a positive message."
Yet the reaction from the Armenian government in the capital Yerevan noted that "in Erdogan’s statement there are the well known positions of the Turkish propaganda. We actually expect something different from Turkey."