By Emil Danielyan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed his government’s calls for Turkish and Armenian historians to jointly study the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, while insisting that they did not constitute genocide.
In a newspaper article published on Friday, Erdogan also condemned Armenia for openly supporting a U.S. congressional resolution that recognizes the 1915-1918 slaughter of more than one million Ottoman Armenians as a genocide. He claimed that Yerevan and the worldwide Armenian Diaspora are politicizing the sensitive issue to “defame” Turkey, rather than to redress “the tragedy that befell Armenians during World War I.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on these statements.
“The truth is that the Armenian allegations of genocide pertaining to the events of 1915 have not been historically or legally substantiated,” Erdogan said, writing in the Wall Street Journal. “If the claim of genocide -- the highest of crimes -- can stand scrutiny and the facts are as incontestable as Armenian lobbies say, then the question must be asked as to why this issue has never been taken to international adjudication as prescribed by the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.
“Maybe more importantly, we must also ask ourselves why the Republic of Armenia is obstinately evading Turkey's offer to establish a Joint History Commission to examine together the events of 1915 through bilateral dialogue -- all the while openly supporting efforts to defame Turkey.”
“Our sincere offer for dialogue and reconciliation is on the table,” he added. “It is incumbent on Armenia to take the next step.”
Erdogan had first made the offer in early in a 2005 letter to President Robert Kocharian sent on the eve of events marking the 90th anniversary of the start of the genocide. In his written reply, Kocharian effectively rejected it and proposed instead the creation of a Turkish-Armenian inter-governmental body that would address this and other issues of mutual concern.
Armenian government officials, backed by many local and Diaspora pundits, regard the Turkish proposal as a ploy designed to scuttle the increasingly successful Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide. They argue that calling the Armenian massacres a genocide is still a crime in Turkey and that the Erdogan government has done little to abolish a relevant clause in the Turkish Penal Code.
An independent third-party examination of the bloody events of 1915 was already initiated in 2002 by a group of prominent Armenians and Turks acting under the aegis of a U.S.-backed “reconciliation commission.” In a report released in February 2003, the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) concluded that the mass killings and deportations of Armenians “include all of the elements of the crime of genocide” as defined by the UN convention mentioned by Erdogan.
U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly cited the ICTJ study in his annual messages to the Armenian-American community, while declining to use the word genocide with regard to the killings. Also, the study was endorsed last April by more than fifty Nobel prize laureates from around the world.
Erdogan’s article is clearly part of Ankara’s frantic efforts to stave off the adoption by the U.S. House of Representatives of a resolution that calls on Bush to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.” The Turkish premier described the draft resolution as “acutely offensive and unjust to Turks” and again warned that its passage would seriously damage Washington’s close security ties with Ankara.
“Let us not make a mistake that will surely strike a severe blow to a partnership we have worked so hard together to cultivate,” Erdogan warned U.S. lawmakers.
Official Yerevan welcomed the October 10 decision by the House Foreign Affairs Committee to approve the genocide bill over the Bush administration’s objections. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month, urging her to ignore similar objections voiced by eight former U.S. secretaries of state.
The genocide issue is apparently not on the agenda of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s visit to Washington which he began on Thursday with talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a staunch opponent of the resolution. Gates was reported to say that neither he, nor Sarkisian raised it during the meeting.