Reuters, Associated Press
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized on Wednesday a public apology by some 200 Turkish intellectuals and academics for the massacres of ethnic Armenians in World War One.
The Internet campaign, which has drawn the ire of nationalists who regard it as an act of national betrayal, coincides with a diplomatic rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia to end almost 100 years of hostility.
"I don't accept the campaign that they have started and I don't support it," Erdogan told reporters. "It will not have any benefit other than stirring up trouble, disturbing our peace and undoing the steps which have been taken".
He added that if “if there is a crime, then those who committed it can offer an apology. My nation, my country has no such issue.”
Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, but strongly denies Armenian claims it was genocide, saying that Muslim Turks also died in inter-ethnic conflicts. Western historians have backed Armenian claims that the killings amounted to genocide.
The apology, which avoids using the term genocide and instead describes the events as a great catastrophe, threatens to reignite a controversy that challenges one of the ideological foundations of modern Turkey. It also comes at a time of heightened nationalism in Turkey.
Organizers said the initiative, posted on the Internet Monday along with a non-binding petition to gather signatures, is meant to allow Turks to offer a personal apology and to end an official silence.
President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia in September as Turkey has sought to improve ties. Several meetings between Turkish and Armenian officials have followed and the two countries have expressed hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations soon.
Erdogan said Wednesday the apology threatens to damage improved relations between the countries and it is not binding for Turkey. "I would not be a part of it," he said.