President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday rejected his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invitation to visit Turkey on April 24 and attend a remembrance ceremony for a 1915 battle, calling it a “primitive” attempt to overshadow the centenary of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
Sarkisian is one of more than 100 world leaders invited by Erdogan to the high-profile ceremony that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli fought by Ottoman and British-led troops during the First World War.
The bloody battle began on April 25, 1915, one day after hundreds of Armenian intellectuals were rounded up by the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople. Their arrest marked the beginning of mass killings and deportations of Armenians across the crumbling empire. Some 1.5 million of them died in the genocide.
In a written response to Erdogan publicized by his office, Sarkisian said, “The anniversary of the Gallipoli hostilities will for the first time be marked on April 24, despite the fact that they began on March 18, 1915 and continued through January 1916 and that the [British-led] Allies’ landing operation -- the Gallipoli Campaign itself -- started on April 25.”
Sarkisian claimed that the timing of the Turkish ceremony “pursues a primitive goal of deflecting the international community’s attention from events that will mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide.” This is a continuation of Ankara’s “traditional policy of denial” of the genocide, he said.
“Before initiating remembrance ceremonies Turkey should fulfill a much more important obligation to its own people and the entire world: recognize and condemn the Armenian genocide,” added Sarkisian.
The Armenian leader also argued that Erdogan has still not responded to his own invitation to attend the upcoming annual remembrance of the genocide victims in Yerevan. Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian handed that invitation to Erdogan when the latter was sworn in as Turkey’s new president in August.
In April, Erdogan offered first-ever Turkish condolences to the descendants of the Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks. The move was hailed by the West. Official Yerevan dismissed it, however, saying that Ankara continues to deny that the mass killings constituted genocide.
Earlier on Friday, “Hurriyet Daily News” quoted an unnamed Turkish government official as pointing out that there were Armenians among Ottoman soldiers who fought British forces on the Gallipoli peninsula. “We fought together in Gallipoli. That’s why we have extended the invitation to Sarkisian as well,” the official said.
In his letter to Erdogan, Sarkisian singled out one of those Ottoman Armenian soldiers, Captain Sarkis Torosian. “His parents were among the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian genocide,” he wrote. “They were brutally murdered, while his sister died in the Syrian desert.”