Turkey has condemned Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel for publicly recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide in the wake of similar statements made by Pope Francis and other world leaders.
“This statement of the Belgian Prime Minister is inconsistent with historical facts and incompatible with international law,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a weekend statement.
Addressing Belgium’s parliament on Wednesday, Michel said the World War One-era slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians “must be viewed as a genocide.”
Michel thus echoed a resolution that was passed by the Belgian Senate in 1998. Successive Belgian governments have until now avoided using the word genocide with regard to the Armenian massacres, however.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry statement deplored this “rapid change in opinions,” saying that Michel’s remarks continued a pattern of growing anti-Turkish “racist” rhetoric by Belgian politicians. “We have been observing with concern for a while, the serious increase in the number of accusatory activities and statements taking aim at Turks over their identities and history in Belgium, a country which has not yet confronted the dark pages of its own history,” it said.
Less than a month ago, a major Belgian political party, the Humanist Democratic Center (cdH), expelled one of its ethnic Turkish members for her refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide. Mahinur Ozdemir, a member of the Brussels regional assembly, angered the party leadership with her boycott of a minute of silence which the legislature observed for the Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks.
The cdH leader, Benoit Lutgen, warned earlier that he will not tolerate any “genocide deniers” within the party ranks.
Official Ankara strongly condemned Ozdemir’s ouster as a blow to freedom of expression and an affront to Belgium’s 200,000-strong Turkish community.
The Belgian premier’s remarks were the latest in a spate of Armenian genocide recognitions by Pope Francis, German President Joachim Gauck, the European Parliament as well as the parliaments of Austria and Luxembourg voiced shortly before and after the centenary of the tragedy marked on April 24. Brazil’s Senate followed suit with a resolution overwhelmingly passed earlier this month.
Turkey reacted angrily to those moves, sticking to its long-running official line that Armenians died in smaller numbers and as a result of internal strife, rather than a deliberate Ottoman government policy. The Turkish ambassadors to the Vatican, Austria, Luxembourg and Brazil were recalled to Ankara in protest.
The Turkish government also denounced Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Fracncois Hollande of France for attending an April 24 ceremony in Yerevan and reaffirming their countries’ recognition of the Armenian genocide.
“We are aware that it is with the disappearance of 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago that the word ‘genocide’ was invented,” Hollande said in a speech at the ceremony. He pointed to Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish intellectual who coined the term in 1944.