Official Yerevan dismissed on Thursday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s condolences extended to the descendants of Armenians massacred in the Ottoman Empire, saying that Ankara is simply switching to a “more sophisticated” tactic of genocide denial.
Erdogan’s unprecedented statement was welcomed by the United States and the European Union, however, with the U.S. State Department calling it “historic.”
“We welcome Prime Minister Erdogan’s historic public acknowledgement of the suffering that Armenians experienced in 1915,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily news briefing in Washington late on Wednesday.
“We believe this is a positive indication that there can be a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts, which we hope will advance the cause of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians,” Psaki said.
Stefan Fuele, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, also praised the Turkish premier. “Reconciliation is key EU value. Hope steps in this spirit will follow,” Fuele wrote on his Twitter page.
In his unprecedented statement issued ahead of the 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Erdogan admitted that Armenians suffered “inhumane consequences” during their “relocation” ordered by the Ottoman government. But he seemed to equate their suffering to the wartime deaths of many Turks and other Muslim peoples of the crumbling empire.
Erdogan also spoke out against “using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey,” an apparent reference to the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide.
Not surprisingly, reactions to his appeal from Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora were overwhelmingly negative. President Serzh Sarkisian’s chief of staff, Vigen Sargsian, called it “yet another, probably more sophisticated manifestation” of the Turkish policy of genocide denial.
“Turkey is required to do something else: to recognize history and unequivocally condemn its crimes. That is called repentance in Christianity,” Sargsian told the official Armenpress news agency.
Sargsian brushed aside Erdogan’s calls for a Turkish-Armenian dialogue on the sensitive issue. He pointed to Ankara’s refusal to unconditionally implement the 2009 Turkish-Armenian normalization agreements that implicitly envisaged a joint examination of the 1915 events.
Armenian Diaspora groups and, in particular, influential lobbying groups in the United States also scoffed at Erdogan’s condolences. “While this statement is the first of its kind, it falls far short of acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and simultaneously adds to the layers of denial that have emanated from official Ankara,” the Armenian Assembly of America said in a statement.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) likewise accused Ankara of “repackaging its genocide denials."