Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday paid tribute to “untold” contributions of Armenians to the Ottoman Empire, again acknowledged their “inhuman” suffering in 1915 and renewed his government’s calls for a joint Turkish-Armenian study of their mass extermination.
In an op-ed article published in the London daily “The Guardian,” Davutoglu said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s unprecedented condolences extended to the descendants of 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks represent a unique chance for such a dialogue. But he gave no indication that Ankara is prepared to recognize the mass killings as genocide.
“Relations between Turks and Armenians date back centuries,” wrote Davutoglu. “As the Ottoman empire expanded, Turks and Armenians interacted in a multitude of ways. Armenians were among the best integrated communities in terms of enriching the social, cultural, economic and political life of the empire, and added untold value to the empire's development throughout cycles of war and peace.
“The influence of Ottoman Armenians in intellectual and artistic circles cannot be overstated … Edgar Manas, another Armenian, was one of the composers of the Turkish national anthem.
“Ottoman architecture of the 19th century was marked by works commissioned by the Ottoman sultans to Armenian architects, most notably builders of the Balyan family. Well known landmarks of Istanbul, such as the imperial palaces of Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi, are attributed to the Balyans, as are several significant mosques along the Bosphorus. “
“One of my predecessors, Gabriel Noradunkyan, served as foreign minister of the Ottoman Empire from 1912-13 and was a prominent Armenian figure in international affairs,” stressed Davutoglu.
Ottoman Armenians, continued Davutoglu, “suffered greatly” during World War I. “The consequences of the relocation of the large part of the Armenian community are unacceptable and inhuman,” he said, underlining a softening of the decades-long Turkish policy of genocide denial.
But like Erdogan, the chief Turkish diplomat seemed to equate that to the wartime displacement and deaths of many Ottoman Muslims which he said are still not recognized by the outside world. “Could Turkish and Armenian narratives not come closer together, could a ‘just memory’ not emerge?” he said. “Believing this can happen, Turkey proposed a joint commission composed of Turkish and Armenian historians to study the events of 1915. The findings of the commission, if established, would bring about a better understanding of this tragic period and hopefully help to normalize our relationship.”
The creation of such a body was envisaged by Turkish-Armenian normalization protocols which Davutoglu signed with his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian in 2009. Ankara makes their ratification by Turkey’s parliament conditional on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Erdogan reaffirmed this precondition, rejected by Yerevan, during a recent visit to Azerbaijan.
Davutoglu said that Ankara now sees an “opportunity to recapture the engagement and conciliation that eluded us in 2009.” “The [April 23] statement by Prime Minister Erdogan is an unprecedented and courageous step taken in this direction,” he wrote in “The Guardian.”
The statement, which offered the Armenians first-ever official Turkish condolences, was welcomed by the United States and the European Union. However, the Armenian government dismissed it, saying that saying that Ankara is simply switching to a “more sophisticated” tactic of genocide denial.
Speaking in the Armenian parliament on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Nalbandian hit out at Erdogan for reportedly saying the fact that thousands of Armenians still live in Turkey means that the 1915 massacres did not constitute genocide. “Today a large number of Jews live in Germany, but no one would dare to call into question the reality of the Holocaust,” said Nalbandian. “Turkey had better follow Germany’s example through recognition, condemnation and apology.”