President Serzh Sarkisian has launched a scathing attack on Recep Tayyip Erdogan in response to what critics of Turkey’s outgoing prime minister and president-elect regard as a racist slur against Armenians.
Erdogan caused an outcry last week after accusing the Turkish opposition of carrying out a smear campaign against him. “They have said a lot of things about me,” he told the NTV news channel. “One of them came and said I am a Georgian. Then another came up and, I beg your pardon, called me uglier things, saying I am Armenian.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry swiftly condemned Erdogan’s remark as “racist” and “appalling.” Sarkisian echoed that condemnation in a televised interview aired on Monday.
“I really think that many Armenians would have also been offended if it had suddenly turned out that Erdogan is an Armenian,” Sarkisian told the Armnews channel. “We should not be surprised by this [comment.]”
“People occupying such a position must be composed. But they [in Ankara] lack composure,” he said.
Sarkisian spoke as Erdogan swept to a landslide victory in Turkey’s weekend presidential election which is expected to enable him to solidify his grip on power in the years to come. The Armenian leader sent no congratulatory message to Erdogan as of Tuesday evening.
Sarkisian has enjoyed a warmer rapport with Turkey’s outgoing President Abdullah Gul. The two men were instrumental in the 2008-2009 Turkish-Armenian rapprochement that eventually ended in failure. They have periodically congratulated each other on national holidays and electoral victories.
Analysts in Yerevan believe that during Erdogan’s presidency Turkey will continue to link the normalization of relations with Armenia to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. They also do not expect a radical change in Ankara’s position on the 1915 Armenian genocide.
“Erdogan will stick to the political course on Armenia that was charted during his party’s long rule,” said Ruben Safrastian, the director of the Yerevan-based Institute of Oriental Studies .
“I think one can only expect some tactical steps connected with [Turkish] efforts to establish closer ties with the Armenian Diaspora. But I don’t anticipate any new approaches by Turkey,” Safrastian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Erdogan signaled a further softening of Ankara’s decades-long policy of aggressive genocide denial in April when he extended first-ever Turkish condolences to the descendants of some 1.5 million Armenians massacred in the Ottoman Empire. The move was hailed by the West but dismissed by Yerevan.
In a clear anticipation of Erdogan’s victory in the presidential ballot, Sarkisian subsequently called on Turkey’s next president to visit Armenia in April 2015 and join official commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the genocide.