Armenia’s political leadership has been invited to attend Turkish President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inauguration and is likely to send Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian to the ceremony slated for Thursday, it emerged at the weekend.
President Serzh Sarkisian revealed the Turkish invitation as he visited a pro-government youth camp in the Armenian resort town of Tsaghkadzor. A statement by Sarkisian’s press office quoted him as saying there that Nalbandian will “most probably” attend Erdogan’s inauguration along with more than 20 heads of state and governments.
According to the statement, Sarkisian said Nalbandian will use the occasion to clarify whether Erdogan will accept his invitation to take part in the official commemorations in Yerevan of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
Sarkisian publicly extended that invitation in late May. He urged the winner of Turkey’s forthcoming presidential election to visit Armenia on April 24, 2014 and “face up to telling testimonies of the history of the Armenian genocide.”
In a further softening of Turkey’s decades-long policy of aggressive genocide denial, Erdogan offered last April first-ever Turkish condolences to the descendants of some 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks. The move was hailed by the West. Official Yerevan dismissed Erdogan’s statement, however, saying that Ankara continues to deny that the mass killings constituted genocide.
Sarkisian’s intention to send his foreign minister to Erdogan’s swearing-in ceremony is in tune with his congratulatory message sent to the outgoing Turkish prime minister earlier this month. Just three days before that letter, the Armenian leader angrily condemned Erdogan for making statements widely seen as a racist slur against Armenians.
Erdogan caused an outcry during his successful election campaign after he accused the Turkish opposition of carrying out a smear campaign against him. “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,” he said.
“I think that many Armenians would have also been offended if it had suddenly turned out that Erdogan is an Armenian,” Sarkisian shot back.
In his ensuing congratulatory letter, Sarkisian urged Erdogan to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations “without preconditions.” Erdogan has repeatedly made clear that Ankara will not establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan and open the Turkish-Armenian border before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Sarkisian admitted on Saturday that he does not know whether the border will be opened in the foreseeable future.