Official Ankara has condemned President Serzh Sarkisian for angrily rejecting its invitation to attend the upcoming commemoration of a 1915 battle in Turkey which is timed to coincide with the centenary of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described at the weekend as offensive and “hateful” Sarkisian’s claims that the Turkish government is thus keen to overshadow the genocide anniversary with that event. Yerevan hit back at Erdogan in equally strong terms on Monday.
Sarkisian is one of more than 100 world leaders invited by Erdogan to an April 24 ceremony that will mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli fought by Ottoman and British-led troops during the First World War.
The bloody battle began on April 25, 1915, one day after hundreds of Armenian intellectuals were rounded up by the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople. Their arrest marked the beginning of mass killings and deportations of Armenians across the crumbling empire.
Sarkisian turned down the invitation in a written response to Erdogan publicized by his office on January 16. He argued that successive Turkish governments have for decades marked the battle anniversary on March 18. He said that Erdogan’s government has scheduled the next ceremony for April 24 in an effort to “deflect the international community’s attention from events that will mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide.” This is a continuation of Ankara’s “traditional policy of denial” of the genocide, charged the Armenian leader.
Sarkisian reaffirmed his position on Thursday as he chaired a meeting in Yerevan of a state commission planning and coordinating the centenary commemorations. He denounced Erdogan’s invitation as “indecent.”
“It is impossible for us to accept these expressions that target the president’s invitation to Armenia and that are in contravention of diplomatic practices,” Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on Saturday. “We return these remarks that are unbecoming of a statesman to Mr. Sarkisian.”
“The Armenian government’s shallow and hateful discourse seems incapable of grasping the meaning of the Battle of Canakkale (Gallipoli),” Kalin told the Anatolia news agency.
“We strongly condemn this tone which befits neither a leader of a neighboring state, nor a representative of the ancient Armenian nation,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement. It dismissed Yerevan’s insistence on Turkish recognition of the genocide as “outdated rhetoric.”
Both the ministry and Kalin insisted that the Turkish invitation was sent to Sarkisian in good faith. They also stressed the importance of Erdogan’s decision last year to express first-ever Turkish condolences to the descendants of the Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks.
The Armenian government rejected the Turkish criticism on Monday, with Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian saying that Erdogan’s invitation “ran counter to all ethical norms.” “With such primitive tricks, Ankara is making yet another unsuccessful attempt to cover up its inability to face up to the past and accept historical justice,” he told the official Armenpress news agency.
“In order to avoid finding themselves in such a ludicrous situation, the Turkish authorities should have changed their denialist mentality … instead of changing the traditional date of Gallipoli battle commemoration,” added Kocharian.
Kocharian also noted that Erdogan never replied to Sarkisian’s 2014 invitation to visit Yerevan on April 24 and take part in the annual remembrance of the genocide victims.
The bitter recriminations will further dim prospects for a normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations in the foreseeable future. The two neighboring states embarked on an unprecedented rapprochement at the start of Sarkisian’s presidency in 2008.
The process culminated in the signing in 2009 of two protocols calling for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two neighboring states and opening of their border. The U.S.-backed accords also committed Ankara and Yerevan to setting up a “subcommission” on historical issues, presumably including the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire.
The Turkish government and Erdogan in particular have since made parliamentary ratification of the protocols conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.