Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again offered on Friday his condolences to the descendants of Armenians killed in the Ottoman Empire a century ago one day after justifying their mass deportations ordered by the regime of “the Young Turks.”
"I once again respectfully commemorate all the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives amid the conditions of the First World War and extend my condolences to their children and grandchildren," he said in a written message that was read out during a memorial service for the victims held at an Armenian church in Istanbul.
“I sincerely share your pain. Please rest assured also that our hearts remain wide open to the grandchildren of the Ottoman Armenians all around the world,” read the message cited by “Hurriyet Daily News.”
The special church service, the first of its kind held in modern-day Turkey, was attended by Volkan Bozkir, the Turkish minister for European affairs.
Erdogan struck a very different note when he addressed a “peace summit” in Istanbul on Thursday. The First World War-era slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians was a major theme of his speech.
“It is inevitable for a country, which fights on a dozen separate fronts at the same time, to have domestic security and order problems,” Erdogan said at the gathering. “Armenian gangs, provoked by various powers, launched attacks on civilian people in somewhat vulnerable Anatolia. The Ottoman Empire had experienced similar problems and suffered great losses in Balkans before.
“In the light of these experiences, it felt the need to take measures. One of those measures was the relocation of the Armenian population in Anatolia to southern lands,” he said, referring to the Syrian desert where hundreds of thousands of Armenians -- mostly women, children and elderly people -- were killed or starved to death. Scores of others died on their way to the Deir ez-Zor camps.
“Can a nation, which has lived together with these people (Armenians) for a thousand years, take a hostile stance against them out of the blue?” Erdogan asked. Accordingly, he stuck to the long-standing official Turkish line that Ottoman Armenians died in smaller numbers and as a result of civil strife, rather than a government effort to exterminate them.
Any claim to the contrary is a “malevolent” attack on Turkey, declared Erdogan. He condemned the two dozen countries that have officially recognized the Armenian massacres as genocide.
“It is also a fact that none of those countries and politicians, who back the Armenian allegations, have a record as clean as Turkey’s,” he charged.
Erdogan delivered the angry speech the day before his government marked the 100th anniversary of the First World War Battle of Gallipoli in a ceremony timed to coincide with the centennial of the Armenian genocide. Ankara has traditionally celebrated the Turkish victory in the battle on April 25. The timing is this year’s ceremony is widely seen as an attempt to deflect international attention from the events in Armenia.
Erdogan expressed first-ever official Turkish condolences to the Armenians in April 2014. The move, which seemed to herald a softening of the traditional Turkish policy of aggressive genocide denial, was dismissed by Armenia as disingenuous. Yerevan insists that only an explicit Turkish recognition of the genocide can pave the way for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.
French President Francois Hollande, whose country recognized the genocide with a special law in 2001, seemed to agree with this stance as he took part in the commemorations of the genocide centenary in Yerevan on Friday. “Important words have already been said in Turkey, but others are still expected so that shared grief can become shared destiny,” Hollande said in a speech at the Tsitsernakabert genocide memorial.
In Istanbul, meanwhile, hundreds of Turks took to the streets to honor the victims of the mass killings which they too consider genocide. Some of them gathered outside the city’s Islamic Arts Museum, a former Ottoman police headquarters that served as a detention center for about 250 Armenian intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915. The vast majority of them were subsequently executed.
A larger rally organized by Turkish and international human rights groups took place in Istanbul’s Taksim Square later in the day.