Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday again expressed his condolences to the descendants of Armenians killed in the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
Erdogan blamed their deaths on “the harsh conditions of the First World War,” rather than a deliberate government policy of extermination, in a statement issued on the 102nd anniversary of the start of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians.
“This year, I once again pay our respects to the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives under the harsh conditions of the First World War and convey my condolences to their descendants,” said the statement read out during a memorial service held at an Armenian cathedral in Istanbul.
“Turks and Armenians, as two ancient nations of this region, have shared a common history and culture in this part of the world, where they lived side by side for a thousand years,” it said, adding that they should “heal the wounds of the past.”
Erdogan has issued similar statements in recent years. Just like its predecessors, his government vehemently denies that the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide. It has strongly condemned foreign governments and parliaments for recognizing the Armenian genocide.
In an April 2015 speech, Erdogan sought to justify the mass deportations of Armenian civilians ordered by the Ottoman regime of “the Young Turks” in 1915. He said the “the relocation of the Armenian population in Anatolia to southern lands” was a legitimate response to violence by “Armenian gangs provoked by various powers.”
The Turkish leader referred 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.
Accordingly, Erdogan stuck to the long-standing official Turkish line that Ottoman Armenians died in smaller numbers and as a result of civil strife. Any claim to the contrary is a “malevolent” attack on Turkey, he declared at the time.
In his latest statement, Erdogan acknowledged Armenians’ “great contributions” to the Ottoman Empire and modern-day Turkey. He also said the Turkish government wants to “preserve the memory of the Ottoman Armenians and the Armenian cultural heritage in the future.”
Erdogan expressed first-ever official Turkish condolences to the Armenians in April 2014. The move, which heralded a softening of Ankara’s traditional 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.