Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Condolences, what condolences?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week expressed his “condolences” to Armenians for those who lost their lives in World War I, a gesture that falls well short of recognising the genocide, writes Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of Armenians?” asked Adolf Hitler in 1939 in a speech to his commanders a week before his invasion of Poland

In the first action of its kind from a Turkish leader over the past 99 years, and a day before the annual commemoration of the 1915 Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks, Armenians around the world shared the news of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement of condolences to the grandchildren of those who lost their lives, with mixed reactions.

Erdogan’s statement, issued in nine languages, said “we wish the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century to rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.”

The Turkish opposition and most Armenian communities worldwide criticised Erdogan’s statement as “opportunistic.”

In response to Erdogan’s condolences, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia based in Beirut, said in a service in memory of the massacred that “history cannot overcome the undeniable truth. What happened in 1915 did not occur as result of the War. It was a genocide against the Armenian people in the legal and political understanding of the term, a genocide organised by the Turks’ ancestors Talaat and Enver Pasha. Therefore, the Armenians demand the recognition of the genocide and reparations.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu said that Erdogan had “shared the pains of the past” and hoped that the action Turkey had taken would be reciprocated.

Columnist for the Turkish Sabah newspaper and political commentator Rasim Ozan Kutahyali, known for his liberal political views, said that Erdogan’s statement had removed “a taboo”.

“We, the Turkish nation, must indeed convey our condolences to the grandchildren of our Armenian brothers and sisters massacred by the Talaat Pasha government in 1915. In this, Erdogan has once again proven to the world that he is not a leader from the usual mold,” Kutahyali wrote on April 24.

Ayse Gunaysu, a Turkish human rights activist based in Istanbul, was sure that Erdogan had “changed his communications consultant because this is new language.” In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Gunaysu said that although Erdogan’s statement was the first of its kind “we in Turkey are so used to the worst that a little bit less worse surprises us and almost give us hope.”

The Turkish History Society, a government agency attached to the prime minister’s office, organised a symposium in the Anatolian city of Van entitled “Armenians in World War I” on April 24 and 25, which Gunaysu found ironic.

“In this symposium all the well-known Turkish denialist theses were reiterated. The programme of the symposium speaks for itself: Armenian uprisings, Armenian [Revolutionary] Committees and their activities, and so on. The head of the ‘Armenian Desk’ of the Turkish Historical Society, Recep Karacakaya, also argued that ‘the real genocide’ was committed by the Armenians,” Gunaysu said.

“Erdogan has realised that extreme denialism, the language of mass murderers, the shameless lies can get him nowhere. So the government of Turkey is in search of a more refined version of denialism. What has made him realise this is the decades-long struggle against denialism waged by Armenians, the grandchildren of the Genocide victims worldwide, and to some extent a handful of people in Turkey,” Gunaysu told the Weekly.

Hassan Djemal, a Turkish journalist and writer who had believed the Genocide did not occur, travelled to Armenia in 2008, visited the Genocide Monument and laid three carnations in memory of his Armenian friend, journalist Hrant Dink who was assassinated in 2007 in Istanbul.

He then published a book entitled 1915: The Armenian Genocide, and is today best known for acknowledging and apologising for the genocide. Djemal is the grandson of Ahmed Djemal Pasha, one of the “Three Pashas” (Enver, Talaat, Djemal) who ruled the Ottoman Empire during World War I and thus one of the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide.

In his book Djemal remarked that “to deny the genocide would mean to be an accomplice in a crime against humanity.” Ahmed Djemal Pasha was executed in July 1922 in Tbilisi as part of Operation Nemesis in retribution for his role in the genocide.

The Armenian community in Turkey, Turkish civil society and human rights groups commemorated the anniversary of the genocide in Istanbul and Diyarbekir. At the Haidar Pasha station in Istanbul, from where 50 Armenian intellectuals were deported at the time, nearly 1,000 people gathered to light candles and hold up pictures of those 50 poets and writers who lost their lives.

Photographs of Dink were also raised in an event that took place in Istanbul for the first time in 2010. Members of the Committee for the Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide held banners in Turkish and Armenian that read “We are commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide.” Later in the afternoon, a sit-in took place in Taksim Square.

In Armenia, April 24 is a day of national mourning, and this year a group of activists from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Party burned the Turkish flag and led a 15,000 torch-lit march in the capital Yerevan. The banners read “Turkey still hides behind lies” and “Recognition, Condemnation, Compensation.”

Armenian President Serge Sarkissian together with officials and ministers laid flowers at the Genocide Monument. In a statement, Sarkissian said that “the denial of a crime constitutes the direct continuation of that very crime. Only recognition and condemnation can prevent the repetition of such crimes in the future.”

 He also stressed that the events of 1915 “should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassionate and mutually humane attitudes towards one another.”

Hundreds of Armenian-American families held a silent demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy in Washington on 24 April, protesting against the Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide and calling for justice.

For the sixth year in a row, US President Barack Obama broke his promise and failed to use the word “genocide” as a description of the massacres in a speech. Instead, he described it as “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.” Obama had made a promise to the Armenian-Americans, while seeking their votes as a presidential candidate in 2008, that he would describe the 1915 massacres as “genocide.”

“President Obama, since taking office, has, under pressure from Turkey, totally reversed course, abandoning his clearly stated pledge to recognise the Armenian Genocide, and resorting over the past six years to the very same euphemisms and evasions that he once so vigourously criticised as a senator and candidate for the White House,” Aram Hamparian, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Washington DC director, told the Weekly.

“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed. A full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests. Peoples and nations grow stronger, and build a foundation for a more just and tolerant future, by acknowledging and reckoning with painful elements of the past,” Obama said.

Hamparian said that the Obama administration had pressured Armenia into downgrading the Armenian Genocide from an unpunished international crime into an unresolved bilateral conflict. “His White House has pressured Congress to block legislation commemorating this crime and even prohibited members of his administration from attending Capitol Hill remembrances,” the ANCA director said.

As the centenary of the genocide is a year away, the Republic of Armenia and Armenians living in the Diaspora have increased their demands that Turkey recognise the killings of 1.5 million Armenians as a ‘genocide’. 

Uruguay was the first country to officially recognise the Armenian Genocide in 1965. Other countries that have recognised it include France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Canada, the Vatican and Australia.

“We are in no need of Erdogan’s condolences. We want him to apologise for the crime that was committed by his ancestors in 1915. We request genocide recognition from Turkey and compensation,” the representative of the Armenian Cause Bureau in Egypt Armen Mazloumian told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“When I say compensation, I mean moral and financial recompense. Moral compensation comes with Turkey’s recognition of the genocide, while the financial one becomes reality when Turkey gives us back our rights, our endowments, our churches, schools and lands that were looted.”

In a seminar organised in Cairo by the Free Egyptians Party on the day of the commemoration, professor of International Law Ayman Salama explained how the term ‘genocide’ applied to the massacres committed by the Turks, stressing the responsibility Turkey must bear as the inheritor of the former Ottoman Empire.

During the seminar, in which Mazloumian also took part, he called on the next Egyptian parliament to recognise the Armenian Genocide and establish a special monument dedicated to it.

Egypt’s Armenian community also commemorated the 99th anniversary of the genocide. Scouts from the Homenetmen Ararat Sporting Club erected a replica of the Genocide Memorial, originally found in Yerevan, and community members along with the ambassador of Armenia in Egypt and the bishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church marched to lay carnations and candles around the Monument out of respect for the 1.5 million who lost their lives.

A tree was planted in memory of the victims and a film, “Orphans of The Genocide,” was screened. The following day, a special mass took place in the St Gregory the Illuminator Church, followed by a requiem service in which members of the community and Ararat scouts paid tribute to the martyrs.

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