Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent extension of condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians killed in World War I by Ottoman forces has been criticized by opposition parties, with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) describing it as “an apology for genocide.” However, Erdoğan himself sounded self-confident over the condolence message, saying it was a symbol of Turkey’s “walls of fear being destroyed.”
Addressed a parliamentary group meeting of his party on April 29, MHP head Devlet Bahçeli described Erdoğan’s words as “non-national.” “In his message, which was written in its entirety with a non-national look, Prime Minister Erdoğan spoke of a ‘just and conscientious stance’ and understanding that era’s grievances regardless of religious and ethnic roots,” Bahçeli said.
“But the prime minister’s condolence is sort of an apology for genocide,” he added.
On the other hand, People’s Democracy Party (HDP) co-chair Sebahat Tuncel said opening state archives concerning the events of 1915, as pledged by Erdoğan earlier in the day, would be a “significant but insufficient step.”
“A Truth and Justice Commission should be founded and the past should be faced,” Tuncel said, delivering a speech at the first-ever parliamentary group meeting of the HDP, which now has the required number of seats to form a group after 19 Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies joined the party on April 28.
In a statement issued on April 23, the eve of the 99th anniversary of the Armenian killings, Erdoğan unexpectedly described the events of 1915 as “inhumane,” using more conciliatory language than has been the case for Turkish leaders in the past.
The exact nature and scale of what happened in 1915 continues to sour relations between Turkey and Armenia. Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in clashes, but denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that this constituted an act of genocide – a term used by most historians and foreign parliaments.
In his April 29 speech, Erdoğan stressed that Turkey had “nothing to be ashamed of” in its past. “We are getting rid of the past’s weights, its balls and chains, with courage. We are rooting out fears of the past one by one and destroying the walls of fear in front of Turkey. We have faced every incident and we will continue to do so,” he said.
Erdoğan’s April 23 statement was unusually released in nine different languages, including Armenian, and repeated previous calls for dialogue between the two countries and the setting up of a historical commission to study events surrounding the killings.
“It is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren,” the statement said.
“Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences – such as relocation – during the First World War, should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another,” it added.