Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered condolences to Armenian descendants of massacre victims in a message ahead of the 99th anniversary of the atrocity that Turkey still refuses to describe as a genocide.
The statement issued in seven languages and published widely in Turkish media laments the “shared pain” inflicted on those of all religions and ethnicities whose forebears were killed during the expulsions and brutalities that occurred as the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I.
“The 24th of April carries a particular significance for our Armenian citizens and for all Armenians around the world, and provides a valuable opportunity to share opinions freely on a historical matter,” the statement said of the start of the yearslong atrocity. “It is indisputable that the last years of the Ottoman Empire were a difficult period, full of suffering for Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Armenian and millions of other Ottoman citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin.”
Erdogan called for an end to disputes over “hierarchies of pain,” a reference to Armenian criticism of Turkey’s equation of other peoples’ suffering with their own in the atrocities committed by Ottoman soldiers that some claim took 1.5 million Armenian lives.
The prime minister’s statement was hailed by Turkish scholars as historic for its more conciliatory tone but derided by Armenian social leaders as little changed from nearly a century of genocide denial by modern Turkey.
“Ending a 100-year-long denial gives hope to everyone. Following a strict denial policy by Turkey, it is hopeful to get a message of condolences from the prime minister himself. It is the start of healing,” Turkish lawyer and human rights activist Orhan Kemal Cengiz told Today’s Zaman newspaper. “It is a very important step that for the first time a prime minister has extended condolences without adding a ‘but’ on April 24. From now on, the Armenian issue will be discussed in Turkey more freely.”