ANKARA — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered on Wednesday first-ever condolences to the descendants of the victims of the Armenians Genocide representing the first such overt comment ever publicly stated by a Turkish leader.
In an April 23 statement released in nine languages, including Armenian, Erdogan said, “The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain.”
Erdogan said he hoped “the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity.”
Erdogan added that “we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace.”
But while acknowledging that April 24 “carries a particular significance” for the Armenians, Erdogan implicitly stood by Ankara’s denial of a premeditated government effort to wipe out the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey. He said that many Turkish, Kurdish and Arab subjects of the crumbling empire also died during the war.
It is believed to be the first time a Turkish prime minister has offered such explicit condolences.
Full text of English translation of Erdogan’s statement:
“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.
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.
Any conscientious, fair and humanistic approach to these issues requires an understanding of all the sufferings endured in this period, without discriminating as to religion or ethnicity.
Certainly, neither constructing hierarchies of pain nor comparing and contrasting suffering carries any meaning for those who experienced this pain themselves.
As a Turkish proverb goes, “fire burns the place where it falls.”
It is a duty of humanity to acknowledge that Armenians remember the suffering experienced in that period, just like every other citizen of the Ottoman Empire.
In Turkey, expressing different opinions and thoughts freely on the events of 1915 is the requirement of a pluralistic perspective as well as of a culture of democracy and modernity.
Some may perceive this climate of freedom in Turkey as an opportunity to express accusatory, offensive and even provocative assertions and allegations.
Even so, if this will enable us to better understand historical issues with their legal aspects and to transform resentment to friendship again, it is natural to approach different discourses with empathy and tolerance and expect a similar attitude from all sides.
The Republic of Turkey will continue to approach every idea with dignity in line with the universal values of law.
Nevertheless, using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible.
The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain. To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility.
Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the First World War. 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 among towards one another.
In today’s world, deriving enmity from history and creating new antagonisms are neither acceptable nor useful for building a common future.
The spirit of the age necessitates dialogue despite differences, understanding by heeding others, evaluating means for compromise, denouncing hatred, and praising respect and tolerance.
With this understanding, we, as the Turkish Republic, have called for the establishment of a joint historical commission in order to study the events of 1915 in a scholarly manner. This call remains valid. Scholarly research to be carried out by Turkish, Armenian and international historians would play a significant role in shedding light on the events of 1915 and an accurate understanding of history.
It is with this understanding that we have opened our archives to all researchers. Today, hundreds of thousands of documents in our archives are at the service of historians.
Looking to the future with confidence, Turkey has always supported scholarly and comprehensive studies for an accurate understanding of history. The people of Anatolia, who lived together for centuries regardless of their different ethnic and religious origins, have established common values in every field from art to diplomacy, from state administration to commerce. Today they continue to have the same ability to create a new future.
It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.
Regardless of their ethnic or religious origins, we pay tribute, with compassion and respect, to all Ottoman citizens who lost their lives in the same period and under similar conditions.”