In response to our article about the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, we are publishing a formal reply from the Turkish Ambassador to Russia that provides a Turkish perspective on these events.
Armenians carry a placard with a sign reading "1915" and "1500000", the year and numbers of victims of the 1915 events in Turkey. Photo: AP
Editor’s note: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Armenia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was met in Ankara with a mix of regret and indignation, largely as a result of Russia’s use of the word “genocide” to describe the events of 1915.
Moreover, this Russian visit to Armenia threatened to turn into a diplomatic scandal when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a statement about decreasing diplomatic ties with Russia. This was misinterpreted by Mustafa Armağan, one of the historians who attended the meetings with Erdogan, who said that Ankara didn’t rule out the recall of the Turkish Ambassador to Moscow.
As was later clarified, the Turkish President had simply expressed his regrets about the fact that Putin had used the term “genocide” to describe the 1915 events in Turkey, a term that he found biased and politically charged. In response to this rhetoric from the Kremlin, Erdogan turned down an invitation to visit Moscow to join in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.
On May 9, Russia Direct received a letter from the Turkish Ambassador to Moscow, Ümit Yardim, in response to our recent article about the tragedy that happened one hundred years ago. Ambassador Ümit Yardim asked us to share his views on the events of 1915 “for the sake of equity.”
Below, we have published his letter as an attempt to give both sides of the story:
“I have carefully read the article by Mr. Henry Sardaryan titled “One Hundred Years After the Armenian Genocide" published on the website of Russia Direct. Unfortunately, I have to note that his article took up the one-sided story of Armenians and stigmatized the Turkish people and the Republic of Turkey.
Surely, the final years of the Ottoman Empire were a tragic period. The loss of innocent lives and departure from ancestral lands were a common fate for all peoples of the empire. In the years leading up to disintegration, including the Balkan Wars and the First World War, followed by Turkey’s War of Independence, around 4.5 million Turkish and Muslim people perished and 5 million Muslims were driven away from the periphery of the empire – namely the Balkans and the Caucasus – to the core of Anatolia.
A long series of Armenian revolts from 1885 resulted in the death and displacement of over 1 million Muslims in eastern Anatolia alone. Foreign support was readily available for the Armenian nationalists. The revolt in the province of Van in early 1915 during World War I was a renewed campaign to assault the Muslim population and to assist the invaders with a view to create a state covering eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus. The Van rebellion brought about house arrests of the insurgents and, due to prevalent security concerns, the relocation of Armenians from mostly war zones on the eastern front.
In this tragic episode, grief and hardship were immense and common. No one disputes the suffering of Armenians during the First World War. The Armenian view of history, however, is selective, presented solely from the perspective of relocation that is adorned and politically charged with a bitter narrative, completely keeping out the historical context of these events.
Attempts to question the allegations are labeled as denialist or propagandist, even if it is based on genuine scholarly research. The Armenian “genocide” advocacy worldwide pursues discrimination of Turkish history and ancestry. Such a nationalistic zeal inspired some to seek reprisals, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s more than 40 Turkish diplomats, along with family members and staff, fell victim to Armenian armed terrorist groups.
For a very different take read “One Hundred Years After the Armenian Genocide"
Genocide is not a generic concept. It is a particular crime defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which designates a competent tribunal to specify under strict rules whether or not a case qualifies as such. Neither a legal determination based on authentic documentary evidence nor a scholarly consensus exists to describe the Armenian claims as genocide. In contrast, the Holocaust as well as Rwanda and Srebrenica were all proven as genocide in a court of law.
We believe that Turkey and Armenia could easily be on a path of reconciliation. Turkey recognized the independence of Armenia in 1991 and on many occasions since it has sought to normalize bilateral relations. The Protocols of 2009 were a significant achievement and detailed the principles and mutual steps towards normalization. In this vein, Turkey also proposed the creation of a joint historical commission, which would study the archives in Turkey, Armenia and other countries to resolve differences in the common past of the two peoples.
Turkey’s resolve for a rapprochement with Armenians and Armenia is unquestionable. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, sent an unprecedented message of condolence on April 23, 2014, expressing respect and compassion for those who lost their lives in 1915 and asked for “respecting history with a perspective of just memory” and “building our past and future together.”
On April 20, 2015, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu added further momentum to forward thinking with a conscientious call to shift the discourse from prejudice, exploitation and hostility to empathy, mutual understanding, trust and cooperation.
Turkey awaits a constructive response from Armenia. Disappointingly, Armenia displays a misleading snapshot of a brief, yet mutually tragic period of almost a 1,000-year enriched common past of the two peoples. Recently, Armenia disengaged from the process of normalization as evinced by president Serzh Sargsyan’s recall of the Protocols of 2009 from the agenda of the parliament.
The Turkish and Armenian peoples could alter the status quo and empower themselves to attain a “just memory” towards a “common peaceful future” to benefit upcoming generations.”
The opinion of the authors may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.
Ümit Yardim is Turkish Ambassador to Russia.