Defiant Turkey draws red line over Armenia genocide recognition

AFP , Monday 13 Apr 2015

Rejecting worldwide pressure, Turkey has drawn a defiant red line in refusing to recognise the mass killings of Armenians in World War I as genocide on the 100th anniversary year of the tragedy.

Turkey's tough approach on the issue was shown Sunday by Ankara's incendiary reaction to the use by Pope Francis of the word "genocide" to describe the killings, summoning the Vatican nuncio and recalling the Turkish envoy to the Holy See.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in an unusual attack by a world leader on the pontiff, accused Francis of a "one-sided" and "inappropriate" attitude that he said ignored the suffering of Muslims in World War I.

The exchanges have intensified tensions ahead of the 100th the anniversary of the start of the killings on April 24.

Even before the pope waded into the controversy, Armenians accused Turkey of trying to overshadow what they call their genocide commemorations by staging ceremonies on the same day to mark the centenary of the famous World War I battle of Gallipoli.

"Mind your own business, Pope," screamed the headline in the pro-government Star daily. "The New Crusade," fumed the Aydinlik daily

A Turkish government source told AFP that Ankara had been "truly surprised" by the comments, which were made in a Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican to mark the Ottoman killings of Armenians.

- 'Risk of deterioration' -

Armenia and Armenians in the diaspora say 1.5 million of their forefathers were killed by Ottoman forces in a targeted campaign ordered by the military leadership of the Ottoman empire to eradicate the Armenian people from Anatolia in what is now eastern Turkey, an argument backed by several European parliaments.

Turkey takes a sharply different view of the tragedy, saying that hundreds of thousands of both Turks and Armenians lost their lives as Ottoman forces battled the Russian Empire for control of eastern Anatolia during World War I.

While President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamic-rooted ruling party has been credited with assisting Turkey’s religious minorities, they have shown no sign of budging in the genocide controversy.

Erdogan offered an expression of condolences to Armenians in 2014 but this has not been followed by any further steps, with rhetoric sharpening even further.

"It is unlikely that Turkey will change its position after Pope Francis' statement," said Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, pointing to June 7 legislative elections where nationalist votes will be crucial.

He said an "entrenched position" by Turkey on the issue "clearly entails the risk of deterioration of the climate between Turkey and Western countries" ahead of the April 24 anniversary.

For many Turks, it is inconceivable to consider that Ottoman forces were responsible for the gravest of all crimes, at a time when they were commanded by figures credited with laying the foundations for the creation of modern Turkey in 1923.

They prefer to concentrate on the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, where Ottoman forces resisted attack by the Allied Powers, a formative moment for Turkey whose anniversary falls on almost exactly the same day as the start of campaigns against Armenians.

- Not ashamed -

"There is no period of time in Turkey's history that it would be ashamed of," said Europe Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir, describing the pope's statements as "null and void".

The 100th anniversary of the start of the tragedy -- which Armenians trace back to the arrest of the leaders of the Armenian community in Istanbul on April 24, 1915 -- has been a matter of major concern for Turkey with the government seeking to engage in offensive diplomacy.

Armenians have expressed outrage that Turkey is holding its main ceremonies for the anniversary of Gallipoli on April 24 and not the usual date of April 25, leaving world leaders with a dilemma over whose event to attend.

Turkey's worst nightmare would be US recognition of the killings as genocide and on March 18, 44 US lawmakers introduced a resolution pressing President Barack Obama to acknowledge that interpretation.

Commentator Murat Yetkin argued in the Hurriyet Daily News that the chief strategy of the Armenian diaspora was to encourage recognition by the United States "not only because of its political and psychological effect, but also because of its legal consequences."

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