After U.S. President Joe Biden broke the long-running tradition of former heads of state to not label the 1915 events as “genocide,” the Turkish nation stood united against the misrepresentation of history, as citizens from all political views flocked to social media platforms to express their anger. The Turkish government and opposition parties have also stood united against Biden’s move.
One of the strongest reactions from Turkey came from Armenian Patriarch Şahak Maşalyan, who slammed the use of the 1915 events as a political tool.
Maşalyan criticized the sorrow of the Armenian community being used as a political tool by third parties, underlining that such actions prevent Turkish and Armenian societies from moving on or building fresh relations.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Maşalyan expressed the importance of building bridges of friendship and sincerity between Turkish and Armenian people in order to have a clear understanding and evaluation of the historical events.
"It is desired that third party countries provide encouraging contributions to these aims," he stated and added that governments for decades have used the 1915 events in their agendas, which only causes further tension and serves no solid positive contribution.
Maşalyan said that he will continue to wish for peace, friendship and well-being between Turks and Armenians, as his predecessors did before him.
"We will see the events that took place 105 years ago as an exception to the 1,000 years of common history and encourage relations to be rebuilt in mutual neighborhood and interests," he continued.
Maşalyan also expressed his thanks to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for being the only Turkish president so far who expressed open solidarity with the Armenian community.
"In the messages (shared by Erdoğan on the 1915 events), there is respect that attracts attention. We believe it would be right to see these messages as positive steps for a future reconciliation. I wish there could be a joint history commission as it was suggested (by the Turkish government)," the patriarch further highlighted.
Turkey's Jewish community also released a statement regarding Turkey's call for a joint history commission. "As we commemorate the lives lost at the great tragedy that befall Ottoman Armenians during the events of World War I - we join the call of Patriarch Maşalyan to refrain from politicizing tragedies and support President Erdoğan's call for a joint historical committee," the official Twitter account of Turkey's Chief Rabbinate said.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan offered condolences to Maşalyan for the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire who lost their lives during the “difficult conditions” of World War I.
"I commemorate with respect the Ottoman Armenians who have lost their lives in the difficult conditions of World War I, and I extend my condolences to their grandchildren," the president said in a statement.
The president added that the politicization of the issue against Turkey, which needs to be researched by historians, does not benefit anyone.
He emphasized that Turkish and Armenian populations have been living in unity in Anatolia for centuries, adding that Ankara also wants good neighborly relations with Yerevan.
"We are all members of the human family, regardless of our ethnic origins, religious convictions, language and color. We have lived together, peacefully, in these lands for centuries. We find peace in the shadow of our crimson flag with the crescent and star. What keeps us together is neither interests nor calculations. What keeps us together is our genuine commitment to the same country, the same values, and the same great ideals. Being equal, free and honorable citizens of the Republic of Turkey is a source of pride for all of us," Erdoğan said.
"We cannot allow the culture of peaceful coexistence between Turks and Armenians, which lasted for centuries and set an example to all mankind, to be forgotten. The politicization of debates, which historians ought to engage in, by third parties and their use as a tool of meddling has not served anyone’s interests. It is my belief that building our identity on the pain, which the past inflicted on our souls, alone is highly unfair to future generations," the president added.
"As Turks and Armenians, we must finally demonstrate that we have reached the kind of maturity to overcome all obstacles together."
U.S. Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield has also been summoned to the Foreign Ministry over Biden’s statement, which recognized the so-called “Armenian genocide” and even unrelatedly deadnamed Istanbul, referring to the city as “Constantinople.”
A statement from the ministry said that Ankara's strong reaction was expressed to the envoy by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal.
Earlier on Saturday, Turkey denounced statements of Biden regarding the 1915 events in the "strongest terms."
“It is clear that the said statement does not have a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence. With regards to the events of 1915, none of the conditions required for the use of the term ‘genocide’ that is strictly defined in international law are met,” Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It noted that the nature of 1915 events doesn’t change according to the current political motives of the politicians or domestic political considerations.
The statement added that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) confirmed the controversial nature of the 1915 events, adding that Turkey proposed in 2005 to the Armenian side to establish a joint history commission in order to reach a just conclusion in light of historical facts of that period.
“Although Armenia has never responded to this proposal, it is still on the table. In this respect, the statement made by the president of the U.S., who is neither legally nor morally authorized to judge historical matters, has no value,” it said.
The Foreign Ministry also said that the U.S. statement will open a “deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship.”
“We call on the U.S. president to correct this grave mistake, which serves no purpose other than to satisfy certain political circles and to support the efforts aiming to establish a practice of peaceful coexistence in the region, especially among the Turkish and Armenian nations, instead of serving the agenda of those circles that try to foment enmity from history,” it said.
Biden described the killings of Ottoman Armenians during World War I as "genocide" in a statement released Saturday, becoming the first U.S. president to use the controversial term.
Biden's remarks came in a customary statement on the anniversary, a day after speaking with Erdoğan. Biden is said to have acknowledged during the conversation that he would go ahead with this step and was seeking to limit the expected uproar from the NATO ally.
"We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring," Biden said. "And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms," he said.
Reactions from Turkish bureaucrats and politicians, including both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and opposition parties, were harsh, calling on Biden to correct his stance.
"We strongly reject and condemn this statement, which reflects the slander of those who are malicious and whose only agenda is hostility toward our country," Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said in a statement.
Kalın emphasized that the so-called "genocide" allegations lack any basis or scholarly evidence as required by international law.
"When our President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for the establishment of a joint history commission to investigate the 1915 events, he wanted to save a historical issue from the shadow of politics and malicious circles. The U.S. president ignored these facts and adopted an unfair attitude," said Kalın.
Stressing that historical events must be investigated by historians, Kalın said that these facts cannot be determined by the narrow interests of a political context.
Stating that Turkey belongs to a civilization that represents the most important example in the history of the culture of coexistence, he added that Turkey never shrinks away from confronting historical reality.
"The losses experienced in World War I represent the shared pains of this region. However, it is a historical mistake to act with the mindset of radical Armenian lobbies that produce nothing but terror and hostility," Kalin said.
Biden's statement is based on unfounded allegations that threaten to damage normalization efforts between Turkey and Armenia, he warned.
"We invite the U.S. president to correct this unfortunate statement that would open deep wounds in Turkish-U.S. relations and instead show an attitude that is fair and would serve regional peace," he added.
Turkey will continue to strongly defend the truth against those who misrepresent the historical facts, Kalın said.
Speaking on the issue, the Turkish parliament speaker said Saturday that Biden’s statement is merely "a political statement with no legal basis."
"None of the conditions specified in the law exist for the 1915 events to be defined as genocide," said Mustafa Şentop, while visiting gravesites in the Turkish capital Ankara of diplomats and their families killed by Armenian terrorist groups.
"This concept, indicating a clearly defined crime, can only be issued by a competent court, as stated in the 1948 Genocide Convention," he added.
He went on to say that Armenia resorted to parliaments of third countries plus regional and international groups to politicize history after having failed to achieve any success in recognizing its claims on a historical or legal basis.
Şentop also said Armenia's genocide claims contradict historical facts and "overshadow efforts to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia."
He underlined that the principle "do the messenger no harm," which prevailed in diplomacy for centuries, was violated by Armenian terrorist groups during the assassination of dozens of Turkish diplomats in previous decades.
"The responsibility for these (terrorist) actions has been accepted by these groups, and it should be enough to shame the states that most of the suspects have not been properly judged," he added.
Rejecting Biden's remarks, Turkey's communications director also said that U.S. officials ignored history and bowed down to the demands of lobbyists.
Due to Washington's attitude, Turkey is facing an "extremely" unfortunate and sad day in its ties with the U.S., said Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun in a statement.
The U.S. attitude on the events of 1915 is unrelated to historical facts but instead only reflects lobbying activities, he said.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) spokesperson Faik Öztrak said in a statement that Biden's remarks not only damaged relations between Ankara and Washington but also peace efforts in the entire Southern Caucasus.
"U.S. President Joe Biden's description of the painful events of 1915 as ‘genocide’ has gone down in history as a great mistake," Öztrak said, adding the trauma suffered by both Turks and Armenians over 1915 events cannot be overcome by such statements causing new tensions but with working for steps to heal common pain.
On the other hand, Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener described Biden's statement as a heavy attack targeting the Turkish nation's honor and dignity, saying it is inevitable for the use of the term "genocide" to damage Turkish-U.S. relations.
Both Öztrak and Akşener accused the government of its "passive" stance against the U.S.
Turkish-U.S. relations are at risk of taking a negative turn after Biden's "scandalous" statement, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chair Devlet Bahçeli said on Twitter. Turkey's history is faultless in this regard as on other issues and it owes no proof to anyone in this context, he said, adding that the slanderous campaign founded around the events of 1915 is both unfounded and untrue.
"The reason for the need for deportation (of Armenians), and the needs and national security considerations from which it arose, should be interpreted primarily in the context of the dark, bloody conditions of World War I," he added.
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