WASHINGTON -The petition for an apology to Armenians for events in 1915 is sparking international debate. While some Armenians feel this petition is the beginning of Turkish recognition of the so called Armenian genocide, the petition organizers say it is just meant to break the taboo on debate
"An irreversible trend has commenced in Turkey. Over 12,000 people in Turkey want history to be recorded truthfully, having already signed the Internet-based petition apologizing for what they call the 'great catastrophe' that befell the Armenians of Ottoman Turkey in 1915," said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, or AAA.
"This public apology is a first step in that direction and will inevitably lead to Turkey coming to grips with its genocidal past," Ardouny said, according to an AAA statement.
However, Cengiz Aktar, widely considered the architect behind the petition, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that the purpose of the petition was not about genocide. "Let anyone say what they will, this is not a campaign about the genocide debate."
"This is about private individuals, citizens, acting according to the voice of their conscience, and apologizing for the last 90 years this topic was not even discussed," said Aktar, a Bahçeşehir University academic. Pointing out that the topic had always been a taboo, but still so far 13,500 signatories have broken it, he said. "It has never been discussed like this before. Next time it comes up, everybody should take into account the 13,500 people who feel this way."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made it clear Wednesday he would not join the apology effort, and said, "I personally do not support this campaign. If there was a crime, then those who committed it can offer an apology. My nation, my country has no such issue."
More than 60 former ambassadors, other diplomats and some lawmakers have also denounced the apology campaign. Despite this, Ardouny said, "Momentum is building and support continues to increase dramatically. Within a few hours of the apology's release, over 2,500 people added their signatures and made encouraging comments."
He said U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden were "both on record as supporting Turkey's reconciliation with its past."
During the election campaign Obama pledged to recognize the 1915 incidents as "genocide" if elected president. Turkey has warned that any such recognition by the United States will hurt bilateral relations in a major and lasting way.
New leader in House
In another development, the Armenian caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, a powerful lobby of pro-Armenian lawmakers, has selected Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, as its next Republican co-chair.
Kirk will replace Joe Knollenberg, a Republican from Michigan, who lost the Nov. 4 congressional election in his district to his Democratic rival.
Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, continues to be the Armenian caucus' Democratic co-chair.
"I am honored and excited to serve alongside congressman Pallone as co-chair of the Caucus on Armenian Issues," Kirk said.
"The Caucus on Armenian Issues is well-known for its work to strengthen the U.S.-Armenia relationship and recognize the Armenian genocide," he said.