Although U.S. President Barack Obama did not utter the word "genocide" during his April 24 statement, his choice of the Armenian term "Meds Yeghern" to define the 1915 events caused uneasiness in Ankara.
Speaking at a party meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the speech was both unacceptable and an unrealistic interpretation of history. "It is distressing that the 1915 events are being abused and used to garner votes," Erdoğan said, arguing that Obama made his statement to fulfill the promises he made during his election campaign. "These issues should be left to historians. Otherwise, it adversely affects the relations between the countries." Noting Turkey’s efforts to maintain peace with Armenia, Erdoğan said, "Turkey is not a country that can be deceived that easily."
In a written statement, President Abdullah Gül said there were some parts of Obama’s speech with which he did not agree. "Hundreds of thousands of Turks and Muslims were killed in 1915," he said. "Therefore, the agonies of both sides should be shared." Gül underscored that politicians and statesmen cannot make a judgment about history. "We must give diplomacy a chance," he said.
"I am pleased to see that countries are interested in this region and in this issue and are contributing to these efforts."
The Turkish president also stressed that regional problems cannot be solved simply by resolving the situation between Turkey and Armenia. "The solutions to the problems also lie [in the relationship] between Armenia and Azerbaijan," Gül added. "All related countries should boost their efforts to solve the matters."
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also posted a written statement on its official Web site that clearly reflected Ankara's discontent, reading along the same lines as the remarks made by the president and prime minister. "The perception of history concerning the events of 1915 is unacceptable," the Ministry said in its statement. "It should not be forgotten that several hundred thousand Turks also lost their lives in the same region, and at the same period, in the context of the 1915 events."
Emphasizing the importance of making an evaluation based on impartial and scientific data, the ministry said, "History can be construed and evaluated only on the basis of undisputed evidence and documentation. It is with such an understanding that we support the historical dimension of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue."
Obama’s speech drew harsh criticism from Turkey’s opposition parties as well, with Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal saying the statement was far from being a relief.
"He did not say ’genocide,’ but by using their terminology and interpretation, he proved that he shares the view of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora," Baykal said, adding that the statement proves the 1915 events are not being evaluated in a way that takes into account the losses on both sides. "This is disappointing ... Everyone should understand that the aim of these statements is to manipulate Turkish foreign policy." Stating that Turkey should be saved from such "blackmail," Baykal added, "It is enough already."
Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli also criticized Obama’s address in a written statement, saying the U.S. president clearly expressed that he agrees with the Armenians. "His speech put an end to this issue’s being a Sword of Damocles hanging over Turkey," Bahçeli said, calling on Prime Minister Erdoğan to undo his fault. "Obama declared his opinion by uttering the Armenian word used to refer to genocide."