Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invited world leaders, including Armenian President Serzh Sarkysian, to participate in festivities to be held in Turkey to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli on April 24. Coincidentally, that is the very day when Armenians are preparing to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks.
Christian Armenians living in Turkey have dubbed Erdogan’s move a “provocation.” According to the newspaper Agos, the bilingual Armenian weekly published in Istanbul, local sources have defined Erdogan’s invitation as “the dishonest action of an ill-mannered person.”
For some time now, Armenia has been planning an international event dedicated to the memory of the Armenian victims, for April 24, 2015, the centennial of the genocide.
Armenians observe April 24, 1915 as the start of the Armenian Genocide. On that day, several hundred Armenian intellectuals were rounded up, arrested, and later executed.
Figures compiled by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies show that there were 2,133,190 Armenians in the empire in 1914 and only about 387,800 by 1922, a loss of some 1.75 million lives.
In a sternly worded letter, Armenia’s President has responded to Erdogan, condemning Turkey’s “traditional policy of denialism” and assuring him that before he organizes commemorative events, he should publicly recognize and denounce the genocide.
“Leaving aside the well-known meaning of the Battle of Gallipoli or the questionable role of Turkey in World War I and World War II,” Sarkysian writes, “one shall recall that peace and friendship first and foremost shall be based on the courage to confront the past, on the historical justice, as well as on recognition of full-fledged universal memory but never on selective approach.”
Why suddenly commemorate the Battle of Gallipoli on April 24, when “it began on March 18, 1915 and lasted till late January, 1916”? Sarkysian asks.
Moreover, Sarkysian notes, the allies’ land campaign—the Gallipoli land battle—took place on April 25, 1915.
“What purpose does it serve if not a simple-minded goal to distract the attention of the international community from the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide?” he asks.
According to Sarkysian, “before organizing a commemorative event, Turkey has a much more important obligation towards its own people and the entire humanity, namely the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide.”
In a “PS” to the letter, Sarkysian reminds Erdogan that already “a few months ago I invited you to join us in commemoration of memory of the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan on the 24th of April.” Sarkysian retorts that it is not “common practice” to receive back an invitation for the same date “without receiving a response to our invitation.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.