A senior adviser to the Prime Minister of Turkey was declared “retired” today after having called the death of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915 a “genocide” and praising Pope Francis for condemning those who deny the genocide took place.
In an interview with the website Karar, Etyen Mahçupyan called the killing of more than one million Armenians, to be commemorated on April 24, a “genocide,” adding: “If accepting that what happened in Bosnia and Africa were genocides, it is impossible not to call what happened to Armenians in 1915 genocide, too.” He praised Pope Francis for “throw[ing] out a 100-year-old psychological burden,” though questioned why the Vatican took years to proclaim the genocide as such. Pope Francis led a mass this week to honor the victims of the genocide in which he called for the descendants of those responsible to accept responsibility.
Mahçupyan is the first official in the Turkish government at his level to be of ethnic Armenian descent.
While Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been the most vocally moderate of the ruling party leaders in Turkey, going so far as to call the Armenian genocide “inhumane” in 2013, he was as belligerent as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in condemning the pope for speaking out against historical revisionism. “An evil front is being formed before us… Now the pope has joined it and these plots,” he said of Francis’s comments this week.
The government rapidly clarified today, as Mahçupyan’s comments made the rounds, that he was no longer under Davutoglu’s employment. “Mr. Mahcupyan is no longer the chief adviser of our prime minister. His duties have ceased due to his retirement,” a Turkish government source told Reuters. “He was a figure whom our prime minister has consulted with and valued prior to him becoming an adviser, and this relationship will continue. But he no longer holds the official title of chief adviser,” he explained.
Mahcupyan himself told the media a similar story today. “I am currently abroad and I continue my work [as a prime ministerial adviser]. The only difference is that I no longer get paid,” he told Hurriyet news. He claimed to have retired on March 9, his 65th birthday, as per Turkish law.
At least one Turkish official has openly condemned Mahcupyan. Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır told CNN on Thursday that he did not see Mahcupyan’s comment as political, but “a personal one, made as a Turkish citizen.” He added: “Of course, this perspective does not become a Turkish citizen either.”
Pope Francis’ comments have stirred Turkey into a deep debate over the nature of the mass murder of Armenians in 1915. Erdogan said of Pope Francis, “I condemn him,” warning the Pope not to “make such a mistake” again (he did not elaborate on what Turkey would do to the Vatican in response to a similar “mistake”). A Turkish hacker group brought down the Vatican’s website twice this week, posting messages on the site calling for the pope to recant. The international Armenian community, on the other hand, praised the Vatican for its openness on the matter.