By Erik Davtyan (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On January 16, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan rejected his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invitation to take part in the events commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli. Earlier this month, Erdogan sent out invitation letters to 102 heads of state to attend the events. Every year, Turkey celebrates March 18 as the anniversary of the Gallipoli victory over the Allies, but this year Turkish authorities decided to celebrate it on April 24 when Armenians all over the world will commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, President Sargsyan in his response stressed that the invitation serves “a simple-minded goal to distract the attention of the international community from the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.”
Armenia’s president underlined that “it is not a common practice for Armenians to be hosted by the invitees, without receiving a response to our invitation.” This response was stipulated by the fact that Erdogan had not answered Sargsyan’s official invitation to commemorate the Centennial of the Genocide this year in Yerevan. During his visit to Ankara in August, 2014, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian had handed Sargsyan’s invitation to Erdogan, but no answer has been received till now. During the next two weeks, Sargsyan’s response to the invitation provoked some criticism in Turkey. On January 31, Ibrahim Kalın, a spokesperson of the Turkish president, said that “it is impossible to admit remarks by Sargsyan aiming at the Turkish president’s invitation to Armenia, which are against diplomatic practices.” The same opinion was shared by Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the 15th meeting of the Armenia-EU Cooperation Council in Brussels, Foreign Minister Nalbandian reaffirmed Sargsyan’s position, adding that it is inappropriate to organize such an event in Turkey on April 24 and that it is unbelievable that anybody can perceive this as a proper step. Nevertheless, the idea to commemorate the battle was welcomed by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. During his visit to Turkey, Aliyev said that “the choice of the date was very important.”
Erdogan’s invitation was unanimously criticized in Armenia. The head of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, turkologist Ruben Safrastyan believes that this step aims at undermining Armenia’s initiative to invite heads of states to Yerevan on April 24. According to the expert, the Turkish President wants to draw the international community’s attention to the Gallipoli victory, rather than the Armenian Genocide. The same view was shared by another turkologist, Ruben Melkonyan. In his interview to Armlur.am, he qualified Erdogan’s step as a falsification of history and a counter step against the events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Shortly after Erdogan’s statement, the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France made a respective statement, qualifying the step as a part of the Turkish policy of denial, aimed at diminishing the international resonance of the Centennial events in Yerevan.
Erdogan’s invitation was not the last message issued to Armenia. On January 20, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu made a statement on the commemoration of the 8th anniversary of the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. He hoped that Armenia and Turkey will begin addressing “the great trauma that froze time in 1915” and underlined that “Turkey has transcended this critical threshold and relinquished the generalizations and stereotypical assertions of the past.” Davutoglu ensured that the parties will manage to give “the due recognition to the Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey” and expressed hope that the two nations will be able to contribute to a new beginning, demonstrate the wisdom to understand each other and contemplate a future together.
This step by the Turkish authorities provoked a second wave of complaints in Armenia. In an interview to Armenpress news agency, turkologist Hakob Chakryan said that Davutoglu had previously used this approach many times, however this one was, in fact, stipulated by internal criticism in Turkey. Some experts, especially Safrastyan, qualified the statement as “the continuation of the official policy of Turkey regarding the Armenian Genocide.” On this occasion, the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Relations of the National Assembly of Armenia, Artak Zakaryan, blamed Turkey for continuing a policy of denial regarding the Genocide and mentioned that unlike Davutoglu’s statement, the first attempts to initiate the signing of an agreement were always carried out only by Armenia. Zakaryan believes that Turkey is not ready to bolster the mutual trust, to break the stereotypes and to hold a dialogue with Armenia.