By Erik Davtyan (05/13/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 24, the Presidents of France, Russia, Cyprus and Serbia arrived in Yerevan upon the official invitation of Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan to commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan. The event was attended by a myriad of representatives of states, international organizations and Christian churches. During his speech at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex, President Sargsyan expressed his gratitude to the four heads of state for attending the event and emphasized that “the Armenian people will always remain standing by the side of those who suffered from crimes against humanity” and that “the unyielding international struggle against crimes of genocide will remain an integral part of our foreign policy”.
Following Sargsyan, the visiting presidents used the occasion to reiterate the official position of their states on the issue. Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades stressed that both Armenia and Cyprus are “victims of impunity,” referring to Turkey’s policy of denying the Armenian Genocide and its occupation of a part of Cyprus. France’s President Francois Hollande underlined that Christians are endangered in the Middle East and even in France, and called for “the defense of all minorities and especially Christians of the East.” Russia’s President Vladimir Putin emphasized that nowadays “neo-fascism rises in many regions of the world” and that “radical nationalists come to power.” In referring to new expressions of russophobia, Putin undoubtedly implied the Euromaidan, the new authorities in Ukraine, and the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine over the fate of Ukraine’s southeastern parts. Thus, all present heads of state issued specific messages to the international community about various current problems in international relations.
After the official commemoration ceremony, Sargsyan held separate meetings with the Presidents of France and Russia. Another meeting took place between Hollande and Putin, who discussed various issues of common concern including the Ukrainian crisis. Putin mentioned that a regress in bilateral relations is already noticeable and highlighted the importance of restoring Russo-French ties and improving the deteriorating trade turnover. The Presidents also discussed the €1.2 billion contract on the delivery of French Mistral warships to Russia. In November 2014, France suspended the contract due to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, therefore the problem is considered to be one of the key issues of the bilateral political agenda. However, the meeting in Yerevan yielded no results.
The fact that Putin termed the 1915 events a “genocide” received a very tough response in Turkey. On April 24, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying “taking into account the mass atrocities and exiles in the Caucasus, in Central Asia and Eastern Europe committed by Russia for a century; collective punishment methods such as the Holodomor as well as inhumane practices especially against Turkish and Muslim people in Russia’s own history, we consider that Russia is best-suited to know what exactly ‘genocide’ and its legal dimension are.” On April 25, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitri Peskov responded by saying that he sees no reason for Turkey to make a negative evaluation and called on Turkish officials to read Putin’s speech carefully.
Turkey also reacted strongly to the part taken by Germany in the international recognition process, after President Joachim Gauck referred to the 1915 events as a genocide. The German president’s speech at a memorial service at the Berlin Cathedral provoked an extremely negative response in Ankara. According to the statement issued by Turkey’s foreign ministry, “contrary to law and historical facts, President Gauck has no right to attribute to the Turkish people a crime which they have not committed … the Turkish nation will not forget and forgive President Gauck’s statements.” Germany is Turkey’s largest trade partner in Europe, with 3.5 million Turkish residents.
On April 24, Turkey organized events dedicated to the commemoration of the Centennial of the battle of Gallipoli, one of the most famous battles of WWI. The ceremony was attended by the presidents of Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Ireland, and others. Russia was represented by Sergey Naryshkin, the Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly.