Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan unexpectedly offered a conciliatory message for the mass killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule during the First World War — the first time a Turkish prime minister has ever offered such explicit condolences for the atrocity, according to officials in Ankara. The unprecedented statement, which was also unusually released in nine different languages, including Armenian, comes on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the genocide and signals Ankara’s intentions to continue its push to thaw tense relations with Yerevan.
In the statement, Erdogan referred to “the incidents of the First World War” as Turkey’s “shared pain” with Armenia, while expressing his hope that “the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner.”
The attempt to draw commonality between the two nations is unexpected from the fiery leader but just goes to show the significance Erdogan’s AKP government is placing on progress with Yerevan. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had begun to restart normalization efforts with Armenia late last year though the seriousness of his push was somewhat questionable. Now with Erdogan himself chiming in, it seems that his government is, at the very least, showing its determination to begin to heal the decades-old rift.
However, dialing back their typical intransigence on the subject of the genocide will not be enough to satisfy Yerevan, which has long demanded an acknowledgement of the historic atrocity by Turkey’s government. With the 100th anniversary of the killings approaching next year, Turkey is aware that the deck is stacked against it as Armenian activists step up their campaign around the crucial milestone. The controversy around Turkey’s alleged responsibility for backing the takeover of an Armenian village in Syria by radical Islamist militants has only bolstered the urgency of their cause as it resurrects the ghosts of the century-old conflict with Armenia.
As remarkable as Erdogan’s rhetorical shift may be, Turkey’s determination to continue to deny the genocide will continue to be the major roadblock to any serious progress with Yerevan, which recognizes that as time goes on Ankara’s position will only grow increasingly untenable.