YEREVAN: Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday (Friday in Manila) brushed off Ankara’s first ever offer of condolences for the World War I mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, accusing Turkey of showing “utter denial” in failing to recognize the massacres as genocide.
In an unprecedented move described by the United States as a historic gesture, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday offered condolences over the massacres, calling them “our shared pain.”
But in a statement marking the 99th anniversary of the start of the killings and mass deportations, Sarkisian made no acknowledgement of Erdogan’s move and instead accused Turkey of continuing to ignore the facts.
“The Armenian genocide . . . is alive as far as the successor of the Ottoman Turkey continues its policy of utter denial,” he said.
“The denial of a crime constitutes the direct continuation of that very crime,” he added.
Sarkisian’s chief of staff Vigen Sarkisian went even further, saying that Erdogan’s “statement is yet another, perhaps more advanced expression of denying and concealing the crime of the Armenian genocide.”
“There are all the theses of the Turkish propaganda machine, which are already known to everyone, including viewing the victim and the executioner on the same level,” he told the Armenpress news agency.
US President Barack Obama, whose country has thus far stopped short of using the word “genocide,” called for full and frank acknowledgement of the facts, while French President Francois Hollande said Turkey had made progress on the issue but it was not enough.
“It’s a word that needs to be heard but it does not suffice,” he said in a commemorations ceremony in Paris.
“What needs to be said is what had happened, even if there has been progress” from Turkey on this issue, said Hollande, whose country counts among over 20 that recognizes the killings as genocide.
The iconic French singer of Armenian descent, Charles Aznavour, also strongly criticized Erdogan for his failure to accept the term genocide.
The term “condolences” used in Erdogan’s statement cannot be interpreted “as a recognition and even less as an offering of apologies,” the 90-year-old world-renowned musician wrote in a statement to Agence France-Presse.
Thursday was a day of national mourning in Armenia and requiem masses were held in churches across the former Soviet republic marking the 99th anniversary of the massacres.
All national television channels ran live broadcast of the annual ceremony, which saw thousands of Armenians flocking to a hilltop memorial above Yerevan to lay flowers at the eternal flame.
“I came here for the first time with my father when I was a five-year-old, today I came here with my grandson and he knows what we expect from the world and from Turkey,” Narine Balayan, a 58-year-old resident of Yerevan, told Agence France-Presse.