Last week Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed sorrow over the incidents involving Armenians that took place in April 24, 1915 during the Ottoman rule. This was the first time in the history of the Republic of Turkey that any top official offered condolences to the Armenians. This move has elicited a mixed response. On one hand it has raised some eyebrows and on the other the Turkish-Armenian community, the United States and the European Union welcomed the gesture.
Let’s go back to 1915 to paint an accurate picture of what had really happened. There were various reasons, known and unknown, for the discontent among the Armenians who had been living in complete harmony with other communities in the Ottoman Empire.
However, a careful study would reveal that the materialistic worldview, which is also responsible for the sorry state of affairs around the globe, had penetrated the Ottoman lands and benefitting from the weakening of the empire, racist tendencies grew stronger.
A kind of a chain reaction kicked off and pitted sister nations against each other. Surely, there were sensible people in all communities who urged calm. Indeed, Armenian President Sargsyan said, “We would like to express our gratitude to the Turks who extended a helping hand to their Armenian neighbors. We bless the memories of those people who risked their lives and their families’ lives to help our citizens.”
Interestingly enough, there are attempts to portray 1915 as a year of hostility merely between the Turks and the Armenians. However, those with such thoughts tend to forget that 1915 was the peak of the WWI. The Ottoman lands were under occupation and Ottoman soldiers were fighting against multiple enemies on multiple fronts in every part of the empire.
From east to west, north to south, the entire country was under western occupation and the Turkish army lost 230,000 troops in Gallipoli, 90,000 in Sarikamis and 40,000 in the then-Ottoman Arab lands. Today, the graveyards of Turkish soldiers are located right next to the graveyards of the occupying forces’ soldiers and every year, commemoration ceremonies are held together with representatives of respective countries.
Neither the leaders of the Republic of Turkey nor the Turkish people ever thought about holding those countries responsible for tearing up their lands and causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. They know that the tragic picture is a result of the horrible war that no one wanted.
That’s how the Armenian issue should be approached. Just like the Armenians, the Turks lost many people during those horrible days of the Armenian-Turkish conflict. Therefore, it would be a grave mistake on part of some lobbies to take the well-intentioned condolences of the Turkish premier out of context and interpret it to mean, “Turks are the only party responsible for those crimes.” Considering the fact that both sides sustained heavy losses, it would be only appropriate for the Armenian administration and the Diaspora to return the favor and issue a message of courtesy along the lines of “we offer our condolence for your losses, too.” Otherwise, it would only serve to offend the future generations of Turkey, seeing that only one side expressed their regrets over the incidents while the casualties on the other side were ignored. Singling out one party and holding it responsible for everything would only hurt the peace process. Indeed, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed the same concern and said, “This is not a statement made under pressure. I hope our peace-offering hand will not be left hanging in the air.”
Armenians are a clever, honest and decent people. They will always remain as one of the most prized communities of our nation. They have always been known for their reliable, artistic and intellectual nature.
It is a clear fact that there are some internal and external forces that seek to separate this beautiful nation and our valuable neighbor Armenia from us and it is also clear that they are trying to achieve their goals by using the Armenian incidents as leverage.
Therefore it is imperative for Turkey and Armenia to lay greater emphasis on their peace-loving, friendly and unifying recourse so that such attempts prove futile.
To further strengthen ties, both countries should consider opening of Armenian-Turkish borders and visa-free entries for their respective citizens.
This is a transit system that both Turkey and Georgia currently apply and with the inclusion of Armenia into this system, these three countries will turn into one that are bound culturally, commercially and in terms of human factors. As love grows between these three nations, it is inevitable that Azerbaijan will eventually join it as well.
If things go in this direction, it will not take much time when there will be no land dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh and the only thing left will be brotherhood.
We need to have more Armenians in our Turkish lands and they should open schools in Turkey, spread their culture and contribute to our common heritage. This will be the best answer to those who are trying to provoke hostility between two nations.
We should not allow the mistakes of the past to prevent this beautiful and strong union. The losses on both sides should be remembered together and the past should be left behind to set an example for the rest of the world where two countries build peace together.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Arab News: