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As centenary commemoration approaches, Europe urges Turkey to recognise Armenian genocide

22 April 2015

A European Parliament (EP) motion passed in Brussels on 15 April calls on Turkey “to come to terms with its past, to recognise the Armenian genocide and thus pave the way for a genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples”. Adamant that “everyone should know that Turkey can never accept such a sin, such guilt”, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses to adhere to the appeals, however. The EP resolution, he said, would “go in one ear and out the other”.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan refuses to acknowledge Christian genocide
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan refuses to acknowledge Christian genocide
World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Despite acknowledging the deaths of many Armenians during World War I, modern Turkey refuses to admit that the killings constitute genocide. Turkey’s President Erdogan is recorded as stating, “a Muslim would never commit genocide,” in defence of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir after he was accused by the International Criminal Court of ordering the killings of 400,000 people in Darfur in 2005.

Under the same fatwa, thought to have been issued by Sheikh Shawish, against non-Muslims in early 1915, up to 750,000 Assyrians and 1.5 million Greeks were also wiped out in a genocide sanctioned by the Ottoman Empire. Collectively, the massacres of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks constitute a genocide against Christians.

“The time for that has come,” says the fatwa, “and it is incumbent upon us, the company of the Islamic peoples, that we should rise up as the rising up of one man, in one of his hands the sword and in the other the gun, and in his pocket balls of fire and annihilating missiles and in his heart the light of the Faith, and that we lift our voices to the utmost, saying --- India for the Muslim Indians, Java for the Muslim Javanese, … Caucasus for the Caucasians, and the Ottoman kingdoms for the Muslim Turks and Arabs.”

Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the war crime as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical or religious group”. On this basis, 22 countries have publically named the Armenian genocide for what it is.

Earlier this month, the Dutch Parliament passed a resolution on 9 April to recognise the genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. And on 14 April, the foreign relations committee of the Czech Republic Parliament similarly passed a resolution to commemorate the centenary of its occurrence.

Germany, however, displayed great reluctance to use the term “genocide” in its description of the massacres, only backing down on 20 April. The supreme head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, penned an open letter to the German government, imploring the country’s leaders to recognise the genocide.

“By denying this genocide, one contributes to the fulfilment of the evil plan of those who executed this genocide,” he wrote. “Our people did not pose any threat to the Ottoman Empire. They were victimised based on racist policies and a political will to exterminate Christianity in the former Ottoman Empire in what amounts to a religio-ethnic cleansing of our people.”

Having decided to accept the “genocide” label, the government’s decision will be voted on in Germany’s parliament on 24 April. On the same day, political leaders will meet in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, to commemorate the slaughter of over 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago. Even in Istanbul’s Armenian Patriarchate, the massacres will be commemorated; in an unprecedented move, a Turkish government minister is set to attend the ceremony. Commemorated on 24 April each year, 2015 marks the centenary of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocide, the year in which a 30-year campaign sanctioned by the Ottoman Empire to cleanse the region of Christians reached its peak.