Daily Sabah, Turkey
April 25 2014

A HISTORIC STEP ON THE ARMENIAN ISSUE

Tulu Gümüştekin 26 April 2014, Saturday


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a declaration on the
occasion of April 24, a day generally accepted as a day of mourning
for the Armenian victims of deportations and massacres that took place
during World War I. For the first time in the history of the country's
official declarations, a very humane, understanding and sympathetic
tone was adopted.

The prime minister conveyed his sincere condolences to the descendants
of those Ottoman Armenians who were killed.

The Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul responded with a heart-warming
message, accepting the condolences with compassion.

It was almost the only fully favorable reaction to the revolutionary
change instigated by the prime minister's declaration.

All of Turkey's traditional allies, the U.S. and France to start with,
were taken aback by this momentous announcement by Prime Minister
Erdoğan. In an attempt to heal a centennial wound, he adopted a
strategy of empathy. Instead of using the perennial diplomatic style
that characterized the Turkish stance on the matter and usually starts
with "We regret the losses but..." Erdoğan offered to share in the
sadness of this terrible event with the descendants of the victims.

Nobody thought the prime minister was still capable of performing such
a tour de force because a deep and organized propaganda
campaign has been waged against him for more than a year, depicting
him as a backward autocrat losing more and more popular support.

The recent elections have shown that his popular support is still very
much alive.

That was the first nasty surprise for his detractors.

This second blow totally devastated the image portrayed by his critics
in the international media.

Reconciliation with the Armenian diaspora is another story altogether.
A very long road toward accepting the facts has to be taken on both
sides. This will not be an easy or rewarding endeavor but it has to be
done. It has begun from the correct spot, the correct viewpoint:
empathy, understanding and acceptance instead of denial and
justification of what remains 100 years later.

The first steps should be taken in order to wipe away the fears and
anxiety of the Armenian minority in Turkey that, despite having
constitutional rights since 1923, legitimately feels rejected and
ostracized, especially after the murder of journalist Hrant Dink. The
prime minister's olive branch has been largely welcomed among Turkish
Armenians, whose minority rights have never been better than under AK
Party rule.

The second step should be the normalization of relations with the
Republic of Armenia, whose economy is in shambles and prospects for
development nil. That would also require a lot of support on the part
of Turkey's allies, including the U.S., to normalize the situation in
the Caucasus.

Once these steps are taken, a reconciliation deal with the Armenian
diaspora might surface or at least an atmosphere of trust can be
initially established. Long endeavors always start with a first step,
and the prime minister has already taken the first step. The rest is
perseverance and its responsibility falls on everyone's shoulders.