Turkey may send minister to Armenian genocide observance

Sandy Smith's picture

In a move aimed at least in part at strengthening its bid to join the European Union, the government of Turkey has announced that it will formally participate in official commemorations of the Armenian genocide, held worldwide on April 24.

The announcement comes on the heels of Turkey's first official participation in ceremonies observing the Jewish Holocaust. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27, a representative of Turkey's Foreign Ministry visited Istanbul's Jewish community, and Minister for European Union Affairs Egemen Bagis became the first Turkish government official to visit the Holocaust memorial at Auschwitz.

While the Turkish government statement about the Armenian genocide observances does not state what official actions it will take, it did state that Turkey will participate actively in April 24 observances and step up contacts with the Armenian diaspora, in particular the Armenian community in the United States. Turkey said the move is aimed at overcoming the "psychological barrier" between Turkey and Armenia.

It can be inferred from both the timing of the announcement and the government's participation in the Holocaust observance that even if it does not take place this year, a Turkish government minister will attend an official commemoration of the Armenian genocide in the very near future.

The announcement was also presented as a further step along the path Turkey set out on when it signed protocols with the Armenian government outlining a path towards normalization of relations between the two countries. Armenia and Armenians worldwide have criticized Turkey for denying the Ottoman government's role in the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during a campaign of forced exile and extermination that began in April 1915.

In recent years, Turkish newspapers have published more frequent commentaries calling on the government to formally recognize the genocide. Last year, Turkish authorities allowed a private observance of the genocide anniversary privately organized by Armenians living in Istanbul to take place, also a first. The Turkish government has also quietly dropped its policy of severing relations with countries that officially recognize the genocide; President Abdullah Gul recently welcomed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez to the country, and the Canadian minister of trade will visit Turkey within the next month.

Armenians in America have lobbied Congress to pass a resolution officially acknowledging the Armenian genocide, a step the United States has refused so far to take out of a desire to maintain good relations with Turkey, a strategic military ally in the Mediterranean. A bill officially recognizing the genocide is bottled up in Congress, where passage is uncertain; if it were to pass, it would likely be vetoed by President Obama for the same reason. These recent moves by Turkey may also change the climate surrounding the measure in Washington.

Image source: Wikimedia

Add new comment