Accessibility links

For Armenia, Is Turkey's Gallipoli Invite Good-Hearted Or Backhanded?

  • Daisy Sindelar

The 2014 ceremony at Yerevan's Tsitsernakabert genocide memorial marking the 99th anniversary of the Armenian killings.

The 2014 ceremony at Yerevan's Tsitsernakabert genocide memorial marking the 99th anniversary of the Armenian killings.

The Turkish government has reportedly issued a rare invitation to the president of Armenia, Serzh Sarkisian, to attend a special ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of World War I's Gallipoli campaign.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sent invitation letters to more than 100 global leaders, including Sarkisian.

The gesture could be interpreted as a sign of rapprochement between Ankara and Turkey, which have no diplomatic relations.

Many, however, may see the invite as a slight.

The two-day Turkish commemoration, scheduled for April 23-24, overlaps with a critical anniversary of Yerevan's own: the centenary of the mass slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

Armenians claim Ottoman troops systematically killed some 1.5 million Armenians and deported many more from their traditional homeland in what is now eastern Turkey.

Armenians claim Ottoman troops killed some 1.5 million Armenians and deported many more from their traditional homeland in what is now eastern Turkey.

Armenians claim Ottoman troops killed some 1.5 million Armenians and deported many more from their traditional homeland in what is now eastern Turkey.

Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora have traditionally commemorated the slaughter on April 24 and often use the anniversary as an opportunity to lobby Western governments to formally brand the massacre a genocide.

Turkey strongly rejects the term, countering that atrocities were committed by both Turks and Armenians during and after World War I.

The heated dispute, soured further by Armenia's open hostility toward Turkish ally Azerbaijan, has left many countries attempting to strike a diplomatic balance between Ankara and Yerevan.

Twenty-two countries recognize the slaughter of Turkey's Armenians as genocide, including France, Russia, and Canada.

Erdogan's invitation instantly sent a flurry of angry comments cascading through the Armenian Twitterverse, with one user dismissing the gesture as "denial and distraction."

Tigran Mkrtchyan, the chief spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, accused Erdogan of seeking to keep foreign leaders away from Armenian commemorations by creating an impromptu -- and historically inaccurate -- anniversary of his own.

But Richard Giragosian, the director of the Regional Studies Center, an independent Yerevan think tank, says those Armenians who support normalization between Armenia and Turkey will see the invitation as a welcome, if somewhat disingenuous, step.

"It is, of course, not enough, and it's rather dubious in terms of the timing of the Gallipoli commemoration events," he says. "Yet, in a situation where we do not have official diplomatic relations, this is an important step symbolically."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center right) talks to Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian during his inauguration in Ankara in August 2014.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center right) talks to Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian during his inauguration in Ankara in August 2014.

In the past year, Turkey and Armenia have taken a handful of baby steps aimed at eventually restoring diplomatic ties. Then-Prime Minister Erdogan surprised many last April 24 by offering Turkey's "condolences" to descendants of Armenians killed in 1915.

The two countries' foreign ministers also exchanged visits, with Armenia's Eduard Nalbandian notably attending Erdogan's inauguration as president in August 2014.

A Turkish government official attempted to put a positive gloss on the invitation to Sarkisian to attend the Gallipoli commemoration, saying Armenian and Turkish troops "fought as a kind together" to repel Allied forces seeking control of the peninsula on the Dardanelles strait.

It is unclear whether that logic will hold sway in Yerevan, where all eyes will be on a series of global events marking the massacre anniversary.

It remains to be seen, meanwhile, how world leaders will react to the prospect of dueling invitations. U.S. President Barack Obama is widely expected to turn down the Turkish invite. The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand, as well as Britain's Prince Charles -- whose countries constituted the bulk of the Allies' Gallipoli forces -- are expected to attend.

Sarkisian himself has yet to respond to the gesture, a fact that Giragosian attributes in part to domestic unrest over the recent murder of an Armenian family by an armed Russian soldier in Gyumri.

If and when the Armenian leader responds, however, Giragosian says he hopes Erdogan's offer will be "duly noted, welcomed, and appreciated."

"Despite the fact that Sarkisian is probably not even intending to accept the offer, the invitation should be welcomed," he says. "But that's idealistic. In reality, we should expect a deafening silence from the Armenian side. And perhaps, in some ways, a diplomatic missed opportunity."

XS
SM
MD
LG