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Turkey: Do The Killings Constitute Genocide?

Abbas Djavadi (RFE/RL) April 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- On April 24, Armenians around the world will commemorate the 92nd anniversary of the mass killings and deportations of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Armenians refer to this chapter in their history as genocide -- a term the Turks firmly reject. The issue has strained relations and closed the border between the two countries. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service director Abbas Djavadi gives his perspectives on the issue.

"Few in Turkey would deny that Armenians were killed in 1915 during the course of World War I. Opinions vary, however, on how the deportations and killings of Armenians came about; and whether the killings can be labeled a 'genocide' in a similar vein to the Holocaust.

While only a few extreme nationalists dispute the mass killings of Armenians, some liberals have recognized it as a 'genocide.' Most Turkish intellectuals, political analysts, and historians believe that local Armenians, with the help of Russia, were trying to create an independent Armenian state in eastern Anatolia.

Despite the ensuing chaos, they maintain the Turkish state acted accordingly to save mainland Turkey from being swallowed up by the victors in the war, Russia, Britain, and France.

They also say that Armenians, traditionally described by Ottomans as 'the loyal nation,' were not targeted because of their race or religion, but due to the 'treason' of a large group of local Armenians who fought, some with the Russians, against the Turkish army in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

The Turkish side says that in 1915, Russian troops, accompanied by Armenian armed militias, advanced through Turkish territories. They say that tens of thousands of Turks were also killed or deported from their homes during this period.

Turkey has said that Turkish, Armenian, and other international historians and intellectuals should openly discuss the history. They say they have opened their archives and asked for the Armenians to do the same.

The Turks believe that the Armenians have used the 'genocide' issue as a political tool, and have shown little desire to reach an understanding and move forward. 'Moving forward' would also include the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border, which all Turkish governments have said will not be possible as long as Yerevan maintains its genocide-related claims against Turkey and as long as Armenia does not recognize the two countries' current borders. Ankara says that Armenia's 1991 declaration of independence considers eastern parts of Turkey to be 'western Armenia.' "

(The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.)