By Amberin Zaman
ISTANBUL (Al Monitor) — “I am firmly convinced that this is the greatest crime of the ages.” These were the words that Henry Morgenthau, American ambassador to the court of the Ottoman sultan, used to describe the mass destruction of the empire’s Armenian population in 1915.
Since 2010, after decades of frenzied denial, the tragedy has been publicly commemorated in Turkey as well. On Monday, April 24, in Istanbul, where the bulk of Turkey’s shrunken Armenian population, numbering around 60,000, resides, small crowds gathered to honor the dead at organized events. They carried black banners reading, “Armenian Genocide: Recognize, Apologize, Compensate.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a message to the city’s Surp Vartanants Church, where a ceremony was held. Erdogan said, “Dear esteemed Armenian citizens, I salute you with love and respect. … I offer my condolences to the grandchildren of the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives in the harsh circumstances of World War I. … We have zero tolerance for a single one of our Armenian citizens being ostracized, marginalized or made to feel a second-class citizen.”
April 24 marks the dark moment when 234 Armenian intellectuals and artists were rounded up by authorities and most of them killed. It was just a taste of the bloodbath to follow. Erdogan’s comments are a far cry from the apology and acknowledgement the Armenians feel they are owed, but that he made them at all marks a radical departure from previous government policy.
Garo Paylan, a rare ethnic Armenian member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who last week tabled a motion calling for an investigation of the century-old crime, said in a statement, “Let us not forget that every crime that goes unpunished leads to a repetition of the crime.” Until recently, Paylan would have immediately been hauled off to jail under laws that deemed such assertions an insult to Turkishness and the Turkish nation.