Erdoğan vows to ‘defend truth against slander’ regarding Armenian genocide

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed supporters of the recognition of the Armenian genocide in a press conference following a meeting of his top advisers on Thursday.

“We will continue to defend the truth against the so-called Armenian genocide lie, and those who support this slander with political calculations,” state-run Anadolu Agency cited Erdoğan as saying.

Erdoğan’s Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said the matter of genocide recognition had been discussed in the Supreme Advisory Board meeting, in a statement released on the directorate’s website.

“In our opinion, it makes no difference which parliament makes what decision or which foreign head of state issues what sentence,” Altun said. “What matters most to us is to have a rightful place in the hearts of the children of this land from past to present. That is why we will not tire of searching for the truth even for a moment.”

“The decisions taken by different parliaments on controversial historical matters do not make them democrats but patronising and tyrannical,” Altun said, calling genocide recognition efforts “the greatest disrespect”.

Describing the events that resulted in the death of some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians between 1915 and 1923, Altun used the phrase, “incidents that occurred caused great suffering to the Anatolian people”.

Armenians consider April 24 to mark the beginning of the mass deaths, acknowledged as the first genocide of the 20th century by a majority of scholars. The date comes from the deportation of Armenian intellectuals from Istanbul.

Erdoğan’s top adviser said Armenian gangs had “stabbed in the back” Turkish soldiers, who had frozen to death by the thousands, in the eastern front amid the “indescribable chaos” of World War I.

Turkey acknowledges mass deportations and deaths of Armenians in 1915, but rejects the classification of genocide and maintains the number was much lower than the academic consensus of 1.5 million people.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar also spoke of Armenian gangs, in an article published on U.S.-based conservative website Real Clear Defense on Wednesday.

Akar wrote about “the atrocities committed by the Armenians against other subjects of the empire”, and said great powers of the time had meddled in the affairs of the region, which he said broke the peace between Turks and Armenians.

The defence minister alluded to “massive humanitarian crises that took place both within its borders and in neighboring geographies during the last period of the Ottoman Empire, and said Armenians had been among “Ottoman citizens” who had died of “epidemics and migrations, as well as acts of sedition spearheaded by gangs and armed groups” in the same time period.

Turkey’s 2005 proposal by Erdoğan, prime minister at the time, to form a joint commission of historians and scholars to investigate the events “is yet to receive a response”, Akar said.

The minister urged for Armenia’s leaders to “lend an ear” to Turkey, “if they choose to invest in peace”.

“Turkey would like to see third countries – including allies like the U.S. – either help with ushering in this new understanding or be wary of efforts to politicize a historical controversy,” Akar said. “Our clear preference is for the first alternative.”