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Erdogan chides EU on Armenia debate

April 15, 2015

The European Parliament is due to vote on a resolution defining the deaths of Armenians in World War I as "genocide." But Turkish President Erdogan has said the words would "go in one ear and out the other" in Ankara.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image: Reuters/Y. Bulbul

The European Parliament is set to debate a resolution on Wednesday, to mark the 100th anniversary of the killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The authors of the motion called the event "Armenian genocide" in the document.

"Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on Armenian genocide claims, it would go in one ear and out the other," Turkish President Erdogan told a news conference on Wednesday, before departing on an official visit to Kazakhstan.

Turkey is strongly opposed to qualifying the deaths as genocide, saying that hundreds of thousands of both Turks and Christian Armenians lost their lives in the struggle between the Ottoman forces and the Russian Empire over eastern Anatolia in World War I.

Erdogan added that it would not be possible for Turkey, which inherited the Ottoman Empire, "to accept such sin or crime."

Erdogan warns the pope

The debate about the tragedy has been raging for decades. The European Parliament first formally defined the killings as genocide back in 1987, and twenty countries including France, Italy and Russia share that view, alongside a significant number of historians.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis described the 1915 event as genocide, prompting Istanbul to recall their envoy to the Holy See in protest. The Turkish government also summoned the Vatican ambassador in Istanbul, with President Erdogan accusing the Pope of spouting "nonsense."

"We will not allow historical incidents to be taken out of their genuine context and be used as a tool to campaign against our country," Erdogan said in a speech to a business group. "I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again."

The United States called for "full, frank" acknowledgement of the mass killings on Tuesday, without calling them "genocide".

The German parliament is also set to discuss the issue later this month; the debate has added significance in Berlin, as the Ottoman Empire was allied to Germany during the First World War.

'Not possible to understand'

On Wednesday, Erdogan also pointed out that Turkey is a home to some 100,000 Armenian citizens. Some of them work in the country illegally, the Turkish president said, and are never mistreated. There are also around 60,000 Turkish Armenians, mostly based in Istanbul.

"Both citizens and non-citizen Armenians are enjoying the opportunities of our country. We could have deported them, but we didn't," Erdogan said. "We're still hosting them in our country. It is not possible to understand such a stance against a country which displays hospitality."

Armenia and Armenians around the world claim their forefathers died in an organized eradication campaign by Ottoman forces. They intend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragedy on April 24.

dj/msh (AFP, Reuters)