Analysis: Erdogan Describes Armenian Genocide as ‘Reasonable Relocation’

“What Erdogan refers to as ‘relocation’ was actually the genocidal deportation of civilian populations to concentration and extermination camps.”

by Uzay Bulut, Gatestone Institute

At a recent symposium in Ankara – on the 104th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his distortion and denial of the 1915 mass murder of Christians at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

“The relocation of the Armenian gangs and their supporters who massacred the Muslim people, including women and children, in eastern Anatolia, was the most reasonable action that could be taken in such a period,” Erdogan said. This quote was then posted on the official “Turkish Presidency” Twitter page.

“Erdogan’s statement was factually flawed, deceptive and insulting,” Vicken Babkenian, an independent researcher for the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, told Gatestone in a recent interview.

Babkenian, a descendant of genocide survivors on both sides of his family, explained:

“The Ottoman Turkish government’s wide-scale and systematic destruction of its indigenous Armenian population in 1915-23 is well documented and was one of the foremost examples of that crime which led the Polish-Jewish jurist Raphael Lemkin to coin the word ‘genocide’ in 1944. Erdogan’s tweet – on the most solemn day of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide – was clearly meant to appease the ultra-nationalist element in Turkey at the expense of historical truth.

“I don’t believe that there is another head of government in the world today who has expressed such unremorseful rhetoric about his nation’s well-documented extermination of its indigenous populations,” said Babkenian. “It is genocide denial at its worst. Erdogan’s message can be interpreted as follows: Turkey is unremorseful about what happened to the Armenians in 1915. They deserved what they got, and we have no intention of reckoning with our past or pursuing a policy of transitional justice.”

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Vasileios Meichanetsidis, an Athens-based genocide scholar and editor of the 2012 book, The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks, also criticized Erdogan’s false portrayal of the Turks’ mass murder of Christians. He told Gatestone: “What Erdogan refers to as ‘relocation’ was actually the genocidal deportation of civilian populations – mainly women, children, and the elderly – to the very interior of Asia Minor. These populations were not simply relocated to another place, contrary to what the Turkish state claims.

“They were sent to concentration and extermination camps or remote places in the interior to be slaughtered or to die from exposure, exhaustion, hunger, or epidemics – either on the way to, or at the place of, their destinations,” he says.

“These ‘relocations’ resulted in the partial or total destruction of numerous Greek Orthodox communities that had lived in Anatolia for nearly 3.000 years. The continuous Turkish state policy of genocide denial shows how susceptible Turkey still is to committing yet another genocide, but also how important and necessary it is for the international community to recognize the genocide as a means of preventing its recurrence by a denialist and aggressive state perpetrator,” adds Meichanetsidis.

Anahit Khosroeva, an Assyrian genocide scholar and lecturer at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences based in Armenia, told Gatestone: “What Erdogan falsely calls the ‘relocation’ was for us – the descendants of the survivors of the Armenian and Assyrian genocides – depatriation. Indigenous Armenians and Assyrians got annihilated in their own ancient homeland.

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“The assertion [by Erdogan and other genocide deniers] that Turkish archives are open is also far from reality – particularly from the point of view of access to materials on the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides by impartial scholars. The archives are open, but only for the researchers working for Turkish state interests. “No matter what Turkey says, the Armenian Genocide as a crime against humanity has been recognized and condemned by 27 countries across the world,” he adds.

Propaganda machine

This has not prevented Erdogan and his supporters from simultaneously denying the genocide and being proud of it. This is the propaganda machine that has turned the victims into perpetrators and has shaped Turkey’s official historiography since the establishment of the Republic in 1923. Turkish school books still teach that the “treacherous” Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians forced the Ottoman Turks to act in self-defense.

Meanwhile, on the day that Erdogan made the speech in which he held the genocide victims responsible for their own plight, Turkish police prevented the Human Rights Association (IHD) from holding a scheduled commemoration ceremony in Istanbul.

The IHD, therefore, held the ceremony at its office. At the ceremony, IHD co-chair Eren Keskin said: “We are again living under the power of unlawfulness. We are again getting through a period of grave human rights violations. The cursed legacy is continuing in new forms. Today is April 24th – the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. But the reaction to commemorating the genocide is strong. Even declaring a day of commemoration is not tolerated.”

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Genocide scholar Vasileios Meichanetsidis concluded that for Turkey to be a truly democratic country, it must acknowledge its past crimes.

He told Gatestone: “Turkey will not be able to free itself from its murderous past and the stain on its genesis as a state unless it recognizes the genocide of the native Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire, thus allowing the descendants of the victims the resilience needed to overcome their generational sufferings, resulting from the indescribable physical and emotional sufferings of their ancestors.

“The recognition could also free the Turkish people from guilt and shame, thus marking the beginning of a new process of reconciliation between Turkey and the descendants of the genocide victims, as well as between Turkey and its neighbors, especially Greece, Armenia, and Cyprus,” he adds.

Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.