Turkey's prime minister offers condolences over 1915 Armenian killings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 1:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 5:17pm

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered what the government said were unprecedented condolences yesterday to the grandchildren of Armenians killed in the first world war by Ottoman soldiers.

In a statement issued on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the deeply contested deaths, Erdogan unexpectedly described the events of 1915 as "inhumane", using more conciliatory language than has often been the case for Turkish leaders.

A Turkish government official said it was the first time a Turkish prime minister had offered such explicit condolences, but it was not immediately clear if it would be enough to bring about a thaw in relations between Ankara and its neighbour.

The exact nature and scale of what happened during fighting that started in 1915 is highly contentious and continues to sour relations between Turkey and Armenia, a former Soviet republic.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in clashes, but denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that this constituted an act of genocide - a term used by many Western historians and foreign parliaments.

Earlier in April, for example, a US Senate committee resolution branded the massacre of Armenians as genocide.

Erdogan's statement - unusually released in nine different languages including Armenian - repeated previous calls for dialogue between the two countries. Although striking a conciliatory tone, Erdogan reiterated a long-held Turkish position that the deaths of millions of people during the violence of the period should be remembered "without discriminating as to religion or ethnicity".