We will never give up working for amity and peace against those who try to politicise history through a bitter rhetoric of hate and enmity and strive to alienate the two neighbouring nations who are bound with their common history and their similar traditions, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement which was read out by Turkey’s Armenian Patriarch Aram Atesyan in this year’s annual commemoration of the 1915 incidents.
This year Armenian members of the Turkish Parliament, Garo Paylan, Selina Dogan and Markar Esayan, were also present in the commemoration in the Holy Virgin Mary Church of Istanbul.
Foul plots and corrupt ways marked the days of World War I; it was a sinister time when countries could act as they desired, forcibly and illegally occupying and plundering any land they like.
The Ottoman Empire, once the most powerful state of the world, had to struggle with many of such countries during the WWI in its phases of regression.
Not only the participant states but the entire world was affected and suffered because of this epochal war. The effects of World War I are still felt throughout the world.
The WWI was not a war between Turks and Armenians. The Turks and the Armenians had lived in harmony for more than 850 years yet suffered through a series of tragic incidents and their long-lasting relationship ground to a halt.
When the Armenians fled the Byzantine oppression and first came to Anatolia after the victory of Malazgirt in 1071, the Ottomans welcomed and provided them every means to live freely as Ottoman citizens and treated them as equals.
At a time when Europe was unfamiliar with religious leniency, this was a significant moment, showing the world Ottoman compassion in embracing another people of a different faith.
Armenians are a decent, wise and loyal nation. They have always been a precious element of the Ottoman society with their artists, tailors, doctors and politicians. The Armenians were considered as honest and trustworthy people who were loyal to the empire and thus given the name “Loyal Nation”.
As a matter of fact, Armenians and Turks both have a similar culture; some Armenians speak Turkish better than they speak Armenian. This strong bond between them first cracked in the Ottoman-Russian War in 1878.
Up until then, Armenians were recruited to very high official positions in the state. This does not indicate a special privilege because Armenians were one of the communities that formed the Ottomans, not a minority.
We all wonder why this long-standing relationship came to such turbulence after living in harmony like a family for all those years. The Armenians, who were affected by the nationalistic movements of the early 20th century, started to co-operate with Russia, England and France while the Ottomans were battling on the side of Germans as the World War I had begun in 1914.
They carried out mutinies in 23 different districts, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Turks and caused a great deal of turmoil within the empire.
The Ottomans were confronting serious traumas at that time, especially after the evacuation of the Balkans in 1912. There had been major massacres and deportations in Bulgaria and the Caucuses.
In 1914, more than 1mn Turks were forced into exile from Yerevan and Tiflis and only 702,000 managed to reach the homeland. There were simultaneous Armenian uprisings - these are documented in the French archives.
On April 24, 1915, the Ottomans issued arrest warrants for the 235 leaders of the Armenian organisations supporting uprisings; that is the date Armenians consider as the start of the so-called genocide.
Around 180 of the leaders were arrested and sent to various prisons. Then the Ottomans had no choice but to make the decision to deport the Armenian population to the lands where Turks had been forced to leave.
It was a time of war with utter disorder and confusion when the Ottoman authorities made the deportation decision of the Armenian population for various reasons of national security. All sides that participated in war acted on decisions made out of panic and retaliation.
War makes rational people unwise and they undertake cruel policies out of panic either in the name of victory or to save their people from danger. One side does everything it can to protect its people, considering every means to this end justified; such thinking is, of course, completely wrong.
The Armenians and the Turks fell into this same error and killed each other. They were both Ottoman citizens and they were brothers and neighbours who had lived and befriended side by side for years.
It was, as is always the case, the civilian population who suffered the most. Many women, elderly and children had to go long ways without proper food, clean water and medication.
Many died because of epidemic illnesses, hunger and some were killed in gang attacks.
The Ottoman Empire was protective to the Armenian civilians against attacks that might have occurred during the exile: 1,673 people who attacked the Armenian convoys during deportation were court-martialled by the Ottomans. Sixty-seven of the convicts were hung and the rest were sentenced to assorted punishments.
Nobody can understand the suffering better than the Armenians and the Turks who experienced this heartbreaking history. Both suffered great losses; the bones are still there in the war zones in mass graves.
The Turkish nation gave 230,000 martyrs in Gallipoli, 90,000 in Sarikamis and 40,000 in Arabian land that belonged to Ottoman Empire at that time.
Yet Turkey acknowledges the fact that this was war and these events were the inevitable consequences of it.
Turkey does not even consider asking or calling for the occupying countries to account for their deeds at war-time.
Hence Turks and Armenians, two close people, should not fall out because of hatred and political agendas.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was sincere in his speech of 2014 annual commemoration when he said: “I publicly reaffirm: we do not consider the Turkish society as our enemy. Bowing to the memory of the innocent victims we remember all those Turks, Turkish families who lent a helping hand to their Armenian neighbours, friends...”
After 101 years, this incident is still on the global agenda. Yet, now some are using this painful event as a political tool. It is historians who should deal with this issue, not politicians.
There have been many massacres in the world history, which could be considered genocide but those massacres have not been taken into consideration as genocide. This once again shows this is a political game rather than a sincere quest for historic knowledge.
This issue between Turkey and Armenia cannot be solved by third parties who have not suffered the bitter pain of World War I. We are all cognisant that this tragic event happened and affected both sides. The best course now is to put behind the pains of that war and heal the wounds together with solidarity and brotherhood.
If Armenians would ask for the Turks to recognise this as genocide, then Turks would do the same for themselves and this will not bring solution and happiness but only more pain. There should be more Armenians living in Turkey, they should be free to start their own schools and churches within the country.
Both sides should work on their historic mutual culture that developed long before.
The two countries can unite as a great example to the world and open their borders and lift visa and passport restrictions. This will silence the unwelcome voice of those who desire hatred and empower those who seek love and amity.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Gulf Times: