ANKARA (Hurriyet Daily News)—The Vicar General of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, Archbishop Aram Ateshian, on Thursday expressed optimism as he praised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent extension of condolences to the descendants of Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide of World War I.
The leader of the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey also stressed that “mutual sacrifices” were required to build a viable friendship and peace.
“Whatever is required for friendship, both sides shall make sacrifices. I can’t know what will happen. If you want to be friends, it is not just about saying ‘I love you’ to that person. That is not love, love requires sacrifice. Both sides shall make sacrifices so a bridge of friendship is built,” Ateshian told reporters on Thursday after a meeting with Erdogan.
He was accompanied by leading figures of the Armenian community during the meeting with the prime minister, which came days after Erdogan reiterated on April 29 a call for Armenia and Armenians living abroad to participate in “research” with Turkey to “document what happened.”
While maintaining that the time had come for the Armenian and Turkish people to “come together,” Ateshian said “nobody should play the three monkeys” by willfully ignoring the grievances experienced, in which millions of people lost their families and their homeland.
Historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. However, Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and claiming that those killed were victims of civil war and general unrest.
Describing Erdogan’s condolence message as a “watershed,” Ateshian referred to the story of the dove and the olive branch, from the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark.
“Like the dove that the Prophet [Noah] sent, our honorable prime minister extended an olive branch. We cannot ignore it. This olive branch is a peace symbol. We don’t want this branch to dry out. Now we want to plant this branch and want it to yield fruit,” Ateshian said, adding that “everybody’s support” was necessary to make this happen.
“Two societies lived together in fraternity for centuries and today we are longing for those days. Our call is to both sides: Come next to each other and lay the foundation of the bridge of friendship and peace,” he said.
“I believe that this first step initiated by our honorable prime minister has been met with appreciation by the majority of our community. As the Patriarchate, we also regard it with appreciation,” the patriarch added.
In response to questions, Ateshian said Erdogan did not disclose anything with regard to further reconciliation steps.
Ateshian said he left the meeting in happiness and hopeful for the future.
Erdogan issued a statement on April 23, offering condolences to the descendants of the Armenian Genocide, which he did not name a genocide, but simply an even in which “both sides suffered losses.” Armenians in the Armenian diaspora rejected the message, demanding that Turkey recognize that a genocide took place which removed Armenians from most of their homeland.
Erdogan soon after went on American television, where he denied the fact of the Armenian Genocide, asserting that a genocide could not have taken place, since there are still Armenians who live in Turkey.
“We are saying, let’s wipe away the tears, push prejudices to one side, and reveal historic truths in an objective manner,” Erdogan said on April 29, addressing the parliamentary group of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“I hope Armenia and the Armenian diaspora recognize our courageous step and reciprocate in the same courageous manner,” he said.