Remembering the Armenians

NEW YORK – On the 99th anniversary of the start of the massacre and deportation of a significant share of the Armenian population in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a very positive statement. The decision to acknowledge what Armenians call Genocide Remembrance Day may well represent a breakthrough, given modern Turkey’s persistent refusal to call what happened “genocide.” But it is only a start.

Erdoğan’s statement recognized the significance of the date and offered condolences to the victims’ descendants. “It is a duty of humanity,” he said, “to acknowledge that Armenians remember the suffering experienced in that period….” Moreover, Erdoğan accepted that those who speak out more pointedly about what took place may do so: “In Turkey, expressing differing opinions and thoughts freely on the events of 1915 is the requirement of a pluralistic perspective, as well as of a culture of democracy and modernity.”

Perhaps most important, Erdoğan’s statement suggests that there is room for Turkey to go further in the run-up to the centenary of the crimes that began on April 24, 1915, which many people – not only Armenians – regard as a genocide. One additional step, for example, would be to describe the events that caused the Armenians’ suffering and to acknowledge who caused it.

Turkey is far from alone in having to face up to terrible crimes committed by previous generations. In general, those states whose leaders have forthrightly apologized for past crimes have benefited from doing so.