Sassounian: No One Should Be Fooled by Erdogan’s Empty Apology for Kurdish Massacres

Turkish society was thrown into turmoil last week when Prime Minister Erdogan issued an unexpected apology for the hitherto taboo topic of the Kurdish massacres in southeastern Turkey in the 1930’s.

There are many striking similarities between the Kurdish massacres and the Armenian Genocide. Under the guise of quelling a rebellion, the Turkish government, led by Kemal Ataturk, ordered the killing and deportation of tens of thousands of Alevi Kurds from Dersim, now known as Tunceli. Turkish warplanes dropped bombs and sprayed poisonous gases on Kurds hiding in mountain caves.

Ironically, taking part in the bombing raids was Sabiha Gokcen, Turkey’s first female pilot, who was an Armenian orphan adopted by Ataturk. Gokcen was unwittingly participating in the killing of not only Kurds, but also fellow Armenians who had sought refuge in the remote region of Dersim after having survived the 1915 genocide.

Erdogan’s surprise admission of the “Dersim killings” was prompted not by an honest desire to lift the veil of secrecy from a long-concealed state crime, but by the intent to discredit his main political opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was in power during the Kurdish atrocities.

Erdogan shrewdly scored a major public relations coup when Kilicdaroglu, a native of Dersim who had lost many members of his family, refused to reverse the CHP’s long-standing cover-up of these massacres.

Seeing an opportunity to deliver a bigger blow to his reticent rival, Erdogan went on national TV and revealed a series of documents from the state archives that provided chilling details of the brutal torture of Kurdish men, the rape of women, and the mutilation of children. In a dramatic gesture, he tore up the government’s falsified report on the Dersim carnage.

To counter Erdogan’s attacks, Kilicdaroglu came up with a surprise announcement of his own. Despite his failure to acknowledge the Dersim massacres, Kilicdaroglu claimed that an apology was not enough. He challenged Erdogan to release all archival documents on the subject and return the properties confiscated from the Kurdish victims.

The prime minister’s surprise apology generated a major national debate in Turkey. Some media commentators viewed Erdogan’s acknowledgment of the Dersim massacres not only as an effort to undermine Kilicdaroglu’s support with millions of Alevi voters, but also to tarnish Ataturk’s legacy. Others saw hopeful signs that Erdogan was preparing to face other dark chapters of Turkey’s history, including the Armenian Genocide.

Kilicdaroglu, in turn, tried to damage Erdogan’s reputation by accusing him of planning to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, and likened his mentality to that of Diaspora Armenians. Erdogan promptly distanced himself from what he considered to be an insulting comparison, and sharply rebuked and warned his political opponent for drawing such a parallel.

Erdogan’s racist reaction did not bode well for those who claimed that “the genie is out of the bottle,” hoping that his apology to the Kurds would set a precedent for Turkey’s eventual acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide. One cannot help but note the eerie similarities with Turkey’s denialist views on the Armenian Genocide when one carefully examines the prime minister’s distorted statements on the Dersim massacres:

1) Minimizing the Kurdish death toll from tens of thousands to 13,800;

2) Describing the Kurdish massacres merely as “killings” or “events”;

3) Placing the blame for the “killings” on a rival political party rather than the Turkish state; and

4) Offering no compensation and no restitution to heirs of the Kurdish victims.

All those hoping that Erdogan would issue a similar apology for the Armenian Genocide probably do not realize the futility of their expectation. In reality, a Turkish apology would do more harm than good to the Armenian Cause, as it would discourage some Armenians from pursuing restitution from Turkey, mislead the international community into thinking that Armenian demands are now completely fulfilled, and deprive Armenians from attracting further political support for their national cause.

Furthermore, should Erdogan apologize for the Armenian Genocide, the international community would shower him with praise, nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize, and support Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union.

The international community should rather demand that Erdogan fully acknowledge the genocides of Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Kurds, issue a genuine apology, offer compensation, and return the confiscated properties to the heirs of millions of innocent victims.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. I am going to ask you a simple question. Please answer to me directly.
    Population of Turkey is 75 million, and rising, right? The population of Armenia is 2.9 million and declining, right? How are you guys are planning to annex the Eastern Turkey?
    Seriously! Could you explain to me how the 15th biggest economy, 17th largest populated country, the second largest army in NATO is going to give part of its territory?
    Convince me please!

  2. I am going to answer you simply, if I may. I will also answer you directly.

    Turkey’s population is 78 million as of 2011, and rising.
    Armenia’s population is 3 million in Armenia, stabilized, not declining.
    Plus about 9 million in Western and Russian Diaspora. 12 million total worldwide.

    Little item Turks don’t like to mention when they boast about 70, or 75, or 78,
    or 80  million. There are 20-30 million Kurds (lo Turkish figures, hi Kurdish).
    You have that many Kurds that are inside the country, full of revenge, who hate your guts, lacking only heavy outside support. They will cut you to pieces. How are you Turks going to defeat  that many Kurds inside your country ? 
    Also, Kurdish population growth rate is 3x the growth rate of Turkey’s overall population growth rate.

    Armenians don’t expect Turkey to give us anything.
    When Turkey is dismembered by her former NATO partners (the West), Western Armenia will fall into our lap.

    And your second largest Army in NATO is no match for the West, maybe even Russia (and Israel’s AF).
    You won’t be fighting Armenians: we know our limitations. 
    You will be fighting your former “allies”. Actually, your former “allies” will use the Kurds to dismember Turkiye  from inside

    I now have a simple question for you: how do you suppose  6 million Jews in Israel are able to cow and defeat 300 million Arabs ? Over and over again.
    (Note: Israel’s population is about 7.8 million, but only  76% Jew)

  3. Ahmed Bey,
    The reason Rajab Erdoghan’s Turkey apologized to Kurds, has direct connection with PKK activities in Turkey and Iraq and may be later with Syrians Kurds, apology means nothing to Turks, and there is nothing important, for Armenians to get excited about.. Rajab’s move was a pure political maneuver, he hopes, that “mountain Turks” population of Turkey will get satisfaction and turn the guns against PKK. Good luck to Rajab and his followers!!

  4. Ahmet oghlu –
    How do you think 200,000 Artskah (Karabakh) Armenians were fighting the war of self-determination against 7 million-strong TurkoAzeris, reinforced by hundreds of Afghan mujahidins and Turkish military advisers? How do you think the Armenians won? Answer: Because Armenians were fighting for THEIR land!

  5. What did you expect? He’s a politician, and like him or not, he’s a pretty smart one.
    As for NATO dismembering Turkey, not gonna happen. Ever. Like it or not, the US needs Turkey as an ally, and as a country to use in the Middle East.
    As a Turk myself let me say this: the US and Israel are two major weapons suppliers to Turkey, so if they stop helping us good luck.

  6. RDVD,
    dismembering of Ottomans happened, therefor dismembering of Turkey is necessary and will happen. In today’s world NATO means nothing anymore, NATO is formal alliances during cold war, when USSR was alive, now is more political than reality, if you talk about geological location of Turkey, then this is something else, Kurds sooner or later will emerge as a nation and power house, Turkey will be divided, Israel and US know and NATO will do nothing about, just like the fall of Ottomans…UK, Russia, France, decided the faith of Ottomans..West loves to see more smaller nations rather than to see huge places like Turkey, especially those countries that are involved directly or indirectly with oil businesses.. Israel, Europe, US can not ignore Kurdish population of the world, right now they are “Turkified mountain Turks”, and they don’t like it they want to be free like normal Turkish citizens with their own flag and culture and independence!!

  7. Why do  many tie Turkey’s apology and acknowledgmetn of the Genocide with compensation, and return of confiscated properties.  Turkey does not need to apologize or acknowledge (although it would be very nice) the Genocide in order to offer compensation and return of properties.  Our focus should be the push for compensation and return of properties.  At the end of the day it’s not what Turkey will say (apologize…) but what it will do (compensate and return properties) that is important to us.  By compensation and return of properties, Genocide is acknowledge and apology is offered by default.  Remember, this is a middle eastern country that does not easily acknowledge mistakes.  Neither on the micro (individual) or macro (national) level.  Actions are more important than what one says.  One thing I agree with Harut is his statement that what if Turkey apologizes… and does nothing more.  Hence why I emphasize that actions rather than words are more important. 

  8. What I don’t understand is: Erdogan just got over 50% of the vote in June. He didn’t need any reinforcement of his mandate. Why then would he do something so controversial just to discredit CHP, who had already been discredited in the elections?

  9. I agree with Mr Sassounian that an “apology” without some type of reparations is of little value. The fact that Mr Erdogan apologized at all is a significant development and it will be interesting to see the reaction of the Kurds (who should also receive compensation). The Kurds, oil rich, and already laying claim to land in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey with a substantial population in the region ( I’ve read about 70 mil.), don’t seem to have the patience or willingness of the Armenians to negotiate a reasonable solution and aren’t afraid to attack Turkey directly through the PKK (who’s tactics and violence I can’t support).. Recently the Kurds apologized to the Armenians for their part as “death squads” during the Genocide (to be fair, they also aided Armenians to escape Turkey including what was left of my own family from Kars). I haven’t heard of any formal response from Armenians about this and we would be very wise to “rekindle” our relationship with them (especially here in the US).
    I’ve read many explanations what exactly would constitute “reparations” from Turkey and I’ve looked at a map and there is no doubt in my mind that Mt Ararat (and some adjacent area) should be immediately returned to the RoA with only the condition that it not be militarized (to alleviate their fears) and that negotiations be continued to resolve other matters. The respect that it would produce in the West for Mr Erdogan’s actions (and the realization by Armenians that he is serious about resolving our problems) would probably benefit him personally the most as he could win a Nobel Peace prize for his actions. I don’t believe doing that would impact Turkey in any manner as it is only a slight correction (indentation) in their border and they do not share the same appreciation for it as a cultural and religous monument like the Armenians.
    A “pilgrim’s” corridor from the Med. to Diyarbakir and Van to Mt Ararat and Armenia could be a tourist bonanza to both countries. I can’t speak for nationals but we far west diasporans are no threat to Turkey because, while we may come by the thousands, very few would actually stay. My own mother once told me that because of the misery and violence created in that eastern area-it’s cursed and the daily earthquakes are only a reminder to me that mother was right. The first apology is always the hardest.
    Mr Erdogan, tear down the wall that divides us by returning Mt Ararat. It is not a sign of weakness or capitulation -it is only a sign of moral strength. ps. (yes, we will try to “calm-down” the Kurds, who both of us will agree-you really do not want for an enemy).
    I must warn you though, Hillary (and Sarkozy) might kiss you. What a wonderful Christmas present!

  10. Ahmet

    Is wearing “Emporium ARmani” still punishable by jail time in turkey?
    Is ERdogan ARmenian too by any chance?
    What about you? Is it possible that you may turn up to be an ARmenian if your case comes under close scrutiny?
    These are more important questions that how big turkey’s population or economy is.

    • AR,

      There is nothing wrong about a Turkish citizen being of Armenian descent. But the fact is that many Turkish citizens of Armenian descent (Edward Tashji and Artin Penik) want Diasporan Extremeist Racist Fanatic Dashaks and Hincaks to leave them alone. Turkey is a diverse country of many ethnicities and all those ethnic groups will stay united to protect themselves from enemies, whether domestic or foreign.

      For example, Turkey may have not been on the Kurdish issues, but 90% percent of Kurds are loyal to Turkey and support Turkey’s rightful fight against PKK terrorists. Infact there are many Kurdish organization who have renounced the Marxist, Leninist, Terrorist tactics of such groups of BDP, DTP, PKK, and KCK and people like Leyla Zana, who has not came open to renounce the violent methods of PKK rebels and their supporters. (90+% of Kurds renounce the BDP, DTP and PKK and this is a fact). Even the Prime Minister of Turkey, Turgut Ozal, was a Turkish Patriot and a Proud Kurd.

      Also, many people in Turkey of Armenian descent (Christian or Muslim Hemshen) are patriots too. What about Turkish patriots of Armenian heritage such as Edward Tashji and Artin Penik. Or what about the fact many Istanbul Armenians are against many parliamentarians passing “genocide resolutions.”

      Or what about Alevi people like myself who support Turkey’s right to defend itselves from enemies, both foreign and domestic!

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