Special for the Armenian Weekly
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s message was read at the commemoration mass that was held at the Feriköy Surp Vartanants Church in Istanbul on April 24—the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
The message said, in part:
“On this occasion, I would like to emphasize that the peace, security and happiness of our Armenian community are of special importance to us. We have no tolerance for the alienation and exclusion of our Armenian citizens and for a single Armenian citizen to feel second-class… With these thoughts, I once again pay tribute to the memories of the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives in the beginning of the 20th century. May millions of Ottoman citizens deceased under the difficult conditions of the First World War rest in peace.”
Can this message be interpreted as a “positive development” in Turkey’s recognition of the genocide? And do these words reflect the reality of the Armenian lives in Turkey?
Not really, for genocide denial is still the norm in the country.
Turkey does not deny that “Ottoman Christians died” during World War I. What Turkey claims is that Armenians and other people in the Ottoman Empire died due to the “circumstances of the war” or the wrongdoings or crimes of their fellow Armenians. This position does not recognize any Turkish responsibility in the Armenian massacres or forced deportations.
One Turkish reader commented on an article on Facebook on April 24, “the Armenian Genocide is a fiction made up by Western powers to cover up their own bloody history.”
Turkey never seems to run out of excuses to deny, whitewash or even take pride in the genocide.
April 24 is also the anniversary of the death of Sevag Balıkçı, an Armenian citizen of Turkey. Private Balıkçı was shot to death during his compulsory military service in the Turkish army on April 24, 2011—the 96th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Six years later, the trial is still ongoing. And the murderers of Sevag are still walking around free.
A court in Turkey recently decided to pay a “ridiculous” amount of compensation to Balıkçı’s family, the newspaper Agos reported on April 21.
The court declared that 40,000 Turkish liras (around $11,000 USD) shall be paid to Balıkçı’s family in compensation. İsmail Cem Halavurt, the family’s lawyer, objected to the Court of Cassation, declaring that the amount is too low compared to other damages paid in similar trials.
The Ankara military high court decided that 16,000 Turkish liras shall be paid to each of Sevag’s parents—his mother, Ani, and his father, Garabet—and 8,000 liras to his sister, Lerna, in non-pecuniary damages.
Agos also reported that the details of the trial that have not yet been finalized. The trial began at Diyarbakir military court, which announced its ruling on March 26, 2013. The defendant, Kıvanç Ağaoğlu, was sentenced to four years, five months and 10 days in prison for “intentionally killing someone” and the defendant, Sergeant Sadrettin Ersöz, to five months for “neglecting his duty.” The ruling was then taken to the Military Court of Cassation, which returned the case file to a regional court, citing “procedural deficiencies.”
The trial was re-opened, but when a decree was announced by the government to close military courts across Turkey, on Feb. 2, the military court sent the case file to the penal court of first instance in the town of Kozluk, where the killing took place. The trial will now continue in a civil court.
Halil Ekşi, a witness to the incident, first said Ağaoğlu killed Sevag deliberately, but then changed his testimony and said that “there was no discussion or fighting, and the incident took place as a result of joking around.” Upon the objection of the Balıkçı family’s lawyers, Ekşi testified once again, saying that he “has been under pressure concerning his testimony.” He was then sentenced to two years and one month in prison for “perjury” and Bülent Kaya, Ağaoğlu’s uncle, to two years and 13 months in prison for “instigating perjury.”
This ruling as well as the entire prosecution process once again reveal that even 102 years after the genocide, Armenian lives still do not matter in Turkey.