Over the past year, Turkey has been making preparations and taking diplomatic initiatives in advance of April 24, 2015. On April 24, Armenians worldwide commemorate the mass deportations of Armenians, and the massacre of hundreds of thousands of them, by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 during WWI; this year marks the 100th anniversary of these events. While Armenia and Armenians have always sought the international community's recognition of these events as genocide, Turkey has denied the allegations of genocide and has blocked any such recognition by using its weight in the international arena. The Turkish government has called for the matter to be resolved by historians or by a joint commission, via an examination of the archives of all relevant countries, instead of by resolutions by politicians in various parliaments.
To divert attention from this year's centenary, Turkey's AKP government has shifted the date of its own traditional commemoration of the legendary victory against the Allied forces at the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli from the customary March 18 to April 24, to coincide with the Armenian remembrance. The AKP government has invited world leaders to come to Turkey for the three-day commemoration, in an attempt to steal them away from the Armenian ceremonies in Yerevan. However, these efforts appear to be failing, and Turkey was angered by Pope Francis's April 12, 2015 description of the 1915 events as the "first genocide of the 20th century" in a mass in St. Peter's Basilica attended by Armenian spiritual leaders and Armenia's president. The Pope's recognition of "genocide," followed by the European Parliament's resolution for such recognition, has resulted in harsh criticism by Turkish government officials and media. France has since passed a similar resolution, and Germany has announced that its parliament would be voting on one as well.
Turkey is now eying Washington, in anticipation of U.S. President Barack Obama's speech about the 1915 events; this week, in an effort to influence the White House's decision, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited the U.S.
The following are reactions to Pope Francis's statements and the European Parliament's resolution by AKP officials and in the Turkish press:
Turkish President Erdogan Criticizes Pope Francis, Dismisses European Parliament Resolution
In an April 14, 2015 speech to Turkish exporters, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted to Pope Francis's description of the Armenian events as genocide, saying: "On his [November] visit here [to Turkey] I saw a different politician. Pay attention that I am calling him a politician, not a man of religion. When politicians and religious leaders take on the duty of historians, they produce nonsense. I condemn the Pope['s statements] and warn him not to repeat the same mistake."
On April 16, in a televised speech during an official visit to Kazakhstan, Erdogan responded to the European Parliament (EP) resolution calling on Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide by saying, "We don't recognize these kinds of decisions taken by [foreign] politicians and parliaments." He added that Turkey ignores all such resolutions as "null and void," and that the European Parliament's resolution, which exploits the Armenian issue, was merely a reflection of its hostility towards Turkey. Adding that Turkey did not have a problem with the Armenian people, he said that the Turks (i.e. the Muslims Turks) had suffered and lost no less during that period.
Earlier, he had dismissed the EP resolution, saying: "Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on the Armenian genocide claims, it will go in one ear and out the other."
President Erdogan in Kazakhstan, TodaysZaman, April 16, 2015
Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu On Europe: EP Resolution "A Reflection Of Europe's Racism"
Speaking to journalists on April 17, 2015, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu criticized Europe for terming the 1915 events "genocide," saying: "If Europe wants to contribute to peace and to maintain its multicultural, multi-religious nature, it should refrain from making decisions that will provoke hatred against a certain religion or nation. This can only further provoke the rising anti-Islamic, anti-Turkish sentiment. This is more than Turkish-Armenian issue. This is a reflection of Europe's racism."
Pointing to Europe's history of colonialism in Africa, Asia, and Australia, as well as to the destruction of a number of indigenous peoples, Davutoglu said that Europe does not have the right to single out the 1915 events. He asked: "Where are those aboriginal people? Where are the Native Americans? Where are the tribes of Africa? How were they wiped out from history?" He added that the EP resolution meant as little to Turkey as the Pope's statement had.
He stressed that Turks and Armenians had lived together for a thousand years: "Turkey is ready to normalize relations with Armenia. What we find revolting is the disregard of the pain suffered by the Turks. We are ready to share the pain, but we will not bow our heads."
In response to Pope Francis's definition of the 1915 events as genocide, Davutoglu accused him of being part of "plots" against the AKP and Turkey: "I am addressing the pope: Those who escaped the genocide carried out by Catholics in Spain found peace and safety in our just system."
Turkish Officials' Harsh Reactions To Pope's, EP's Statements
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists on April 14, 2015 that the pope had used different rhetoric when discussing the Armenian issue during his November 2014 visit to Turkey, and that his recent remarks did not correspond to his previous comments. "Religious leaders should focus on peace and reconciliation and not hatred and discrimination," he said.
A joint declaration rejecting the EP's genocide resolution as "unacceptable" was signed by the ruling party AKP and by the two opposition parties, CHP and MHP. It read: "Despite our calls, the European Parliament preferred to deepen the problem and the gap between the two peoples. We strongly condemn this biased and selective approach that disregards the pain and suffering of all the peoples of the Ottoman Empire in the tragic period of WWI, and emphasizes only the pain of one side over the pain of the others [which is deemed] unacceptable and void. With this decision, the European Parliament, acting on behalf of the European Union, has unlawfully taken judicial authority into its hands, by making baseless accusations and arriving at its own verdict on a very serious crime such as genocide. This goes against human rights, justice, history, and law. We strongly condemn this resolution, which is contrary to the idea of creating peace, tolerance, and a common future instead of wars and conflicts - and this is the very idea that is the raison d'├¬tre of the European Parliament."
Only the Kurdish party HDP refused to sign the joint declaration; it called on the AKP government to re-examine its position of denial.
"AKP, CHP, and MHP deem EP resolution void"
Below: AKP Prime Minister Davotoglu, CHP leader Kilicdaroglu, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli. Source: OdaTV, April 16, 2015
Former deputy prime minister Emrullah Isler told AKP officials in Ankara that genocide can be identified only with European history: "There is no genocide in our culture, our traditions, and our history. There is tolerance, compassion, and love. The Ottomans opened their doors to those who escaped genocide. The West and the Armenians know this well. If there is genocide, it is the Armenians who have committed it.
Turkey's top cleric Mehmet Gormez, who heads the Religious Affairs Directorate, called Pope Francis's genocide comments "immoral," and said that the Vatican should look to its own history before making accusations and throwing stones at others. On April 20, he said: "The Vatican will come out as the biggest loser if we are all called to account for past sufferings and pain caused." He also said that Islamophobia in Europe is on the rise.
Columnist: Declaration Of A Crusader War Against Turkey
Islamist columnist Yusuf Kaplan, who writes for the pro-AKP Yeni Safak daily, noted: "The Pope's 'genocide' statement, followed by the EP's passing of a 'genocide resolution,' constitute an unnamed declaration of war against Turkey.
"We are going through a process in which history is being reconstructed. The West sees that Turkey will within 50 years grow to be the only actor that will reshape the region's history once again, and this is why they want to drown Turkey before that happens.
"If Turkey is not stopped, the hegemony of the West will inevitably be in danger. This is because the Westerners' hegemony over the world is based on their hegemony over the Islamic world. When they are thrown out of the Islamic world, their withdrawal from history will begin. The West has grasped this better than we have.
"They have had two strategies to enable their hegemony: The first was to get the Ottomans out of Europe, which they have succeeded in doing. They are working on the second strategy, which is to distance the Muslim societies from Islam. This is to be done by means of Protestantization and secularization of Islam, and by dividing Islam into Shia and Sunni and creating chaos among Muslims.
"For that reason, they want to prevent Turkey from reuniting the Islamic world. The Pope's genocide statement and the EP's genocide resolution are the height of audacity and a threat aiming to strangle and stop Turkey.
"War has been declared against Turkey on the centennial of the Armenian events - a diplomatic Crusader war.
"Hey Pope, hey Europe! It is you who are the real blood-spillers! You must first account for the Crusader Wars, the Inquisitions, for your bloody history of colonialism."
"Opening Hagia Sophia To Muslim Prayer - The Best Response To The Pope's Statements"
The Turkish Islamist daily Yeni Akit, which is close to the AKP government, headlined a report on statements to journalists by Abdulhamid Kayihan Osmanoglu, the grandson of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, "Opening Hagia Sophia to [Muslim] prayer - the Best Response to the Pope's Statements." The sixth-century Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia, one of the world's great monuments, was turned into a mosque by Mehmet the Conquerer in 1453 and was turned into a museum by Ataturk in 1930.
Osmanoglu said: "They [the West] have forgotten about the Ottoman rule. They need to be reminded of it. The Ayasofya [Hagia Sophia] Mosque is the endowment of our forefather Fatih Sultan [Mehmet the Conqueror]. Personally, I would want to have it opened for [Muslim] prayers right away. This would also be our best response to the Pope."
He added that since the days of the Ottoman state, people in Middle Eastern countries had not seen a day of peace, and that the Middle East needed the justice of the Ottomans.
Hagia Sophia, Yeni Akit, April 18, 2015
Yeni Akit also reported that foreign media were alarmed at the thought that Turkey would open Hagia Sophia as a mosque for Muslim prayers, after Ankara Mufti Prof. Mefail Hizli criticized Pope Francis, on April 17, for his statements on genocide, saying: "The unfortunate statements made by the Pope reflect the modern-day colors of the Crusader attacks on these lands over the course of many centuries. Frankly, I think that these comments [by the pope] will help hasten the opening of Ayasofya for [Muslim] prayers."
Turkish Foreign Minister In Washington: Erdogan And Obama Will Open Together A Mosque In Maryland Built By Turkey; Encourages Muslims To Support Obama Administration
In mid-April 2015, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu departed for Washington for a three-day visit, ahead of President Obama's annual statements on the Armenian issue. He held talks with American officials and also met with representatives from American Muslim organizations, telling them that the new Turkish-American Culture and Civilization Center in Maryland, which has not yet officially opened, had been constructed by Turkey as a place where all the Muslims of America could come together and pray freely.
Cavusoglu also said that President Erdogan had called President Obama and invited him to join him at the center's opening ceremony, and that President Obama had agreed in principle to attend.
President Obama and President Erdogan. Source: Yeni Akit, April 20, 2015
During his meeting with the American Muslim representatives, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu spoke of concerns of an increase of Islamophobia, reiterated President Obama's statement that "ISIS is neither a state, nor Islamic," and commended the U.S. government for its policies. He told the representatives of the Muslim community that in order to defend Islam they must support the Obama administration.
Cavusoglu also complained about propaganda activities against Turkey and the Muslims, and about some lobbies in the U.S., and asked American Muslims to support Turkey on the Armenian issue.
U.S. Council Of Muslim Organizations Calls On U.S. To Avoid One-Sided Interpretation Of 1915 Events
In a statement, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), the largest umbrella organization of American Muslim organizations, called on the U.S. administration to act to ensure that U.S.-Turkish strategic relations are not damaged by a one-sided interpretation of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule during WWI.
The statement echoed Turkey's points and said: "As Americans, we are concerned about alienating a key ally, Turkey, through one-sided declarations that political bodies [i.e. most European parliaments] and religious leaders [Pope Francis] have made on this subject. The events of 100 years ago should be based on a consensus among historians and academicians with access to archives and documents from that era."
USCMO banner, published by TodaysZaman, Turkey, April 20, 2015
Turkish Minister For EU: Obama Will Not Use That Word
Answering a journalist's question on whether President Obama would use the term "genocide" in his speech on April 24, Turkish Minister for the EU Volkan Bozkir said that based on his many years of experience, Obama would not use the word. He added: "The U.S. is a superpower, and at this juncture, when there are so many problems in the region, he must take Turkey's importance into consideration when he makes such a decision."
 Cumhuriyet (Turkey), April 12, 2015.
 TodaysZaman, Cumhuriyet (Turkey), April 16, 2015.
 Sozcu, TodaysZaman (Turkey), April 17, 2015.
 Cumhuriyet (Turkey), April 16, 2015.
 Yeni Akit (Turkey), April 18, 2015.
 TodaysZaman (Turkey), April 20, 2015.
 Yeni Safak (Turkey), April 17, 2015.
 Yeni Akit (Turkey), April 19, 2015.
 Yeni Akit (Turkey), April 18, 2015.
 Hurriyet (Turkey), April 20, 2015.
 Yeni Akit (Turkey), April 20, 2015.
 TodaysZaman (Turkey), April 20, 2015.
 Yeni Akit (Turkey), April 21, 2015.