Top diplomat says Turkey must counter Armenian genocide claims

One top Turkish diplomat says ‘genocide is a political concept, Turkey does not deserve to appear before the world as a nation that committed genocide’

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Turkey needs to develop a strategy to counter pressure to acknowledge the World War I killings of Armenians as a genocide as the 100th anniversary of the massacres looms, a top Turkish diplomat said Monday.

Altay Cengizer, director general for policy planning at the Turkish foreign ministry, told the Hurriyet daily that U.S.-based Armenian diaspora groups saw the centenary as an opportunity to prove that genocide was carried out and planned by the Ottoman authorities.

He likened the anniversary to a “penalty shot” that some saw as a chance to settle the issue, adding that the biggest nightmare for Turkey would be for the United States to recognize the mass killings and deportations as genocide.

“We are challenging the fact that it was a penalty. But they will take their chance,” he said.

He made it clear that Turkey -- which has always categorically rejected the term genocide -- had no intention of shifting its position.

“Genocide is a political concept. Turkey does not deserve to appear before the world as a nation that committed genocide,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered an unprecedented expression of condolence for the massacres in April when he was still prime minister, describing the killings as "our shared pain".

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forbearers were killed in a campaign of genocide approved by the top military and security leadership of the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1916.

Turkey says up to 500,000 Armenians died in fighting and of starvation after Armenians sided with invading Russian troops. It claims a comparable number of Turks were also killed.

Cengizer said he had just returned from Washington and saw that "a great campaign of accusations" was being prepared by Armenian diaspora groups.

“Their aim is to leave Turkey with a past that it won't be able to overcome. And 2015 is their target,” he said.

“Turkey will make every effort to say what we believe is right against these claims, which target our very identity,” said Cengizer.

“But time will tell how successful this is. If we are not successful we are going to have to determine a strategy for post-2015. There is no other way.”

Turkey and Armenia in 2009 signed the so-called Zurich protocols to normalize ties, but five years on they have still not been ratified by the national parliaments.

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