Report: Erdogan invites Armenian leader to join Gallipoli commemoration

The Gallipoli campaign was one of the most famous battles of World War I when Ottoman troops

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invited his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, to attend commemoration ceremonies in Turkey marking the 100th anniversary of the World War I Gallipoli campaign this year, a report said Friday.

In a surprise move, Erdogan has sent invitation letters to more than 100 leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and the Armenian president, to participate in the Gallipoli centenary on April 23-24, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.

The Gallipoli campaign was one of the most famous battles of World War I when Ottoman troops resisted an invading Allied Force seeking control of the Gallipoli peninsula on the Dardanelles strait.

The war was also where the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, made his name as a heroic military leader.

“We fought as a kind together. That’s why we have invited Sarkisian,” a government official told Hurriyet, referring to the presence of Armenian minorities alongside Turks and other peoples in the Ottoman army.

But ceremonies coincide exactly with the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in the World War I at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

Armenians and the Armenian diaspora, who plan to mark the anniversary on April 24, want the killings to be recognized as genocide -- something Turkey has vehemently rejected.

Were Sarkisian to accept Erdogan’s invitation, his presence at Gallipoli would mean he would likely be outside of Armenia for the commemorations for the tragedy.

Britain, Australia and New Zealand want a flamboyant ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.

The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand, as well as Britain’s Prince Charles, with his sons, are expected to take part in the ceremony due to attract 8,500 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders, the newspaper said.

Last year Erdogan, then premier, offered an unprecedented expression of condolence for the massacres of Armenians.

But this did little to satisfy Armenians, who want the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million people recognized as genocide.

But this month, Erdogan said he would “actively” challenge a campaign to pressure Turkey to recognize genocide.

A latest survey showed that only 9.1 percent of those questioned believe Ankara should apologize for the deaths during Ottoman rule in 1915 and describe them as genocide.