Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office is taking action to tamp down a political brushfire. A statement issued on April 16 insisted that an Armenian-Turkish aide to the prime minister was not fired for making public comments calling for Ankara’s recognition of the 1915 mass deaths of Armenians as genocide. Instead, the aide had already retired, and thus made the comments as a private citizen, the prime minister’s office announced.
Etyen Mahcupyan, who became a top advisor to Davutoglu in October 2014, stirred controversy when he lauded comments made by Pope Francis I, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who on April 12 described the 1915 tragedy as the “first genocide of the 20th century.” Armenians around the world will mark the centennial of the tragedy on April 24.
Following the pope’s remarks, Mahcupyan was quoted as saying by the Karar.com news website, “If one accepts that what happened [in recent decades] in Bosnia and Africa were genocides, it is impossible not to call what happened to Armenians in 1915 genocide, too.”
Mahcupyan’s comments created a PR challenge for the Turkish government, which maintains the 1915 tragedy does not meet the legal criteria for classification as genocide. The official Turkish stance insists the mass deaths were a tragedy of war. With the approach of the centennial of the 1915 events, Turkey has faced mounting pressure to change its position and recognize the mass deaths as genocide.
“The 1915 events took place during World War I when a portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire sided with the invading Russians and revolted against the empire,” said the April 16 statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office and distributed by the official Anadolu news agency. “The Ottoman Empire relocated Armenians in eastern Anatolia following the revolts and there were Armenian casualties during the process.”
Some media outlets reported that Mahcupyan had been sacked for going “off message.” In an attempt to escape the potentially embarrassing situation, Davutoglu’s office appeared to retroactively retire Mahcupyan.
“Mahcupyan has been retired since March 9 because of old age,” said the government’s April 16 statement, citing unnamed sources. “However, Davutoglu ‘could and would still benefit from his opinions as a valued intellectual.’”
The statement went on to quote Turkey's EU Minister Volkan Bozkir as urging Mahcupyan to publically recant. “Such opinions are not befitting for a Turkish citizen. Perhaps he will have the opportunity to review his words," Bozkir was quoted as saying.