ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — On the eve of the day marking the centenary of the Ottoman massacres of Armenians, Turkey's president said Thursday his nation's ancestors never committed genocide.
Addressing a meeting billed as an international peace summit Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan also accused the international community of indifference toward refugees and wanting migrants to drown at sea.
Britain's Prince Charles and the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand were among dignitaries attending the event, which was part of a series of ceremonies marking the centenary of the World War I Gallipoli campaign. Hundreds of Erdogan's supporters also attended, boisterously cheering and applauding his words and giving the event the feel of a campaign rally six weeks before Turkey's elections.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as genocide.
Turkey, however, has insisted that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide.
Turkey has lobbied fiercely to prevent countries from recognizing the massacres as genocide. It recalled its ambassador to the Vatican after Pope Francis used the term and its ambassador to Austria after lawmakers in Vienna did so too.
"The Armenian claims on the 1915 events, and especially the numbers put forward, are all baseless and groundless," Erdogan said. "I say, we're ready to open our military archives. We have no fear, no worries on this subject. Our ancestors did not persecute."
President Barack Obama pledged solidarity with Armenians but stopped short of calling what happened to them 100 years ago "genocide."
"On this solemn centennial, we stand with the Armenian people in remembering that which was lost," he said. "We pledge that those who suffered will not be forgotten. "
Erdogan's comments came as European Union leaders convened in Brussels for an emergency summit after hundreds of migrants drowned in the Mediterranean in the space of a few days. Discussion included laying the ground for military action against traffickers.
"As you know, those who flee on boats in the Mediterranean, the Aegean — they drown in those seas. And what does (the international community) say? 'Let them drown. Let them die,' Erdogan said.
Erdogan added: "Aren't they human beings? Where's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?"