ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday offered an unprecedented, conciliatory message to Armenians on the eve of the anniversary of the massacre of Armenians almost a century ago.
Erdogan called the events of World War I "our shared pain" and acknowledged that the deportation of Armenians in 1915 had "inhumane consequences."
Erdogan released a statement in Turkish, Armenian and seven other languages, expressing hope that those killed are in peace and offering Turkey's condolences to their descendants. The message came a day before Armenians mark the 99th anniversary of the killings in 1915 by Ottoman Turks.
The episode is considered by many historians as the first genocide of the 20th century. They estimate that about 1.5 million Armenians died. Turkey rejects the term genocide, saying those figures are inflated and there were deaths on both sides as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Erdogan, in his message, acknowledged that the deportations had dire consequences, but did not use the term "genocide." He said millions of people "of all religions and ethnicities" lost their lives during the war.
"The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain," Erdogan's message read.
The Armenian National Committee of America dismissed Erdogan's statement as "simply 99 years of genocide denial repackaged."
"Mr. Erdogan's statement ... is a patently transparent attempt to mute international condemnation and calls for justice for the centrally planned and systematically executed campaign of murder and deportation," the group said.
Erdogan said the events should not prevent "Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes toward one another."
"Using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible," Erdogan said.
Erdogan also renewed a Turkish proposal for a joint study of the events involving scholars from both nations.