Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered condolences on Wednesday to the grandchildren of Armenians murdered by Ottoman troops in the course of World War One.
In a statement issued a day before the 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Erdogan unexpectedly described the events of 1915 as "inhumane", using more conciliatory language than that used in the past by Turkish leaders.
A Turkish government official said it was the first time a Turkish prime minister had offered such explicit condolences.
The statement comes in a period of intense pressure on Ankara, and is seen as “an effort to preempt international recognition of the Armenian Genocide on the threshold of the centennial,” according to Armenian Weekly.
Armenian Weekly accused Erdogan of “employing euphemisms and the age-old 'everyone suffered' denialist refrain.”
“It is indisputable that the last years of the Ottoman Empire were a difficult period, full of suffering for Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Armenian and millions of other Ottoman citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin,” wrote Erdogan.
“Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the First World War,” he added. “Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences – such as relocation – during the First World War, should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes among towards one another.”
Erdogan called for the establishment of a joint historical commission in order to study the events of 1915 in a scholarly manner. “Scholarly research to be carried out by Turkish, Armenian and international historians would play a significant role in shedding light on the events of 1915 and an accurate understanding of history,” he predicted.
“And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.
“Regardless of their ethnic or religious origins, we pay tribute, with compassion and respect, to all Ottoman citizens who lost their lives in the same period and under similar conditions.”