PHOTO: Armenian Orphans, 1915

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has extended condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians killed in 1915 by Ottoman forces.

Erdoğan’s office issued the unexpected statement, in nine languages, ahead of today’s commemoration of the events. Armenians commemorate the events they describe as genocide under Ottoman rule:

It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. 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….

The 24th of April carries a particular significance for our Armenian citizens and for all Armenians around the world, and provides a valuable opportunity to share opinions freely on a historical matter.

Between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have died as they were expelled from their homes.

Ankara has denied any genocide, claiming that both Turks and Armenians were killed when Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire during World War as the Russian army moved into eastern Anatolia. Wednesday’s statement, referring to “shared pain”, echoed this claim, “It is a duty of humanity to acknowledge that Armenians remember the suffering experienced in that period, just like every other citizen of the Ottoman Empire.”

The statement said Turkey was pursuing a joint historical commission to study the events “in a scholarly manner” and concluded with a call for reconciliation:

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

In today’s world, deriving enmity from history and creating new antagonisms are neither acceptable nor useful for building a common future..

The spirit of the age necessitates dialogue despite differences, understanding by heeding others, evaluating means for compromise, denouncing hatred, and praising respect and tolerance.