Turkey's Minister for European Affairs and chief European Union negotiator Egemen Bağış on Saturday said if claims that the 1915 deportation of Anatolian Armenians constituted "genocide" could be historically and scientifically substantiated, Turkey would apologize for it.
As a guest on "Talk to Al Jazeera," one of the most popular programs on the Al Jazeera English-language news station, Bağış responded to extensive questions regarding whether the Turkish government would recognize the 1915 incidents as "genocide."
Bağış said: "If it is recognized as a reality approved both historically and scientifically, moreover, unanimously, then why not?" He noted that every nation has dark moments in its history, asking, "Would you be able to name a nation without any dark chapters or pains in its past?"
He also noted that to prove if the incident amounted to "genocide" or not, first the disputed issue needs to be examined objectively. However, he said the Armenian government was not brave enough to confront its own history, as it refuses to disclose its historical archives.
Recalling the Armenian government's rejection of a Turkish proposal to publicly discuss the archived documents from both sides and document every historian's discussion about the events and also their research, Bağış said, "Unfortunately, the Armenian government lacks the courage to accept this suggestion."
Referring to a bill adopted recently by the French Senate that makes it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 in Anatolia amounted to genocide, Bağış said the bill was "null and void" for Turkey.
Armenia claims the 1915 deportation of Armenians by the Ottomans was a genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed and says the incident was an act of ethnic cleansing, wanting it to be internationally recognized as genocide. Turkey, which sees the allegations of genocide as a threat to its national honor, meanwhile, says the killings were not intentionally perpetrated to eradicate a particular ethnicity but were the result of the wartime conditions during World War I. Turkey also notes that both Muslim and non-Muslims died during the event.
MHP Set to Block DTK at Charter Commission
The Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, an umbrella group of Kurdish organizations, could become the first group snubbed by Parliament's constitution-making panel unless it can overcome an objection from nationalist lawmakers.
Members of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, have continued to object to hearing the charter proposals of the DTK, which was originally scheduled to make its presentation Jan. 23. The final decision will be made tomorrow.
The first meeting scheduled between the DTK and the Constitution Conciliation Commission was postponed after Ahmet İyikaya from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and Oktay Öztürk from the MHP were unable to attend. The meeting was then scheduled to take place Jan. 30.
"They were going to listen to us last week, but they rescheduled it because not all members were able to attend. We never heard from them again. Our friends will raise the issue at the commission's next meeting," DTK Co-Chair and Parliamentary Deputy Ahmet Türk told the Hürriyet Daily News.
According to information obtained by the Daily News, the meeting was never rescheduled due to objections from the MHP.
"Inviting the DTK to meet with us is against the commission's principles. The commission can only invite legal institutions. The DTK is not built on a legal foundation. It is simply a platform," the party said.
"The commission has members from the BDP [Peace and Democracy Party], who can express [the Kurdish community's] views," Öztürk told the Daily News. "What can Ahmet Türk say that is different from the BDP?"
Members of the MHP told the Daily News that they were unwilling to back down on their stance against the DTK.
Commission regulations dictate that a unanimous agreement must be reached for a decision to be made. The issue will, therefore, be brought to the commission's agenda tomorrow at the meeting led by Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek.
Members from the BDP said the commission must listen to all views before drafting the new constitution and that meetings had previously been held with "platform-type" organizations.
Atilla Kart from the Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the Daily News that the commission "needs to listen to all views without any restrictions."
Meanwhile, the commission will also discuss tomorrow the removal of the Web site containing the views submitted by various organizations. The MHP had suggested the site be taken down, but the CHP has objected to the decision.
"That issue was misunderstood. It is not right to completely shut it down," CHP Deputy Rıza Türmen told the Daily News.
Turkey Investigates Army's 2007 'E-Coup'
A Turkish prosecutor has launched an investigation into an ultimatum the armed forces gave to the moderate Islamic government almost five years ago, newspapers reported Thursday.
A specially authorized prosecutor in Ankara acted on various complaints about the statement penned by then Chief-of-Staff General Yasar Buyukanit, now 71, the Hurriyet Daily News and Radikal reported.
At midnight on April 27, 2007 the military -- which considers itself the guardian of secularism in modern-day Turkey -- issued an online memorandum that was seen as openly interfering in politics.
The statement, sometimes dubbed the "e-memorandum" or "e-coup," said the armed forces were following with concern a debate about secularism in the midst of an election campaign to nominate the next president.
The statement, issued at a tense political time, threatened to intervene to protect the secular camp being denounced in demonstrations by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
At the time, Parliament, in a vote boycotted by the opposition elected foreign minister Abdullah Gül, an AKP member, as president. Shortly after, a referendum ratified a constitutional amendment championed by the AKP for the head of state to be elected by popular vote.
Buyukanit, who has admitted writing the memorandum, and key commanders who were serving at the time, could soon be summoned to court, the reports said.
The case will be handled by the same prosecutor who recently charged the chief of the junta that seized power in a 1980 coup, the Hurriyet Daily News reported. Two retired generals, Kenan Evren and Tahsin Sahinkaya, are set to appear before an Ankara court on April 4 on charges of crimes against the state, which is punishable by life imprisonment.
Evren came to power after the coup and was Turkey's seventh president from 1982 to 1989. Five army generals took power in 1980, but Evren and Sahinkaya are the only ones who are alive today.
The two will be the first coup leaders to face trial in Turkey, where the army was once untouchable and toppled four governments since 1960.
The military's powers have been sharply reduced in recent years by reforms implemented by the AKP. Dozens of officers are now in jail, charged in various alleged plots against the government that has been in power since 2002.
Ilker Basbug, who was army chief from 2008 to 2010, has also been arrested for an alleged bid to topple the government. He is the most senior officer implicated in an investigation into the so-called Ergenekon network of dozens of active and retired military officers, academics, journalists and lawyers.
Turkey Eyes Solution as Iran Insists on 'Unfair Gas Price'
A recent decision to take Iran to international arbitrary is proof that Turkey is trying its best to remain at the bargaining table and negotiate an impasse over the price of gas it buys from the Islamic Republic -- which it finds "unfairly high" -- while the latter is still adamant on keeping the rates unchanged, experts say.
Of the natural gas that Turkey buys, Iran charges the most, and this is the main cause of rising tensions between the two countries. Turkey currently buys a cubic meter of Azeri gas for $330 and pays Russia $400 for the same amount. However, Iran sells its gas to Turkey for $505 for each cubic meter, which increases Turkey's natural gas bill by an extra $800 million annually. The price of a cubic meter of natural gas is sold for $400 in international markets.
Turkey wants Iran to bring the price down to international levels. A similar situation arose between Turkey and Russia in the past; it ended when Turkey traded an agreement allowing the Russian South Stream pipeline to pass through Turkish territorial waters for a price discount. As a result, the price Turkey pays to Russia was reduced to $400.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, World Energy Council's Turkish Member Committee board member Oğuz Türkyılmaz said on Sunday:
"Both parties have shown their trump cards yet continue to stay at the bargaining table, and they will reconcile over the price sooner or later. The arbitration may take up to four or five years, and it is not rational for Iran to scuffle with Turkey, who will be its only Western trade partner when the US and European sanctions against Iran take full effect."
Türkyılmaz suggested both countries should conduct barter trade in the future, where Turkey can supply Iran with goods that are being embargoed by Western countries and, in return, Turkey can receive natural gas. He believes it is a solution that can benefit and satisfy both countries, since it will help Iran to cope with sanctions and help heal Turkey's current account deficit, or CAD. He also added the idea of purchasing gas from, for example, Russia is not a solution since the pipelines are already operating at full capacity, and they would not able to supply the eastern region of the country due to the lack of the necessary infrastructure.
Necdet Pamir, an energy policy expert and also a World Energy Council Turkish National Committee board member, underlined that Turkey has every right to take the issue to arbitration and has a high chance of being proven right. He said Iran will not step back and lower prices in order to protect its image, but since Iranian politicians always benefit from good relations in its domestic politics with Turkey -- who has not joined the West to impose an embargo on Iran -- barter is a great option for both sides.
"Barter will provide an advantage to Turkey since the current trade volume between the two countries is $11 billion, in which Turkey exports $3 billion while Iran exports $8 billion," Pamir said.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials noted that the discount on natural gas is bound to legal limitations, which will be presented during arbitration. Although it has not been specified where Turkey is seeking arbitration, the International Chamber of Commerce in Switzerland, which awarded Turkey $800 million in compensation in 2009 in a previous dispute with Iran, is the most likely place where the arbitration will be held.
Turkey decided at the end of January to take its dispute with Iran to international arbitration. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said the price Iran offers is way above international market prices. He said Iran's refusal to lower the price -- the country is Turkey's second largest supplier after Russia -- made it inevitable for Turkey to bring the issue to arbitration.
Besides high prices, the "take or pay" condition in the natural gas contract between Turkey and Iran also brings a challenge to the bargaining process. The condition requires Turkey to import a predetermined amount of natural gas annually, meaning Turkey has to pay Iran a specific amount of money whether it needs that much gas or not.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Rules Out Military Intervention in Syria
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has ruled out any Turkish military involvement in Syria to stop THE government's violent crackdown on pro-democracy protestors.
"We will do anything that is necessary. Certain quarters are hopeful for a foreign intervention and the Syrian leadership is deceiving its people with such a prospect. But no, military intervention is not an option for Turkey," Arinc said in a televised interview on a local channel in Turkey's northwestern province of Bursa.
Arinc said resolutions of the United Nations and the Arab League on Syria should be enforced. However, he added, a UN resolution that calls Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down had been vetoed by China and Russia.
"You might say that Russia and China are not Muslim countries and that they do not care about what happens in Syria. But how about Iran or Lebanon? What kind of a Muslim solidarity is this? What does it say about you if you remain silent against deaths of innocent people in Syria?" Arinc said.
Arinc said nearly 340 people were killed and 1,500 others injured in the latest attack by the Syrian army in Homs, which he said could be considered one of the biggest massacres of the century.
"Assad and his army are responsible for this. It is very clear. Turkey has shown that it would always stand by those people who are oppressed," Arinc said.
Turkey Would Consider Assad Family Asylum, Report Indicates
Turkey would consider giving asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's family if such a request is made, President Abdullah Gül was quoted as saying by the daily Radikal on Thursday.
"There is no such thing right now," said Gül, when asked about Turkey's answer to a possible asylum request from Assad's family. "It would of course be considered if such a request were made."
Syria's lethal response to protests that erupted in mid-March has left more than 5,400 people dead since mid-March, according to figures from the United Nations.
The ongoing violence has fed increasing international anger at the regime in Damascus and Turkey, together with the Arab League, spearheaded regional condemnation of the Syrian leadership.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also urged his one-time friend Assad to quit.
Turkey's Doors Open to 'All Fleeing Syrians'
Reacting to the Russian and Chinese veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution to stop killings of civilians by Syrian security sources, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey's doors are "open to all Syrians who want to flee from oppression."
"We are ready to host them at our homes if necessary" Davutoğlu added, as a part of a new stage to step up pressure on the Bashar al-Assad regime.
The move is interesting, as Turkey has announced that there could be only two conditions for Turkish involvement into military action into the Syrian situation: a United Nations Security Council decision based on humanitarian reasoning and a massive flood of refugees to Turkey.
Yet the Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a written statement on Sunday categorically denying media reports that Turkey and the United States have agreed on a military action plan on Syria in Saturday's meeting in Munich between Davutoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Davutoğlu made no comment on U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman's statement that his country might consider to provide weapons to a "Free Syrian Army" consisting of defectors from the Syrian army, as the military wing of the Istanbul based Syrian National Council.
With this move of welcoming Syrian regime opponents in need, Turkey wants to trigger a new balance as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has planned contacts in Damascus to convince Assad to stop violence against his own people.
"We don't want to lose our hopes and we don't want to let the Syrian people down" Davutoğlu said. "But Lavrov should have done this months ago."
Turkey Lashes Out at Syria over Massacre
Turkey strongly condemned Syria for mass killings of dissidents in Homs in southern Syria late Friday and described its rulers as "illegitimate" while strongly criticizing Russia and China for vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution against Damascus.
"We wish that this mistake would be corrected as soon as possible and the international community as a whole would stand with the Syrian people and be on the right side of history at these challenges being faced in Syria," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement released Saturday. "It is extremely difficult to comprehend why this constructive resolution, which was co-sponsored also by Turkey and contained no more than the general support to the efforts of the Arab League, has been rejected."
Turkey strongly condemned the killings that it called a "massacre" and said: "The shelling by a country's official security forces of its own cities constitutes the most concrete indication that the government of that country has totally lost its legitimacy to rule. We condemn in the strongest possible terms and reprobate this massacre."
The statement called on the international community to shoulder the responsibility.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç called on Iran, Lebanon and Iraq on Sunday to raise their voices against violence in Syria or "remove 'Islam' from their country's name," speaking to journalists in Turkey's western province of Bursa.
"I want to learn how Iran and Lebanon react to this incident [of violence]. Does Iraq feel sorrow? I want to hear that. If they do not raise their voices, then they have to remove the word 'Islam' from their names," said Arınç, adding that the Syrian government should be isolated from the international community, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Arınç said Turkey cannot remain silent to what is happening in Syria. He said the crackdown on civilians seemed to continue and Turkey would do its share about the issue. Arınç also said the only hope for the Syrian people is Turkey and the Turkish people.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ called on the Syrian government to step down, speaking to journalists in Holland. Bozdağ said there was a need for a restructuring in Syria, according to people's demands. Separately, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Sunday that Turkey and Arab League should assume a central role in establishment of a contact group in overcoming Syria crisis.
Turkish, Arab Officials Favor Diplomatic Measures to Solve Iran Crisis
In the wake of suggestions that military strikes are an increasing possibility if sanctions fail to rein in Iran's nuclear program, Qatar's Minister for International Cooperation Khaled al-Attiyah told a gathering of the world's top security and defense officials that Arab nations rejected the idea.
"Knowing the region very well, I think this is not a solution," Attiyah said at the Munich Security Conference. He also dismissed the idea of tightening sanctions further, saying that negotiations with Iran were needed "to get out of this dilemma."
So far, the West is relying primarily on the threat of economic sanctions to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. Washington and its allies fear Iran could use its uranium enrichment labs -- which make nuclear fuel -- to eventually produce weapons-grade material. Tehran insists it only seeks reactors for energy and medical research.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the international community was discussing three approaches toward Tehran at the moment: negotiations, sanctions or military action.
"From our perspective, the worst is the military option, the best is negotiations," he said, adding that further sanctions could hinder negotiations. "The military option will create a disaster in our region."
Davutoğlu Meets with Counterparts
Davutoğlu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the security conference. The meeting between the two diplomats lasted for nearly 20 minutes.
The Turkish foreign minister also held talks with Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga, Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Sakari Tuomioja, Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Romania's Foreign Minister Cristian Diaconescu and Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.
During Davutoglu's meeting with Tuomioja, Turkey's European Union accession bid, developments in Arab Spring countries and the French Armenian genocide denial law were discussed. In his talks with Bildt, the two diplomats also covered Turkey's EU accession as well as developments in Syria and Iran's nuclear program.
Davutoğlu strongly criticized Russia and China on Sunday for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria. Turkey's foreign minister has said Turks and Arabs will pay the price for these nay votes.
During the conference, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called Turkey a model for Arab countries that continues to support the voices of Arab peoples, the Anatolia news agency reported on Sunday.
Saakashvili, during his address at the 48th Munich Security Conference, said, "Turkey is a model for Arab countries and supports the people of these countries."
There are several important joint projects, such as the construction of several dams, between Turkey and Georgia, said Saakashvili, a surprise guest at the conference, an annual gathering of security officials. Georgia and Turkey share a border.