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MP: Estonia should prioritize Turkish relations over recognizing Armenian genocide

MP Marko Mihkelson (Reform).
MP Marko Mihkelson (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Estonia does not need to start weakening relations with Turkey by recognizing the Armenian genocide, Chairman of the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said on Tuesday, in response to a proposal by the foreign minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200).

During an official visit to Yerevan last week, Tsahkna released a statement saying Estonia would work towards recognizing the 1915 genocide.

Tsahkna told ERR on Wednesday his proposal is nothing new and was first put forward by President Arnold Rüütel in 2004. Estonia's allies, such as the USA, Sweden, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania, have also recognized the event as genocide, he added.

The issue must now be discussed in the Riigikogu and the ball is in its court, the minister said.

"And I know that there are such discussions. This is nothing urgent, but it is more of a question of values that goes along with our own broader concept of the rule of law, genocide, all the international crimes against humanity that we have been very clear about and that Russia is also carrying out today in relation to Ukraine. I have stated my position, and it is now up to the Riiigkogu to debate the matter," Tsahkna said.

Margus Tsahkna at the Armenian Genocide Memorial on December 13, 2023. Source: Välisministeerium

Mihkelson: Issue should have been discussed with Riigikogu first

Mihkelson said Tsahkna's proposal was a "surprise" and the topic is not being discussed in the Riigikogu.

"We all read about it in the minister's social media post. The foreign minister apparently missed the little nuance that if we are seeking the widest possible support in the Riigikogu on this issue, it is better to engage with our partners and colleagues through the Parliament and see what the willingness is on the ground to get broad support for such a bill before announcing it on social media," the MP said.

"Communicating with representatives of various factions, I do not see that this is a topical issue at the moment and that such a bill be processed will by the Riigikogu," he added.

Mihkelson did not rule out putting forward a draft on the matter in the future, but said politics is always in the background. At the moment he believes prioritising relations with Turkey is more important.

"We understand perfectly well what has happened in history, and Estonia's foreign policy is, after all, more broadly set to stand up for these values, so that no crime against humanity goes unpunished or is repeated. But at this point in time, with a very turbulent world, and with the news coming out of Ukraine rather more worrying than it was six months ago, and with a number of serious problems to be solved in keeping the allied space together, any additional tension between the allies, not least because of our own actions, is certainly not in Estonia's security interests," said Mihkelson.

Riigikogu. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"What is important for Estonia in international foreign policy at the moment is precisely the issues of ensuring security and strengthening the alliance space, not weakening it. This is a clear priority in our foreign policy, this is my personal view," he added.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicates with Turkey

Mihkelson indicated that Turkey had a very clear and critical reaction to Tsahkna's statement.

"Estonia has concluded a very substantial defense cooperation agreement with Turkey for armored vehicles. Turkey is a very important ally in NATO. We have, of course, also conveyed these messages to our Turkish counterparts through direct contacts and diplomatic channels," he said.

Tsahkna said Turkish officials have asked what Estonia's plans are.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told ERR the Estonian ambassador in Ankara has explained Estonia's positions. There has also been communication with the Turkish ambassador in Tallinn.

Turkish and Estonian flags. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

"In our discussions, we stressed the importance of bilateral relations and a continued strong alliance with Turkey. Estonia does not attribute the Armenian genocide to any of today's countries. We believe that speaking openly about what happened in history will contribute to the development of democratic societies and also prevent the recurrence of these crimes," the ministry said.

The Armenian genocide took place in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire systematically destroyed and deported Armenians, causing the death of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. 

The Armenian National Institute said 32 countries have recognized the killing of Armenians as genocide. However, Turkey does not believe the claim and some countries have allegedly not recognized the genocide to keep up good relations.

Last year, representatives of the Association of Estonian National Minorities called on the Riigikogu to recognize the Armenian genocide

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Editor: Helen Wright

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