TIME Turkey

Turkish Voters Have Punished the Ruling Party for Bullying Minorities

A family and children, supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir in Turkey on June 7, 2015.
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images A family and children, supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) celebrate the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on June 7, 2015.

Kaya Genç is a novelist and essayist based in Istanbul.

The Justice and Development Party failed to get a majority because it alienated people with its attacks on LGBT people, Kurds and Communists

We have now exited the era of political certainty in Turkey: Sunday’s general elections herald a new, exciting era of reorganization, in which everything will need to change so everything can stay the same.

Over the last three months, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has pitched an undercooked, little-understood presidential system that would give him more political authority and the right to usurp his prime minister’s executive powers. Erdoğan’s project fell on deaf ears: Choosing the presidential system dream as its central campaign offering turned out to be a grave mistake for the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which ended up not even earning a simple majority in the Turkish parliament.

With its 40.8% of the vote and 258 elected MPs AKP’s vote fell embarrassingly short of forming a government, which requires 276. Over the past 13 years, the AKP was so accustomed to winning elections that its defeat didn’t feel real for many: AK Party’s vote fell from 21.4 million in 2011 to a jaw-dropping 18.7 million.

A new political system for Turkey is now off the table. People still support the conservatives (of which the AKP is the leading party), but the discourse of the one-man rule and leader cult has lost spectacularly. The elections will most probably lead to a period of soul-searching in Erdoğan’s party during its congress this September. Its current leader, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who turned out to be a disappointment in terms of inspiring its electorate, can be sidelined in the party. Turkey’s conservative voters did not identify with Davutoğlu, a professor of international relations, the same way they did with Erdoğan, the self-made politician and orator from İstanbul’s Kasımpaşa neighborhood. Davutoğlu lacks the personal history of Erdoğan (a lad from a poor neighborhood who was imprisoned for reading a poem before forming Turkey’s arguably most ambitious political machine) and his tireless guardianship of the AKP’s time in power did not exactly excite the electorate.

Enter Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of the left-wing HDP which has transformed Turkey’s political scene beyond return. With its 13% vote and 80 MPs in parliament, HDP has the same political wind behind it as the liberal ANAP in 1980 and the AKP in the early 2000s. HDP’s political discourse is such a breath of fresh air that it stole hundreds of thousands of votes from AKP voters. It’s a coalition of underprivileged social segments that people can easily identify with; its leader has a story, passion and guts. Thirty two of HDP’s legislators are women, thanks to which we will now have 90 female members of parliament, the highest in Turkey’s history. Another piece of good news: For the first time in 54 years, Turkey has elected three Armenian citizens to parliament.

The main opposition party, the CHP, regained its vote with 25% while the nationalist MHP surged to 16.3% from 13% in 2011, an increase of almost two million votes, which was the most interesting (and for some, worrying) development of the elections. The leader of the MHP quickly announced his lack of interest in forming a coalition with either the CHP, the HDP or the AKP.

Now, it’s not clear what will happen next. The HDP built its election campaign on fighting against Erdoğan’s presidential system, but it can potentially work with the AKP if the party choses to return to its reformist, conciliatory roots. Meanwhile a coalition between two biggest parties, AK Party and CHP is a possibility, albeit a somewhat distant one. The common feature of all those options will be a strong distaste for the presidential system.

The most likely outcome of Sunday’s political drama will be early elections in six months. The electorate’s strongest message is that they dislike the kind of aggressive political tone right-wing media and politicians have used this spring to criminalize and victimize minorities.

Turks never forgave their country’s establishment for putting Erdoğan behind bars in 1999. In Sunday’s elections they showed a similar disdain for powerful figures looking down on people because of their sexuality, ethnicity or political beliefs. One jingoistic newspaper had portrayed an HDP candidate as a “homo supporting gay marriage” in an effort to warn “religious Kurds” about this dangerous man; another paper ran a headline about Demirtas “eating bacon in Germany” as proof of his ugly character .

This discourse proved to be a failure, alienating Kurdish voters of the AKP and not winning the hearts of Turkish nationalists who now more passionately support the MHP. The AKP did not employ such tricks or political discourse in its first successful years and in the New Turkey of 2015, people don’t want to see victimization anymore and any macho, jingoistic discourse or party line that victimize others seems set to lose in this new, yet unexplored land of opportunities.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Turkey

Erdogan’s Party Likely to Struggle Forming New Government

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of AK Party speaks to the media as his daughter Sumeyye Erdogan casts her ballot in the background at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Istanbul, Turkey, June 7, 2015.
Murad Sezer—Reuters Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media as his daughter Sumeyye Erdogan casts her ballot in the background at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Istanbul on June 7, 2015

All three opposition parties have come out against a coalition with the AKP

(ANKARA, TURKEY) — Turkey’s ruling party was left Monday with few options to form a new government, after it was stripped of its parliamentary majority and opposition parties ruled out joining it in a coalition pact.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party won about 41 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election and was projected to take 258 seats — 18 below the minimum required to rule alone.

The result was a stunning rebuke to Erdogan’s ambitions to expand his powers in a new presidential system.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was scheduled to convene his cabinet and party executives Monday to discuss the party’s options as its 13-year single party rule came to an end.

The result also puts Erdogan’s hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have boosted his powers on hold. He is likely to see his pre-eminent position in Turkish politics erode without the ability to steer the government through his party.

All three opposition parties have come out against a coalition with the AKP after Erdogan led a fierce and confrontational campaign in favor of the party, brushing aside his constitutional neutrality.

Turkey has 45 days in which to form a new government after final official results are confirmed.

The pro-Kurdish HDP party, which dealt the AKP its biggest setback by clearing for the first time a 10-percent threshold for representation as a party in the parliament, slammed the door shut to a formal coalition or an informal pact in which it would provide a minority AKP government outside backing in parliament.

“We have promised our people that we would not form an internal or external coalition with the AKP,” the party’s leader, Selahattin Demirtas said. “We are clear on that.”

Turkey’s main opposition party, CHP, suggested it should be given the task of forming a government.

The nationalist MHP party sounded disinclined to work with the ruling party, and suggested that Turkey could hold early general elections.

“Nobody has the right to sentence Turkey to an AKP minority government. Whenever there can be early elections, let them take place,” MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said early Monday.

The Turkish currency on Monday dropped to a record low against the dollar over the political uncertainty, trading at 2.8 lira against the dollar.

TIME Turkey

Turkish Ruling Party in Shock Loss of Parliamentary Majority

Turkey Elections
Emrah Gurel—AP Supporters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party celebrate over the election results in Istanbul on June 7, 2015.

The main Kurdish party was running at about 12%, just above the minimum threshold for representation

(ANKARA, Turkey) — In a stunning rebuke of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions to expand his powers, Turkish voters stripped his party of its simple majority in parliament, preliminary election results showed Sunday.

With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, had the support of around 41 percent of voters, state-run TRT television said. According to projections, that would give it some 258 seats — 18 below the minimum needed to keep its majority.

The unexpected setback for AKP likely puts an end, for the time being, to Erdogan’s hopes of passing constitutional changes that would have greatly boosted the powers of his office. Instead, he faces struggles to retain his pre-eminent place in Turkish politics without the obvious levers to steer the government through his party in parliament.

The result is also a bitter blow to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose political prospects are uncertain after leading his party to such a disappointing result. AKP will now have to seek a coalition partner to stay in power, with the nationalist MHP the most likely candidate.

Late Sunday, Davutoglu declared victory in the election, but didn’t acknowledge his party had lost its majority.

“Everyone should see that the AKP was the victorious party and the winner of this election. There is no doubt about that,” he said. “We will assess the messages of this election and continue on our path in a more determined way.”

In an indication of how precipitously Erdogan’s fortunes have fallen, he had begun the campaign asking voters for 400 of the total 550 seats in the Grand National Assembly, a massive majority well above the 330 seats needed to call for a national referendum to change the constitution.

The biggest setback for AKP came with the rise of the main pro-Kurdish party, HDP, which for the first time easily cleared the threshold of ten percent for representation as a party in the parliament. The preliminary results put its tally at almost 13 percent.

The main secular opposition Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, got about 25 percent of the vote, while MHP got just above 16 percent.

AKP received around 49 percent of the vote in the general elections in 2011. The setback Sunday was the first time that the party faced having to find a coalition partner since it swept into power in 2002.

Erdogan himself was not on the ballot. Still, the election was effectively a vote on whether to endow his office with powers that would significantly change Turkey’s democracy and prolong his reign as the country’s most powerful politician.

“Erdogan turned the election into a referendum on his personal ambitions,” said Fadi Hakura, a Turkey specialist at London-based Chatham House. “These elections have put his plans on the back burner for a very long time.”

The party appeared to suffer from a sputtering economy and frustrations with the peace process to end decades of fighting with Kurdish insurgents.

HDP’s apparent leap above the 10 percent threshold would vault it into a significant position in parliament.

It seemed to have made considerable gains in southeast Turkey, suggesting that religious Kurds had turned away from AKP in favor of HDP. AKP also appeared to have lost votes in Sanliurfa and Gaziantep where there are large numbers of Syrian refugees.

The vote came amid high tensions after bombings Friday during a HDP rally killed 2 people and wounded scores. On Sunday, Davutoglu said a suspect had been detained in the case, but provided no other details.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas called his party’s ability to cross the threshold a “fabulous victory for peace and freedoms” that came despite the attack on his party and fierce campaigning by Erdogan.

“As of now the discussions on a presidential system, a dictatorship has come to an end,” he said.

Erdogan has been Turkey’s dominant politician since his party swept into power in 2002 — becoming prime minister in 2003 and leading his party to two overwhelming parliamentary election victories. In a gamble last year, he decided to run for president, banking that his party could later bolster his powers.

Under the current constitution, Erdogan is meant to stay above the political fray as president. But he campaigned vociferously, drawing complaints from the opposition that he ignored the constitution.

“The true loser of this election is Erdogan,” said Haluk Koc, a deputy leader of the main opposition CHP party. “Turkey won.”

As he cast his vote Sunday, Erdogan praised the election as an indication of the strength of democracy in Turkey.

“This strong democracy will be confirmed with the will of our people and extend the trust we have in our future,” Erdogan said.

After the final official results are confirmed there is a 45-day period in which a new government needs to be formed, or new elections are called.


Butler reported from Istanbul.

TIME Turkey

What to Know About This Weekend’s Turkish Elections

A special forces police officer takes security measures as he stands on top of a building where the portraits of Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a Turkish flag are displayed in Istanbul on June 3, 2015.
Murad Sezer—Reuters A special forces police officer takes security measures as he stands on top of a building where the portraits of Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a Turkish flag are displayed in Istanbul on June 3, 2015.

The Justice and Development Party want Turks to give them a mandate to increase the power of the presidency

Turks head to the polls on June 7, as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) hope to achieve enough seats to implement a new constitution that would increase the powers of the Turkish president. Here’s what you need to know about the election in the important member state of NATO, which straddles the straits that separate Europe and Asia.

Who are the contenders?

The Islamist-rooted conservative AKP has governed for nearly thirteen years, winning successive elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011. The party is formally headed by Ahmet Davutoglu, who became prime minister last year, though it is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is widely believed to be running the show. Most polls give it just over 40% of the vote.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), a left leaning, secularist party, has finished a distant second in every election since 2002. It is headed by Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Most polls predict a performance in the mid to high 20s.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is a party of the nationalist right. Its leader for almost two decades is Devlet Bahceli. Most polls give it about 15-17%.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is a democratic socialist party which also represents Turkish minorities, particularly the Kurds who make up between 10 and 25% of the population. Most polls give it between 9-12%.

What’s at stake?

As part of its electoral manifesto, the AKP has promised Turks a new constitution that would transform the presidency into the seat of the executive. AKP members argue that the new system would make Turkey’s democracy run more smoothly. Critics fear it would give the president almost dictatorial powers.

The AKP would need to win 330 out of 550 parliamentary seats to push its constitutional project through parliament and take it to a popular referendum. The main opposition parties agree that Turkey needs a new constitution to replace the one handed down to it by an army junta three decades ago, but promise to block any attempt to strengthen the president’s hand.

What stands in the AKP’s way?

Among other things, this man.

Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic co-leader of the HDP, has presided over his party’s transformation from the vanguard of the Kurdish rights movement into a magnet for progressives, feminists, ethnic minorities, and LGBT groups. Demirtas, who also appears poised to attract a fair share of young voters disillusioned with the style and substance of Turkish politics, has pledged to frustrate the AKP. He may soon be in a position to do so. If the HDP enters parliament, it will receive at least 50 seats, most likely stripping the AKP of the three-fifths majority it needs to push through constitutional changes. Depending on the other parties’ performance, it may even force the AKP to look for a coalition partner.

And what stands in the HDP’s way?

The party has been seen as close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has waged war with Turkish security forces for the better part of the past 30 years at a cost of some 40,000 lives. Peace talks between the government and the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, delivered a ceasefire in 2013 but the group remains reviled by most Turks. Despite the PKK’s armed campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the U.S., the European Union and Turkey continue to list it as a terrorist group.

Any party has to get 10% of the vote before it gains any seats. This requirement was part an electoral law imposed by the military government that came to power in a 1980 coup. The threshold was designed, among other things, to prevent Kurdish and Islamist parties from entering parliament. In previous elections, Kurdish political groups sidestepped the 10% requirement by having their candidates run as independents who are not subject to the threshold. In this election, the HDP has decided to gamble and enter the fray as a single bloc. If it doesn’t get at least 10% of the vote it won’t get a single seat, which will further strengthen bigger parties such as the AKP.

The campaign
Erdogan is not running in these election because he is the sitting president but this has not stopped him playing a very active role. Technically, the constitution forbids the president from taking part in political campaigns but Erdogan has flouted the rule, using every opportunity afforded to him – the opening of a new hospital, a new municipality building, or a new airport – to drum up support for the AKP and its plans for a super-presidency. Demirtas, the HDP co-leader, recently mocked Erdogan by attending the grand opening of a bottle of soda.

The run-up to the election has been anything but amusing and occasionally violent. Desperate to shore up the conservative vote and to prevent the HDP from entering parliament, Erdogan and Davutoglu have turned up the religious and nationalist rhetoric. During a recent rally, the president accused foreign news outlets, homosexuals, and the Armenian lobby of backing the HDP and plotting against Turkey.

Election scenarios

The most likely scenario appears to be a narrow majority (at least 276 parliamentary seats) for the AKP, enough to form a government but not enough to proceed unilaterally with constitutional changes. A 330-seat majority, which would allow the AKP to push a new constitution through parliament and take it to a popular referendum, is considered less likely.

Another possibility, assuming the AKP fails to secure a simple majority in parliament, is a coalition government, the first one since 2002.

Correction: This article was amended June 5 to show that the HDP was perceived as front a for the PKK rather than being one and the electoral threshold was part of an electoral law not the constitution.


Arby’s Weird New Meat Ad Lasts Almost a Whole Day

Last year, Arby’s took weird advertising to a new level, airing two commercials consisting of nothing more than footage of meat getting smoked. Today, you can get those ads on DVD.

Yes, really.

Arby’s is handing out 500 free copies of the DVD set, featuring four discs of brisket and two of turkey, reports Mashable.

The success of last year’s ad campaign made the Smokehouse LTO sandwich a huge hit for the fast food chain.

The chain is promoting the giveaway with an avant-garde commercial parodying the type of infomercials that used to be oh-so-common for DVD box sets and other entertainment collections. The ad, seen below, is airing during Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block:

If for some reason you want to watch meat cook, you can get your own copy at freemeatdvds.com.


TIME Infectious Disease

Everything You Want to Know About the Bird Flu Outbreak

An egg-producing chicken farm run by Sunrise Farm is seen in Harris, Iowa on April 23, 2015. Iowa, the top U.S. egg-producing state, found a lethal strain of bird flu in millions of hens at an egg-laying facility on Monday, the worst case so far in a national outbreak that prompted Wisconsin to declare a state of emergency. The infected Iowa birds were being raised near the city of Harris by Sunrise Farms, an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods Company, the company said.
Joe Ahlquist—Reuters An egg-producing chicken farm run by Sunrise Farm is seen in Harris, Iowa on April 23, 2015. Iowa, the top U.S. egg-producing state, found a lethal strain of bird flu in millions of hens at an egg-laying facility on Monday, the worst case so far in a national outbreak that prompted Wisconsin to declare a state of emergency. The infected Iowa birds were being raised near the city of Harris by Sunrise Farms, an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods Company, the company said.

More than 30 million birds have been culled so far

The United States is dealing with a nasty bird flu outbreak.

Sixteen states have reported cases of highly pathogenic H5 avian flu among flocks of birds like turkeys and chickens as well as wild birds since last December, resulting in the culling of at least 30 million birds. Recently, the disease was confirmed in a flock of 1.7 million chickens in Nebraska. Other states have also been hit hard, like Iowa, where more than 24 million birds from 39 different sites have been affected. On Wednesday, TIME asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) a few questions regarding the recent outbreak.

How many strains of bird flu are circulating?
So far in this outbreak, the U.S. has seen highly pathogenic cases of H5N8 and H5N2 strains in domestic poultry. Those same strains as well as a H5N1 strain have been discovered in wild birds. According to the USDA, the H5N8 virus started in Asia and spread among wild bird migratory pathways in 2014, and has mixed with other bird flu strains in North America, which has resulted in what the USDA calls new “mixed origin” viruses. The H5N1 seen in North America is not the same virus that has been seen in Asia, Europe and Africa, which has caused human infections.

Are all these outbreaks connected?
Yes, the viruses are all linked. According to the USDA, since mid-December 2014, there have been several ongoing highly pathogenic avian influenza incidents along the Pacific, Central and Mississippi Flyways (routes used by migrating birds).

How does bird flu spread between states?
Among wild birds, outbreaks along flyways may explain some of the spread. But how it might be spreading from farms that are far away from one another is less understood at this time. The USDA says it’s currently conducting epidemiological investigations to understand how the virus is being introduced some of these other populations of birds. “Poultry operations have a very complex variety of inputs including air, feed, people, vehicles, birds, water and others,” the agency told TIME in an email. “Any of these might be the pathway of virus introduction on any single operation.”

Where does bird flu come from? Can someone be at fault?
As mentioned earlier, some of the viruses currently seen in the North American outbreaks originated in Asia and then spread to the U.S. and mixed with other viruses. It’s important to know there is a flu for birds just as there is for humans and, like people, some of these strains are worse or more severe than others. According to the USDA, native North American strains of bird flu occur naturally in wild birds and they can spread to domestic birds like poultry. Most often there are no signs a bird is infected. But in some cases, as with the current outbreak, the viruses are highly pathogenic. That means they kill chickens and turkeys quickly, and they spread fast. The USDA says there is no fault in an outbreak like this.

Why has this outbreak spread so much?
To date, the USDA says around 30 million birds have been culled (slaughtered) due to confirmed presence of the bird flu strains. Researchers are still conducting studies to learn how the virus is spreading to poultry operations, but the agency points out there have been other serious outbreaks in the past. For instance, in 1983 to 1984, 17 million chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl in Pennsylvania and Virginia were culled. In 2007, the presence of low pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza in West Virginia resulted in 25,600 poultry being culled. The high number of birds slaughtered during this outbreak is hard for farmers involved, but 30 million is still considered a small percentage of the overall U.S. poultry population. In 2014, according to the agency, the U.S. poultry industry produced 8.54 billion broilers, 99.8 billion eggs, and 238 million turkeys.

I can’t be infected, right?
Right. The virus strains involved in the current outbreak have never infected humans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the risk to the general public is currently low. However, the possibility of human infections cannot be completely ruled out, as similar bird flu viruses have infected humans in the past. In an April news conference, Dr. Alicia Fry, a CDC influenza control expert, told reporters “it is possible that we may see human infections with the viruses associated with recent U.S. bird flu outbreaks. Most human infections with avian influenza viruses have occurred in people with direct or close and prolonged contact with infected birds.” Fry said the CDC is “cautiously optimistic” there will not be human cases, but they are already preparing for the possibility just in case.

So what can I do to make sure I am safe?
The recommendations for the general public are to avoid wild birds and stay at a distance. The CDC says people should avoid contact with domestic birds or poultry that appear ill or have died, as well as surfaces that may have been contaminated with wild or domestic bird feces. People who do have contact with infected birds should monitor themselves for flu-like symptoms and some may even be given preventative antiviral drugs.

How can I tell if a bird is infected?
What has been observed is that turkeys will stop eating or drinking and then, sometimes only within a few hours, they will start to appear lethargic. The birds may look as though they are stargazing, the USDA says, or twisting their neck. Death happens pretty quickly after that. In chickens, they may start laying fewer eggs and stop eating. They can also look lethargic before they die.

Is there a vaccine?
There is currently a vaccine under development for emergency use in poultry, but it’s still too early for use. The CDC is also creating candidate vaccine viruses that could be used to make a vaccine for humans if one were needed. But this is a routine precaution.

TIME World

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Goes Blonde in Solidarity With Spokeswoman Called ‘Dumb Blonde’

Posted photo of himself with blonde hair with the caption "we're all blonde"

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey went blonde on Instagram Thursday after the mayor of Ankara ridiculed American spokeswoman Marie Harf as a “dumb blonde.”

Ambassador John Bass posted this photo to Instagram Thursday, apparently using Photoshop to color his dark hair blonde (it doesn’t appear to be hair dye, but it’s not immediately clear) along with the caption “we’re all blonde.”

#ABD'li diplomatlar: hepimiz #sarışınız. #American diplomats: we're all blonde.

A photo posted by John Bass (@amerikanbuyukelcisi) on

It was an apparent retort to now-deleted tweets posted Wednesday by Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek, who referred to Harf as a “blonde girl” as he called her out for previous criticism of Turkish police crackdowns on public protests in 2013. He said that criticism is now hypocritical in light of the American police response to the protests in Baltimore. Gokcek tweeted a picture of Harf’s face next to a headline that said, “Where are you, dumb blonde, who said Turkish police used disproportionate force?” and added a comment in English that said, “come on blonde, answer now.”

Harf declined to comment on the Twitter insults, telling reporters she wouldn’t “dignify them with a response.”

TIME conflict

Turkey and Armenia Host Clashing Centennial Memorials

Alain Jocard—AFP/Getty Images Armenian president Serge Sarkissian (2-R), his wife Rita (2-L) and their children arrive for a ceremony at the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on April 24, 2015.

Commemorations of two 1915 events—the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey and the Turkish stand at Gallipoli—have caused tension

More than 60 leaders and representatives from around the world converged on the Armenian capital on Friday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of a period during which more than 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President François Hollande both attended the ceremony, while the White House dispatched Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The anniversary of the 1915 killings, in what was then the eastern edge of the Ottoman Empire, has coincided with a surge in international awareness. In the past month, global icons ranging from Pope Francis to Kim Kardashian (who has Armenian ancestry) have ruffled Turkish feathers by shedding light on the killings and using the term “genocide,” which the Turkish government rejects. And as world envoys gather in Yerevan, similar ceremonies will be held in cities around the world.

On April 24, 1915, the Ottomans rounded up Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul in the beginning of what historians widely consider a genocidal act of bloodshed. In an article years later about a violent Armenian campaign for vengeance, TIME described the killings like this:

During World War I, the Turks exterminated or deported virtually their entire Armenian population because they held the unfounded suspicion that members of the ethnic group were disloyal. The decision to undertake the genocide was communicated to the local leaders by the Interior Minister, Talaat Pasha, in 1915. One of his edicts stated that the government had decided to “destroy completely all Armenians living in Turkey. An end must be put to their existence, however criminal the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to age, or sex, or to scruples of conscience.”

The Turkish authorities rounded up all able-bodied men in the Turkish army and bludgeoned them to death. Intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul were herded aboard ships, then drowned at sea. Armenian babies were thrown live into pits and covered with stones. Women, children and old people were forced to march hundreds of miles, over mountains, presumably to a place of deportation in Syria, but actually to their deaths. Forbidden supplies of food and water, they were waylaid by brigands. Turkish gendarmes raped and sometimes disemboweled or cut the breasts off women before finally killing them. While the horrified U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau Sr., appealed in vain to the Turks to stop the slaughter, hundreds of thousands of Armenians could be seen, as Morgenthau put it, “winding in and out of every valley and climbing up the sides of every mountain.”

But even today, the Turkish government still rejects the “genocide” label and says the killing of Armenians was a casualty of the World War. And to the dismay of Armenians, Turkey is hosting a separate centennial ceremony on Friday: a commemoration of the World War I Gallipoli military campaign, the unsuccessful British and French-led invasion of Turkey that also began in 1915.

The naval operation off the coast began on March 18, a day that is traditionally associated in Turkey with the onset of the campaign. Then, following the failure of the naval bombardment, the allies landed troops on Ottoman beaches on April 25, beginning the ill-fated land offensive. Today that date is observed in Australia and New Zealand as Anzac day, a national remembrance day.

Though the centenary events were bound to be close together, some observers say the timing of the Gallipoli memorial appears to be a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the Armenian anniversary, as it forces the world’s dignitaries to choose one or the other. “It certainly looks like an intentional move by Turkey,” said Thomas de Waal, a historian with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of Great Catastrophe, about the genocide and its aftermath.

Fatih Öke, a spokesperson at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, denied that charge, noting that Turkey has held a Gallipoli commemoration on April 24 since 2003. This year, because of the centennial anniversary, he said, the government invited foreign leaders. “Sorry, we already have this date,” he said.

Still, no matter the motivation, appearances count. “This may rebound against the Turkish government,” said de Waal. “Whereas if they for example had had it on the 25th, then a lot of officials could have gone to Yerevan one day and to Turkey on the next, and that would have been quite elegant.”

A dozen heads of state and five prime ministers were slated to attend the Gallipoli centennial celebration, including Australian Premier Tony Abbott. But with the exception of the British royalty and Irish President Michael Higgins, none are from Western Europe. Hollande’s presence at the Armenian memorial, rather than the Turkish memorial, is particularly conspicuous given France’s central role in the Gallipoli campaign. And though U.S. ambassador to Turkey John Bass was set to attend the Gallipoli memorial, the U.S. is not sending a separate representative from Washington.

Under rising pressure from the international community, the government in Turkey has recently appeared to ease its approach. On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed “deep condolences” to descendants of the Armenians who suffered during that time.

But activists in the U.S. are skeptical that the Premier’s statements represent a long term change in attitude.

“Davutoglu was just trying to deter or derail recognition efforts. There’s no expression of regret, there’s no acceptance of responsibility,” said Aram Hamparian, the executive committee of the Armenian National Committee of America. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they organized this Gallipoli thing to detract attention from the Armenian genocide centennial.”

To be sure, Turkey continues to pressure foreign countries on the use of the term “genocide.” President Recep Erdogan warned the Pope not to repeat the “mistake” of using the word, and the White House remains reluctant to risk relations with a key ally in a tumultuous region. On Tuesday, White House officials informed Armenian American leaders that President Barack Obama would not use the term in remarks on Friday, despite a 2008 campaign pledge and vocal past support from people within his administration.

“While it is essential to ensure that Turkey continues to ‘treat the Americans all right,’ a stable, fruitful, 21st century relationship cannot be built on a lie,” Samantha Power, now the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in TIME in 2007.

Read Power advocate for recognizing the Armenian Genocide in October, 2007: Honesty Is the Best Policy

TIME Armenia

German President Enrages Turkey by Referring to 1915 Armenian ‘Genocide’

German President Joachim Gauck delivers a speech at the Berlin Cathedral Church in Berlin, Germany, April 23, 2015
Michael Sohn—AP German President Joachim Gauck delivers a speech at the Berlin Cathedral Church in Berlin, Germany, April 23, 2015

"The fate of the Armenians stands as exemplary in the history of mass exterminations, ethnic cleansing, deportations and yes, genocide"

German President Joachim Gauck on Thursday angered Turkey by labeling the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as a “genocide” ahead of Friday’s centennial commemoration of the event, which took place during World War I.

A day before the German parliament debates using the term “genocide” for the Armenian massacre, Gauck said, “The fate of the Armenians stands as exemplary in the history of mass exterminations, ethnic cleansing, deportations and yes, genocide, which marked the 20th century in such a terrible way.”

However, the contentious term has sparked outcry within Turkey, which has a significant Armenian minority and officially contends that both sides suffered a heavy death toll during the war. The successor state of the Ottoman Empire, as the territory was known during 1915, has never formally acknowledged the Armenian massacre as a genocide.

On Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Dautoglu urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to exclude the genocide label in parliamentary debates. “To reduce everything to a single word, to put responsibility through generalizations on the Turkish nation alone … is legally and morally problematic,” he said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the Armenian deaths “our shared pain” and offered to establish a joint historical commission to examine the deaths, but fell short of acknowledging the events as a “genocide.”

“[U]sing the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible,” Erdoğan said in a statement.

Pope Francis recently provoked the ire of Erdoğan for labeling the 1915 Armenian killings as the “first genocide of the 20th century.”

TIME Turkey

Obama Won’t Call Armenian Killings ‘Genocide’

President Barack Obama speaks during a reception for supporters of H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 21, 2015 in Washington.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during a reception for supporters of H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 21, 2015 in Washington.

The President has not used the term in reference to the killings while in office

President Barack Obama won’t use the term “genocide” in remarks Friday marking the 100th anniversary of the killing of more than a million Armenians, officials said Tuesday, igniting disappointment from critics who say the President is catering too much to Turkey.

Activists had hoped that the President would realize a 2008 campaign pledge and use the term for the first time in office, particularly as other governments and world leaders, including Pope Francis, have referred to the massacres as “genocide” in recent days.

But in a meeting with Armenian American leaders on Tuesday, administration officials said Obama would not use the term. “President Obama’s surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace. It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust,” ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian said in a statement Tuesday.

The Turkish government has consistently rejected the term—President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the Pope not to repeat the “mistake” of using it—and the White House has long been reluctant to risk relations with a key ally in a tumultuous region.

Taner Akcam, a history professor at Clark University who was one of the first Turkish academics to openly call the killings “genocide,” said it was “a shame” that Obama was set to again avoid the term.

“The United States is always emphasizing its exceptionalism in supporting liberal values and human rights at home and across the world,” Akcam said. “But Obama and the Americans should also recognize that one should uphold human rights not only when it’s convenient.”

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