Local leaders and activists in the Armenian community this week called the conciliatory statement by Turkey’s prime minister regarding the 1915 Armenian killings a slap in the face because he declined to characterize the deaths as genocide.

As Armenians locally and around the world were commemorating the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which claimed the lives 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered condolences to the descendants of the victims while characterizing the events as “inhumane consequences” of World War I.

“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,” Erdogan said in the statement.

Local Armenian activists, as well as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), said the comments fell short.

“If Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan truly wanted an open dialogue about the events of 1915 in the pluralistic and democratic society he described in his statement, he would repeal Turkish laws that make it a crime to discuss the genocide,” Schiff said in a statement.

“Regrettably, the prime minister's statement is only the most recent attempt to deflect the growing momentum to recognize the genocide as we approach its 100th anniversary,” Schiff added.

On Tuesday, local Armenians, after receiving a proclamation from the Burbank City Council, marched from City Hall to the Burbank Youth Center to commemorate the victims of the massacres with an evening of Armenian folk dancing, singing and poetry reading.

While neither the United States nor Turkey recognize the genocide, Turkish scholars called Erdogan’s statement historic and hopeful because of its more conciliatory tone, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Local Armenian residents and activists, however, didn’t share that sentiment.

“It’s been 99 years and we’re still playing this song and dance around the words and how we should package this,” said local activist Armond Aghakhanian. “There’s certain things that you just don’t play politics with, and this is one of them.”

Zareh Khachatourian, chairman of the Burbank chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America called the statements “almost insulting,” falling short of any sort of acknowledgment or apology.

“At the end of his comments, he said he wants to set up a historic commission to look into it. As Armenians anywhere and Armenians here, there’s nothing to dispute about the genocide,” he said.

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Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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