Armenian genocide
Mourners at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum in Yerevan Reuters

As Turkish government authorities bash Pope Francis and the European Parliament for their recognition of the Armenian Genocide, it is important to remember that Kurdish leaders and political activists in Turkey - including pro-Kurdish political parties, associations, mayors, MPs, and human rights lawyers - have taken a completely different stance toward the atrocity.

During the Armenian Genocide, there was no Kurdish state. Kurds did not have any political authority to rule their own lands, either. So they were not the planners or organisers of the Armenian Genocide; the Turkish Ottoman regime was.

But in the late 1890s, some of the Kurds, as well as Turks and Turkmens, were recruited to a branch of the Ottoman Army called the Hamidiye corps, literally meaning "belonging to Hamid" in reference to Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the then-Caliph of Islam and Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The corps was under the command of the Ottoman Army, and engaged in attacks against Armenians.

After the overthrow of Abdul Hamid II in 1908/1909, the Hamidiye corps was disbanded as an organised force.

During the 1915 genocide, some Kurdish tribes were also exploited and encouraged by the Turkish Ottoman regime to attack the deportation caravans of Armenians.

However, it should be noted that there were many cases where Kurds refused to attack the Armenians and rescued them from certain death.

Today, 100 years after the genocide, Kurds in Turkey still do not have any political authority in their own lands. But they do recognise the Armenian genocide, commemorate the victims and call on the Turkish government to apologise to Armenian people.

'Without hesitation, I recognize the Armenian Genocide'

One of them is Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish co-chairperson of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), who said in televised comments that "without hesitation, I recognise the Armenian Genocide.

"Both during my deputyship and before that - when I was a human rights lawyer - my stance toward this issue has never changed.

"Just because some people have covered up such a tragic historical incident by saying that 'the official history [of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey] is not like that', I will not bow to it," said Demirtas. "Whatever happened should be acknowledged."

When asked whether Kurds also had a role in the genocide, Demirtas responded: "Everybody including the Kurds did. But the political authority was the Ottoman regime led by Talaat Pasha, and Djemal Pasha. Whoever gave the orders, carried out the project and made the decisions [regarding the Armenian Genocide] – that is, the ideology of the government of Union and Progress - should be brought to account before history."

Demirtas said that for Turkey to be a democracy, facing and recognising this issue is of great significance:

"I think that the AKP government is the political authority that [claims to have] inherited the legacy of the Ottomans the most... If you lay claim to the entire heritage of the Ottoman Empire, then you should lay claim to this incident, as well. So [they should] get up and apologise.

"But if you say that you do not embrace the heritage of the Ottomans, then you should open all the data and historical information at hand about this genocide committed in the Ottoman era, establish a joint research commission and face this trauma and tragedy. As long as such problems are not resolved in Turkey, democracy will never prevail in this country."

'Denial of the Armenian Genocide has paved way to further massacres'

Demirtas is not the only Kurdish leader who recognizes the Armenian Genocide. His former pro-Kurdish party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), on 24 April, 2014, also issued a written statement recognising the genocide which it described as "one of the biggest genocides of the 20th century."

Lydia Smith

'Turkey has never accepted the term "genocide". Although the Turkish government recognises killings that occurred in wartime, it maintains they were a regrettable consequence of war – denying ethnic Armenians were systematically targeted, despite opposing views by modern research.'

Read Lydia Smith's account of the Armenian Genocide here.

"We remember the victims of the Armenian Genocide with respect, hoping that similar sufferings will never be experienced again," declared the statement.

"The results of not facing history have been heavy. Each incident on which light was not shed paved the way for new incidents. Even though the [Ottoman Turkish] Party of Union and Progress became history, the ideology it represents carried out the [Kurdish and Alevi] massacres in Dersim [1937/38], Agri [1930], Maras [1978], Corum [1980], Sivas [1993], and Roboski [2011]. These are the consequences of an official ideology and state structure that avoid facing the past and answering to the peoples."

"The trauma and pain of the genocide is still preserved in collective memory," said the statement. "Because Turkey, with its state and peoples, has not faced the genocide, come to terms with its own history and apologised to the Armenian people by recognising the truth of genocide."

'I am banned from going abroad but if I could, I would go to Yerevan'

Another Kurdish leader who has spoken out about the genocide is Osman Baydemir, the former mayor of the Kurdish province of Diyarbakir. The Diyarbakir Municipality under Baydemir's leadership also restored the Surp Giragos Church, the biggest Armenian Church in the Middle East, opened it for worship and established Armenian private language schools in the province.

Speaking to an Armenian delegation in Diyarbakir in 2012, Baydemir invited Armenians to the province and said: "I am banned from going abroad but if this ban is removed one day, I would love to go to Yerevan and lay a flower from Diyarbakir to the Armenian Genocide Memorial there."

Pope Francis Armenian Genocide Turkey
Pope Francis has described the mass killing of Armenians under Ottoman rule as a 'genocide' Reuters

Baydemir's dream came true in October 2014, when he visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan and placed a wreath in front of it in the memory of genocide victims.

He was also awarded a gold medeal by the Yerevan State University for his efforts as a human rights lawyer in raising awareness of the Armenian genocide and of protecting the Armenian cultural heritage in Diyarbakir during his tenure as mayor.

In his university speech, Baydemir said that the grandchildren of the victims of Armenian genocide have the right to resettle in their historic lands no matter what part of the world they currently live in.

"Since I was three, I remember that Kurds have been exposed by the Turkish administration to 'insults' such as 'You are children of Armenians'," said Baydemir in an interview with the Armenian site

"That means that to the Turkish governments, everybody demanding Kurdish rights is an Armenian and [in their minds, that has] a bad meaning. In the eyes of the [Turkish] state, there is no difference between a Kurd and an Armenian."

'If they had punished the villains of 1915, the Holocaust would never have happened'

In 1915 and onwards, Armenians and Kurds lived in the same region. The Kurds did not have a state – they did not even have the right to be recognised as a nation. And the state ideology of the Ottomans was genocide.

Back then, Turkish authorities established the Hamidiye corps, which consisted of Kurds, to kill Armenians. "Today [the Turkish] authorities are distributing guns to Kurdish villagers so that these villagers will fight against [other] Kurds, according to Baydemir.

"Hostility among peoples is of no use. The mentality of genocide must be condemned. But that mentality has existed in the Near East up until today. The genocidal mentality of 1915 is [still] prevalent there.

"[But] if they had tried and punished the criminals of the 1915 genocide, the Kurdish slaughter in Diyarbakir in 1925 would not have taken place. The 1937/38 Dersim [Kurdish] massacre would not have taken place. Neither would have the Jewish Holocaust," said Baydemir.

'We have united sufferings so they will never happen again'

In 2013, the Sur Municipality of the Kurdish province of Diyarbakir took another unprecedented step in Turkey regarding genocides in the Near East by erecting a "Monument of United Sufferings".

Armenian Genocide
This picture rom 1915 shows soldiers standing over skulls of victims from the Armenian village of Sheyxalan in the Mush valley during the First World War. Getty

The official website of the Sur Municipality announced: "The monument has been designed so that the believers of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths as well as Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian, Chaldean, Jewish, Assyrian and Yezidi peoples that have lived in the region of Mesopotamia before and after the establishment of the Turkish Republic will not go through sufferings again."

The writing on the monument read in Turkish, Kurdish, English, Armenian, Hebrew and Arabic: "We have united sufferings so that they will never be experienced again."

During the opening ceremony, Abdullah Demirbas, the Kurdish mayor of the town of Sur, said that Kurds approach their history critically:

"Throughout history, peoples and believers of different faiths were made to suffer in this region," said Demirbas. "But one wants to escape pain the most the day he meets pain.

"We have learnt lessons from our history... And as children of this people, we clearly say this out loud: Despite the sovereigns that put us through all those sufferings, we will live together. We will not make one another suffer any more... In this sense, we criticise our [own history] before humanity, peoples and faiths."

Article 301 = Law of Censorship and Subjugation

Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which took effect in June, 2005, makes it illegal "to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions" on paper – but in reality, it aims to silence any kind of valid criticism of state policies, official ideology or history of Turkey. So when people in Turkey recognize the 1915 genocide, they do so at the risk of prosecution and imprisonment.

Under this law, many writers and journalists in Turkey - including the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in 2007, his son Arat Dink, the editor Serkis Seropyan, the Nobel Laureate author Orhan Pamuk, and novelist Elif Safak - have faced charges and been brought to court after speaking or writing about the 1915 genocide.

So despite the imminent threats, these leaders, writers and activists have the courage to keep openly and honestly speaking out about the genocide. Their words and actions show that denying the genocide, and bashing or even threatening those who recognise it - as Turkish authorities insistently do - does not have to be the only way of handling the truth of genocide.

These Kurdish leaders and activists show the right way to deal with the issue in a truly humane and moral manner: Recognition of the genocide, respecting the rights of its victims and extending your hand in remorse, humility and penance to the grandchildren of the survivors is also possible. What remains to be seen is whether Turkish authorities will follow this example.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist who writes for IB Times UK about Turkey and Kurdistan.