By Shakeh Avoyan and Artur Terian in Moscow
A recently formed private group tasked with promoting dialogue between Armenians and Turks is making progress towards the achievement of its stated objective, two of its Armenian members claimed on Friday in separate interviews with RFE/RL. According to them, Tuesday’s meeting in Istanbul of the controversial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission produced encouraging results.
“The parties got a better idea of each other’s views and it is now easier for us to touch upon all sensitive issues,” said Aleksandr Arzumanian, a commission member and former foreign minister of Armenia.
His colleague and a Moscow-based political scientist of Armenian origin, Andranik Migranian, also expressed cautious optimism about the commission’s chances to lay the groundwork for the reconciliation of the two bitterly divided peoples. Migranian said the ten prominent Armenians and Turks, most of them retired senior diplomats, are now “clarifying each other’s position” on thorny issues hampering the normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan.
However, neither of them specified the content of their discussions in Istanbul. In a founding declaration issued in Geneva last July, the commission said it will strive to encourage a thaw in relations between the two nations by encouraging direct contacts between their governments and civil societies. But its members have so far been vague about the key bone of contention: the 1915 killing of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire which modern day Turkey refuses to recognize as a genocide.
Migranian acknowledged that the six Turkish members of the 10-strong group have so far been reluctant to challenge the official Turkish version of the tragedy which holds that far less Armenians lost their lives at the time and that there was no deliberate effort to annihilate them. Arzumanian said, for his part, that the parties did not and will not debate the validity of their positions on the subject.
Many political groups in Armenia and the Diaspora believe that the private initiative, which enjoys the strong backing of the US government, is aimed at scuttling their campaign for a worldwide recognition of the genocide. Migranian, Arzumanian and the two other Armenian members of the commission have repeatedly denied the charge. Turkish reaction to the initiative has been more positive.
Migranian said this is why the commission decided to hold its next meeting in New York, and not in Yerevan as was originally planned. The meeting will take place in November.
The commission said in a statement after the Istanbul meeting that it agreed to form a permanent “secretariat” and “discussed developing policy recommendations” for the Armenian and Turkish governments. “One of our objectives is to try to present a package of proposals to the two governments which are free to accept or throw them into the trash bin,” Arzumanian said.