By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian members of a controversial group formed last July to promote improved relations between Armenia and Turkey on Monday denied any knowledge of possible US government funding for their activities, revealed by a US Congressional report publicized over the weekend. But they did not rule out the possibility that Washington, which strongly supports the initiative, has contributed financially to the work of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC).
An Armenian-American advocacy group opposed to the effort cited Saturday a recent report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) saying that the US State Department “provided financial assistance to support the Commission’s activities.” According to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the four-page document was prepared “in response to Congressional inquiries.”
The US government has until now denied any direct involvement in the reconciliation initiative, which has been a subject of heated debates in Armenia and Diaspora communities. Critics see it as a Turkish ploy to head off further recognitions of the 1915 Armenian genocide by Western nations, while proponents insist that it could lay the groundwork for an eventual Turkish recognition of the tragedy.
The ANCA, which is one of the two main Armenian-American lobbying groups and is close to the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party, said the CRS report testifies to a direct US involvement in the creation and activities of the TARC. It accused the State Department of misleading the influential Armenian community in the US “to hide its role in this deeply flawed undertaking.” "Sadly this revelation only compounds the serious credibility of issues created by the State Department's long-standing complicity in Turkey's denials of the Armenian Genocide," ANCA chairman Ken Hachikian said in a statement.
The other group active on Capitol Hill, the Armenian Assembly of America, is by contrast a staunch backer of the TARC. Assembly chairman Van Krikorian is one of the four Armenian members of the ten-member group. He on Monday downplayed the significance of the Congressional report cited by the ANCA, saying: “From the beginning, the US government said it was supporting us. So I don’t think that’s a surprise.”
But he and two other Armenian members of the TARC, former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian and retired diplomat David Hovannisian, did not confirm or deny the reported US assistance to the commission, in separate interviews with RFE/RL. “I don’t have such information,” said Arzumanian.
“I haven’t seen any interference in our work by a single US government official,” said Hovannisian.
“They (the State Department) are saying it’s a private initiative, which it is, but they are supporting it,” Krikorian told RFE/RL by phone from New York. “Maybe they are giving out some grants. But the Armenian members of the commission have not received any financial assistance from the State Department.”
The three men claimed the bulk of the TARC expenses so far has been covered by the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. They said they do not know whether or not the academy received any US government funding.
The Austrian capital was the venue of several confidential meetings between prominent Armenians and Turks in the months preceding the setting up of the TARC in Geneva on July 9. The Geneva meeting was moderated by David Phillips, an American who teaches conflict prevention at the Diplomatic Academy. In Hovannisian’s words, the idea to create the reconciliation commission was first floated by Phillips, who he said has no links with the US government.
The Congressional report said that the State Department funds took the form of a grant to the Washington-based American University for its “conflict resolution program, which is supporting the activities of the Commission.” But according to Krikorian, the university’s program “has never been part of the commission.” “I don’t think that the grant took place until after we formed the commission,” he added.
The American University’s Center for Global Peace was among the sponsors of Monday’s landmark concert of classical music in Yerevan given by the Ankara String Quartet. The first-ever performance in Armenia by Turkish musicians, titled “To You Christian Armenia,” included works by Komitas, a prominent Ottoman Armenian composer. Komitas was among hundreds of Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople, former Istanbul, rounded up by the Ottoman authorities on April 24, 1915. Most of them were eventually executed.
Armenians commemorate April 24 as the start of the genocide which took the lives of some 1.5 million of their co-ethnics.