By Emil Danielyan
The Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) appeared in tatters on Wednesday after its Armenian members stopped their participation in the controversial initiative, accusing their Turkish counterparts of backtracking on a recent agreement to seek an independent study on the 1915 genocide.
The four Armenian participants said they informed a US mediator that the commission “is not going to proceed” because its Turkish members “unilaterally” told a New York-based human rights organization not to undertake a study on whether the 1948 UN Genocide Convention is applicable to the Armenian massacres. They argued that the unexpected Turkish move undermines mutual trust among TARC members.
The decision to request such an analysis from the International Center for Transitional Justice was taken at the most recent meeting of TARC in New York late last month. The move was touted as an important element in the US-backed dialogue between the two estranged nations.
“Mutual trust and respect for agreements is vital for the success of any joint undertaking and our commission in particular,” Alexander Arzoumanian, a TARC member and Armenia’s former foreign minister, told RFE/RL. “Since these principles have been undermined[by the Turkish side], we Armenian members found it expedient to stop our participation for the time being.”
Arzoumanian and his Armenian colleagues suggested that the Turkish commissioners, among them a former foreign minister and retired top diplomats, were apparently pressurized by official Ankara into withdrawing their consent to the genocide study. They at the same time stressed that the commission has not formally ceased to exist and may still resume its activities.
“I think it might be premature to consider it dead,” said Arpi Vartanian of the Armenian Assembly of America, a Washington-based lobbying group and a key backer of the reconciliation initiative.
Arzoumanian agreed, saying that the contacts between the two sides will continue. “We will discuss the situation and try to look for ways out of this situation together,” he said.
One Armenian source close to the commission told RFE/RL that “the next step is up to the Turkish members.” “I think that they should go back to their government and decide what to do next,” the source said.
Meanwhile, opponents of the Turkish-Armenian initiative declared on Wednesday that the row over the international genocide study vindicates their belief that Turkey is not prepared for dialogue. The most vocal critic, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), described the statement by the Armenian members of TARC as a “belated recognition” of its failure. The nationalist party’s worldwide governing Bureau reiterated its view that TARC’s creation last July was a Turkish ploy to derail international recognition of the Armenian genocide.
“Any Turkish-Armenian dialogue will yield results only after Turkey accepts the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide, something which can not be a subject of bargaining,” the Dashnaktsutyun body said in a statement in Yerevan.
A spokeswoman for Dashnaktsutyun’s lobbying arm, the Armenian National Committee of America, said the near collapse of TARC “puts aside a barrier” to the genocide recognition campaign. Elizabeth Chuljian told RFE/RL from Washington that the ANCA will step up its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill after the latest developments.
The Armenian Assembly’s Vartanian, however, insisted that the direct contacts between prominent Armenians and Turks should continue. “That work still must go forward,” she said. “In what form, in what way and by whom, remains to be seen.”