By Emil Danielyan
Members of the controversial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) are maintaining unofficial contacts in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the U.S.-backed initiative which all but collapsed in December, it was claimed on Friday.
“I would say that neither the TARC process nor TARC itself is dead,” a source close to the commission told RFE/RL. “Officially the status hasn’t changed, but unofficially the contacts have continued and the process is going on.”
The source, which preferred to remain anonymous, said the two sides are “making some progress” and will soon take a final decision on the fate of the effort.
The TARC’s four Armenian members said in a statement on December 11 that the private panel “is not going to proceed” because their Turkish colleagues “unilaterally” told a New York-based human rights organization not to conduct a study on whether the 1948 UN Genocide Convention is applicable to the 1915 Armenian massacres. The decision to request such an analysis from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) was taken at a TARC meeting in New York in late November. It was seen as an important element of the reconciliation effort launched in July after months of confidential negotiation.
One of the commission’s six Turkish members has blamed the row on unintentional “misunderstandings” and “technicalities.” Ustun Erguder, who runs a private think tank in Istanbul, told RFE/RL in January that the initiative “can be salvaged.”
The TARC source said on Friday that the controversy over the planned ICTJ study remains “the most difficult problem to overcome,” adding that the Armenians are ready to show some flexibility on the issue. However, one of them, Moscow-based political scientist Andranik Migranian, was quoted on Friday by the A1 Plus television in Yerevan as saying that the reconciliation effort will not move forward without such a study.
Mihranian and other Armenian participants have suggested previously that the Turks, most of them retired top diplomats, backtracked on the New York agreement after strong objections voiced by official Ankara which denies that the mass killings and deportations of Armenians were a genocide.
The source said the commission could resume its activities “with a new name.” “Alternatively, the Armenian members may do nothing and may leave it where it ended and walk away. But the process will continue. We need to have more Armenians contacting with more Turks.”
The source claimed that the TARC’s activities, harshly criticized by many political groups in Armenia and its Diaspora, have already prompted “additional contacts between Armenians and Turks.” “There are now more contacts between Armenians and Turks than there ever used to be. In some things the commission has a direct hand, in some it doesn’t. There is a lot of things going on.”
Last month Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian announced that Ankara and Yerevan, which have no diplomatic relations, may soon launch direct talks to discuss problems hampering normalization of bilateral ties. The comments came after Oskanian’s meeting in New York with Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. The Armenian official told RFE/RL that the meeting will have “a continuation in the near future.”