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Turkish-Armenian Commission Still In Limbo


By Emil Danielyan

Four Armenian members of the moribund Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) met in Yerevan Monday amid lingering uncertainty over the future of the U.S.-backed initiative which ran into trouble last December.

"We would very much like to proceed with the TARC, but that primarily depends on the Turkish side," one of the Armenian members, who asked not to be identified, told RFE/RL. He said the controversy over an initial TARC decision to request an international study on the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire remains the key obstacle to the commission's revival.

An analysis on the applicability of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention to the 1915 massacres was due to be conducted by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a New York-based human rights organization. The six Turkish members of the commission, however, unexpectedly asked the ICTJ in early December not to go ahead with the study. The move angered the Armenian participants who effectively pulled out of the TARC.

The two sides have maintained unofficial contacts over the past two months in an attempt to revive the initiative which they believe could lay the groundwork for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. But no agreement on the future of the TARC appears to have been reached in time for the Yerevan meeting of former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian, retired senior diplomat David Hovannisian, Moscow-based political analyst Andranik Migranian and the former chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, Van Krikorian.

The Armenian commissioner who spoke on the condition of anonymity would not disclose details of the meeting, pointing to the confidentiality of the process. Nor did he specify whether the Armenians are insisting that their Turkish counterparts agree to a genocide study by the ICTJ.

A source close to the TARC told RFE/RL last month that the private body, which enjoys the backing of the U.S. government, 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," the source said.

The Armenian commissioners are also understood to be pushing for more direct contacts between the governments of Armenia and Turkey which do not have diplomatic relations.

The Turkish participants of the reconciliation effort, most of them former top diplomats, believe that Ankara should normalize relations with Yerevan without any precondition. However, the Turkish government, which has given full support to Azerbaijan, appears adamant in making that contingent on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Still, the two neighboring states are now thought to be exploring possible options for easing the long-running Turkish-Armenian tensions. An informed source said on Monday that Foreign Ministers Vartan Oskanian of Armenia and Ismail Cem of Turkey are likely to meet in May to discuss bilateral ties.

The two men already met in New York last February. Oskanian said afterwards that Ankara and Yerevan may soon launch direct inter-governmental negotiations.

Oskanian told reporters on Thursday that Armenia should "keep its channels of communication with Turkey open and try to reach progress in our relations." He said that is all the more necessary in the light of recent geopolitical changes in the region which have led Yerevan to seek closer security ties with NATO and the United States in particular.
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