By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Emil Danielyan
Leaders of two major Armenian parties have conveyed their critical stance on the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) to a U.S. scholar who has coordinated its nine-month activities.
Aghvan Vartanian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Vazgen Manukian of the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM) said on Tuesday they told David Phillips the previous day that they remain skeptical about the U.S.-backed initiative.
The two men met with Phillips at a dinner in the Yerevan residence of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway. Also attending it were two Armenian members of the TARC, former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian and retired senior diplomat David Hovannisian.
The meeting took place during Phillips’s four-day trip to Armenia which appeared to be part of his efforts to revive the TARC which all but collapsed late last year. He held separate meetings with the leaders of two other leading opposition groups, the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) and National Unity. The latter’s chairman, Artashes Geghamian, referred to him as “my longtime friend.”
Phillips was also expected to meet with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian late last week. A foreign ministry spokeswoman could not confirm whether the meeting took place.
Phillips is the director of a conflict prevention program at the American University in Washington and the deputy director of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations' Center for Preventive Action. He is also a senior adviser for democracy and regional stability at the U.S. State Department -- a key driving force behind the TARC.
Manukian told RFE/RL that during the “friendly, confidential conversation” with the U.S. mediator he and Dashnaktsutyun’s Vartanian voiced misgivings about the format of the reconciliation attempt. He said he told Phillips that the TARC would have been “more acceptable” to the Armenian public if it had a broader and different composition.
Vartanian, whose nationalist party has harshly criticized the TARC, described it as “not the best way to improve Turkish-Armenian relations.” He reiterated Dashnaktsutyun’s view that the reconciliation process should start from Turkey’s recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians. The United States, Vartanian added, should get modern-day Turkey to address its bloody past.
An informed source, meanwhile, revealed that the Armenian and Turkish members of the panel have decided to reinvigorate the controversial initiative and not to change its name. They have also agreed to expand the TARC’s membership so as to make it more representative of both sides.
One of the Armenian members told RFE/RL earlier this month that Dashnaktsutyun, which is influential in Armenia and the Diaspora, has been offered to name a candidate for the TARC membership. But Vartanian said on Tuesday that he has no such information.