By Emil Danielyan
Turkey on Wednesday again offered Armenia to conduct a joint study on the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in an apparent bid to offset the upcoming commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the genocide.
Meanwhile, the Armenian government, which turned down such an offer last month, pledged to continue to seek international recognition and condemnation of what many historians say was the first genocide of the 20th century.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said he expects as many as 1.5 million Armenians to take part in the annual April 24 remembrance of the victims of the tragedy in Yerevan and other parts of the country. He said the turnout would symbolically match the approximate number of Armenians that lost their lives in the dying years of Ottoman Turkey.
The genocide anniversary will also be marked by the Armenian communities in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the world. The commemorations are expected to attract worldwide publicity which the government of Turkey finds highly damaging to its long-running denial of the genocide.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul revealed in Ankara that Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote to Armenian President Robert Kocharian recently, proposing the creation of a joint Turkish-Armenian commission of historians that would determine whether the massacres indeed constituted a genocide.
"We informed them that if our proposal is accepted, we are ready to negotiate with Armenia on how the commission will be established and how it will work and that such an initiative will serve to normalize relations between the two countries,” Gul told a special session of the Turkish parliament.
"I repeat this appeal once again... Turkey is ready to face its history, Turkey has no problem with its history," Gul said, according to AFP. He also urged the international community to press Yerevan to accept Turkey's proposal.
Erdogan similarly declared on Wednesday that Ankara is prepared for an "open discussion" on the highly sensitive subject as he met members of his Justice and Development Party, the German DPA news agency reported.
Erdogan first called for a study by Armenian and Turkish historian on March 9. Yerevan was quick to reject the idea, with Oskanian saying that "the historians have already said their piece” and the fact of the genocide can not be called into question.
Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan on Wednesday, Oskanian said his government will never abandon its demands for Turkish recognition of the genocide. He said the genocide issue will be on agenda of Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union that are set to begin in October. But he could not say what specifically the EU will demand from Ankara.
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said last week that Ankara will not bow to EU pressure on the issue, calling it “wrong and unjust.” "We are witnessing efforts to bring many issues not directly related to our (EU) membership process before us as covert conditions," he complained.
Some Armenians and Turks have already jointly initiated a third-party analysis of the events of 1915-198. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a New York-based human rights organization, was asked in 2002 to conduct such a study by the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, a U.S.-backed panel of retired diplomats and scholars.
The ICTJ ruled in February 2003 that the slaughter of Ottoman Armenians fits the definition of genocide set by a 1948 UN convention. But it also said that the convention has no retroactive impact and therefore can not be used by the Armenians for demanding any compensation from modern-day Turkey.
The study has been largely ignored by the Armenian authorities and strongly condemned by nationalist groups, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Dashnaktsutyun claims its release was part of a U.S government conspiracy to get the Turks to recognize the genocide in return for an explicit Armenian pledge not to press financial, territorial or any other claims against the Ottoman Empire’s successor state.
The ICTJ’s conclusions are largely in tune with a resolution adopted by the European Parliament in 1987. While affirming the Armenian genocide, the EU assembly said that “the present Turkey cannot be held responsible for the tragedy experienced by the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire.” It also stressed that “neither political nor legal or material claims against present-day Turkey can be derived from the recognition of this historical event as an act of genocide.”
Nevertheless, the leadership of Dashnaktsutyun -- and its lobbying groups in Europe and the U.S. in particular -- has always described the 1987 resolution as a ground-breaking development that contributed to the subsequent genocide recognition by France and other EU countries.
Meeting with university students on Monday, Kocharian repeated that Yerevan has no territorial claims to Turkey and urged Armenians to be more “realistic” in their demands. “None of our state bodies has ever raised any territorial issues,” he said. “And on our agenda today is the issue of genocide recognition. Future presidents and future politicians will deal with legal consequences of that.”
(Photo: The official logo of the upcoming genocide-related events in Armenia.)