By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on Monday added his voice to official Yerevan’s rejection of a Turkish proposal to jointly study the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and determine whether they indeed constituted a genocide. He said Turkey should instead establish diplomatic relations and reopen its border with Armenia without any preconditions.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called last month for the creation of a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians that would look into the validity of each party’s position on the tragic events of 1915-1918. The Armenian government turned down the offer, saying that its acceptance would call into question the very fact of the genocide.
Still, Ankara renewed the call last week in an apparent bid to offset the unfolding worldwide commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the genocide.
“If the commission is to decide whether or not there was a genocide, then I am against it,” Markarian said. “I myself am a descendant of a genocide victim. And there are many other people here in the Republic of Armenia who can say that and who learned about the genocide not from books.”
Speaking to RFE/RL on the sidelines of a conference on the Armenian genocide, Markarian said he would instead welcome other initiatives promoting improved relations between Armenia and Turkey. Asked to give his opinion on the now disbanded Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), he said: “Any dialogue is acceptable. Any commission working at any level and comprising businessmen, journalists, parliamentarians or others is welcome.”
TARC, a U.S.-sponsored panel of scholars and retired diplomats, faced strong criticism from nationalist groups in Armenia and its Diaspora throughout its existence from 2001 through 2004. One of those groups, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), maintains that TARC’s activities were part of U.S. government efforts to get Ankara to recognize the genocide in return for an Armenian pledge not to seek any material compensation from the modern Turkish state.
Markarian endorsed in this regard President Robert Kocharian’s assurances that Armenia will not lay claim to any Turkish territory or demand other reparations in the event of genocide recognition. He indicated that Armenia’s chief priority now is an unconditional normalization of its relations with Turkey.
“If we manage to ensure that Turkey establishes diplomatic relations and opens its border with Armenia and creates an environment in which we could discuss all problems, that would constitute progress and a victory,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a fresh step in the propaganda war with the Armenians, Turkey's state archive alleged on Sunday that Armenians themselves massacred as many as 523,955 Turks between 1910 and 1922. Its director, Yusuf Sarinay, said a 1915 Ottoman decision to deport the Armenians from their homes, which marked the beginning of the mass killings, was a defensive measure against what he called an insurgency that had already claimed many Turkish lives.
"The Armenians committed systematic massacres in certain regions in order to become the majority there," Sarinay was quoted as saying by the mass-market Hurriyet newspaper on Monday.
The Armenian genocide has already been acknowledged by a number of countries, including France, Canada and Switzerland. European politicians are increasingly pressing Turkey to address its Ottoman past before its accession to the European Union.