By Emil Danielyan
Armenia accused Turkey Friday of using fresh excuses to avoid an unconditional normalization of bilateral relations and insisted that its archives are open to Turkish historians willing to research the extermination of over one million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
“If there is a real desire and will to normalize our relations, then excuses become unnecessary,” the spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Hamlet Gasparian, said, reacting to Ankara’s calls for the creation of a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians that would look into the events of 1915-1918.
“We want to once state that the reality has long been known to everyone,” Gasparian added in a statement. “So let us put aside propaganda and talk frankly.”
In a letter to President Robert Kocharian earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that historians from both countries jointly determine if the mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians indeed constituted a genocide.
Kocharian responded to Erdogan on Tuesday, effectively rejecting the offer. He said that Ankara should instead drop preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan and opening the Turkish-Armenian border. He also called for the creation of an intergovernmental commission that will tackle all issues of mutual concern.
Erdogan was quick to reject the idea, insisting that the formalization of Turkish-Armenian ties is impossible without an end to the increasingly successful Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide. “There is a very important issue that must be settled before making political decisions, and this issue concerns problems stemming from history,” he told reporters in Ankara on Wednesday.
But the Turkish premier appeared less categorical in an interview with the “Milliet” daily published on Friday. "On the one hand, political relations could be established. On the other hand, the work (on the archives) could continue. There is no Chinese Wall between us," he said.
Erdogan did not mention the possibility of restoring full diplomatic relations, but his comments seemed the clearest sign yet that Turkey wants to mend fences with Armenia. He also said in separate comments this week that the Turkish government would accept any judgment from the proposed commission of historians.
“Let scholars study archive documents and if it turns out that we have to question our history, we would do so,” he said. He also said that his government has declassified its Ottoman-era archives and urged Armenia to follow suit.
“Our archives have long been open to any researcher from any country,” countered Gasparian. “Many foreign scholars have used them to date and none of them was Turkish. If they (Turkish historians) want, they can come and have a look.”
The director of Armenia’s National Archives, Amatuni Virabian, gave a similar pledge last February. “I am ready to receive and show them all those genocide-related documents that we have,” Virabian told a news conference, adding that there are about 12,000 such documents. He said they mostly contain information on tens of thousands of genocide survivors that found refuge in Armenia before it was incorporated into Soviet Russia in November 1920.
This is not the first that Turkey is promising to give Armenian and other international scholars access to its state archives. Armenian historians have always shrugged off such pledges and suggested that they have long been purged of any incriminating evidence. Some of them also point to the Turkish state archives’ latest claims that Armenians themselves massacred more than half a million Turks during the First World War.
Armenia’s government and leading political groups say the fact of the genocide is accepted by most international historians and can not be a subject of debate. They also regard the Turkish proposal as a ploy designed to deflect international attention from the ongoing commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the start of the genocide.
However, U.S. President George W. Bush praised Erdogan for making the offer and again refused to use the word “genocide” in his April 24 message to the Armenian community in the United States. Bush’s stance was condemned by Armenian-American leaders but hailed by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
“That shows our sensitivities are also being taken into consideration,” the ministry spokesman, Namik Tan, was reported to say on Wednesday. Still, Tan said Bush’s statement also contained “elements that are unacceptable for Turkey.”
The official may have referred to Bush’s clear endorsement of an international study which concluded in February 2003 that the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians was a genocide. Bush cited the same death toll, effectively dismissing Turkish allegations that it is grossly inflated.
The Bush administration has for years been pressing the Turks to stop linking improved relations with Armenia to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and an end to the genocide recognition campaign.