By Ruben Meloyan
Armenia will continue to seek international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide despite its readiness to agree to the creation of a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians that would study the highly sensitive subject, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said on Friday.
The idea of setting up such a commission was floated by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a 2005 letter to then Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Erdogan said its members should jointly determine whether the mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted a genocide.
Kocharian effectively rejected the idea by making a counterproposal to set up a Turkish-Armenian intergovernmental body that would deal with this and other issues of mutual concern.
In an apparent policy change, his successor, Serzh Sarkisian, indicated this week that Yerevan is now “not against” the Turkish proposal. But he made clear that the commission of historians can be set up only if Turkey agrees to unconditionally normalize relations with Armenia.
In Nalbandian’s words, this does not mean that Armenia will no longer encourage and endorse efforts by the worldwide Armenian Diaspora to have foreign governments and parliaments recognize the slaughter of more than one million Ottoman Armenians as genocide. “The genocide issue remains on our agenda,” he said.
Turkey has cited Yerevan’s support for the genocide recognition campaign as one of the reasons why it keeps its border with Armenia closed and refuses to establish diplomatic relations with the latter. Ankara maintains that the 1915-1918 mass killings occurred on a much smaller scale and were not part of a premeditated government effort to exterminate the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian minority.
“Armenia has repeatedly stated and continues to state that we are ready to establish relations with Turkey without any preconditions,” said Nalbandian. “We are also ready to discuss all issues of interest to the two countries after the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of the border.”
Nalbandian spoke at a joint news conference with Switzerland’s visiting Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey. Switzerland is one of nearly two dozen nations that have officially recognized the Armenian massacres as genocide.
The Swiss federal parliament adopted a relevant resolution in December 2003, two months after the Turkish government angrily called off Calmy-Rey’s planned visit to Ankara in protest against a similar document passed by the Swiss canton of Vaud. The visit eventually took place in March 2005, with Calmy-Rey publicly urging Turkey to “conduct an in-depth historical research of its own past, especially when the question is so painful.”
The Swiss minister said on Friday that her country stands ready to mediate a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. “Switzerland is always ready to play the role of a facilitator if it is asked to by the parties,” she said.