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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) criticized President Serzh Sarkisian on Monday for seemingly accepting Turkey’s proposal to form a commission of Turkish and Armenian historians that would jointly study the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the proposal in a 2005 letter to then Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Erdogan said members of the proposed commission should jointly determine whether the Armenian massacres constituted a genocide.

Kocharian rejected the idea, saying that this and other issues of mutual concern should be tackled by the two governments. But Sarkisian said last week that Yerevan will not oppose the creation of such a commission if Turkey establishes diplomatic relations and opens its land border with Armenia.

Armenia’s leading opposition groups were quick to condemn the move, saying that by accepting Ankara’s proposal in principle Sarkisian called into question the very fact of what many historians regard as the first genocide of the 20th century.

The opposition concerns were echoed by Dashnaktsutyun, a nationalist party represented in Sarkisian’s coalition government and known for its hard line on Armenia’s relations with Turkey. The party demanded an official explanation of the apparent policy change.

“We have received the necessary explanation and clarification from the president,” Giro Manoyan, a spokesman for Dashnaktsutyun’s governing Bureau, told RFE/RL. “Also, the president’s spokesman and the foreign minister have publicly clarified that the president’s consent pertains to another kind of commission.”

In Manoyan’s words, Sarkisian believes the would-be commission should not determine whether or not a genocide occurred in 1915-1918 and should instead research “various details of the genocide.” “In any case, our approach is that there was no need to make such statements and create this confusion in the first place,” he said.

Manoyan also indicated Dashnaktsutyun’s unease about Sarkisian’s stated intention to invite Turkish President Abdullah Gul to the first-ever game between the national football teams of Armenia and Turkey which will be played in Yerevan in early September. “I think that if the president of Turkey visits Yerevan, at least one part of our society will express its attitude,” he said.

Dashnaktsutyun’s official position is that Turkey must not only admit to the genocide but also compensate descendants of genocide victims and cede large swathes of its formerly Armenian-populated territory to Armenia.

Successive Armenian governments have made clear, however, that Armenia has no territorial claims to Turkey. “Genocide recognition by Turkey will not lead to legal consequences for territorial claims,” Kocharian stated in a famous 2001 interview with a Turkish TV station.

(Photolur photo: Giro Manoyan.)
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