By Tigran Avetisian and Emil Danielyan
Official Yerevan will jeopardize recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide by the new U.S. administration if it agrees to a Turkish-Armenian academic study on the subject, a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) warned on Thursday.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has repeatedly assured the influential Armenian-American community that the United States will officially recognize the mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide if he is elected president. The outgoing President George W. Bush and his administration have avoided using the politically sensitive term lest it antagonizes Turkey, a major U.S. ally.
“If a commission or subcommission is formed to discuss the genocide issue as a result of Turkish-Armenian negotiations, it is obvious that the recognition of the genocide by Obama or anybody else may be called into question,” Giro Manoyan, Dashnaktsutyun’s chief foreign policy spokesman, told RFE/RL.
Turkey, which maintains that the Armenian massacres occurred on a much smaller scale and did not constitute genocide, has long been pushing for the formation of a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians that would look into the World War One-era events of 1915. Former President Robert Kocharian rejected the idea. Many in Armenia and especially its worldwide Diaspora view it as a Turkish ploy designed to scuttle the genocide’s recognition by more nations and the United States in particular.
Shortly after he took office in April, President Serzh Sarkisian signaled a major shift in this policy, indicating that he is not against the Turkish proposal in principle. In a late September interview with the Turkish daily “Milliyet,” Sarkisian said a commission of historians can be set up if Turkey agrees to establish diplomatic relations and open the border with Armenia. He also made clear that the would-be commission’s findings and recommendations must not be binding for Armenia.
According to Turkish press reports not denied by Armenian officials, the issue was on the agenda of further Turkish-Armenian diplomatic contacts that followed President Abdullah Gul’s historic September 6 trip to Yerevan. The talks reportedly centered on a joint declaration that would call for the creation of Turkish-Armenian commissions dealing with economic and other issues of mutual interest. Turkish newspapers have said one of those commissions would be made up of historians tasked with studying the “common history” of the two nations and, in particular, the 1915 mass killings.
“The Turkish Daily News” reported on October 30 that a group of Turkish historians and other scholars visited Yerevan recently to attend a workshop with their Armenian colleagues that was sponsored by a German non-governmental organization. The paper said participants “analyzed the
Turkish-Armenian relations from an academic perspective based on past and present experiences.” It said they plan to meet again soon to “shed light on the experiences of the two peoples over the last century.”
Dashnaktsutyun, which is represented Sarkisian’s coalition government, has indicated its unease over the apparent policy change in Yerevan. Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian has strongly condemned it. Levon Zurabian, a close Ter-Petrosian, on Thursday called Sarkisian’s presumed support for a Turkish-Armenian genocide study a “disgrace.”
Speaking to RFE/RL, Zurabian also predicted that like his predecessor, Obama is unlikely to make good on his pledges to recognize the genocide. He argued that the U.S. House of Representatives was expected to pass a relevant resolution late last year but backed off under strong pressure from the White House.
“Things like this will always occur,” said Zurabian. “We will always have the same result as long as we view the genocide issue as a political one.”
Armenian-American lobby groups are more optimistic on this score, however. “I think the atmosphere in the United States has changed in the last few years and more attention is now paid to genocides, including the Armenian genocide,” said Arpi Vartanian, who heads the Yerevan office of the Armenian Assembly of America. “Since Obama has clearly stated that for several times, chances are that he will keep his word,” she told reporters.
“I have no reason to doubt that Obama will fulfill his pledges,” agreed Manoyan. “He has reaffirmed his stance despite Turkey’s intervention before the U.S. elections.”
(Photolur photo: Giro Manoyan.)