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Sarkisian Continues Diaspora Tour


Serzh Sarkisian, President of Armenia, meets representatives of the Armenian Diaspora in New York, 03Oct, 2009

Serzh Sarkisian, President of Armenia, meets representatives of the Armenian Diaspora in New York, 03Oct, 2009

President Serzh Sarkisian on Monday continued his weeklong tour of major Armenian communities to discuss and promote his far-reaching diplomatic overtures to Turkey that many in the Diaspora have been following with unease.

After his visit to French capital Paris on Friday that met with some protests from local Armenians, Sarkisian crossed the Atlantic Ocean to continue his tour in the United States, meeting with prominent Diaspora members in New York and Los Angeles. Sarkisian’s other scheduled stops include Beirut and Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia.

In American soil, meanwhile, Sarkisian was also reportedly greeted by protesters outside his meeting places. Many urged the Armenian president not to sign a deal with Turkey in its current form that they claim will be damaging to the state and national interests of Armenia and will disregard the national
Serzh Sarkisian meets representatives of the Armenian Diaspora in Los Angeles, 04Oct, 2009
aspirations of Armenians in Diaspora communities.

Thousands of Armenian Americans from throughout California reportedly gathered near Beverly Hilton Hotel as part of a protest organized Sunday by a local campaign group.

During his meetings in all three cities, Sarkisian attempted to persuade Diaspora Armenians that the initialed protocols between Yerevan and Ankara on establishing diplomatic ties and developing bilateral relations do not harm Armenian state and national interests, but, on the contrary, open new opportunities for resolving the centuries-old feud between the two neighbors.

The leading Armenian organizations in the world have expressed conflicting views on Armenia’s dramatic rapprochement with Turkey that Sarkisian initiated last year by inviting his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to Yerevan to attend a football match between the two countries’ national teams. The yearlong process culminated on August 31 in the publication of two draft protocols expected to be signed by Yerevan and Ankara later this month and submitted for further ratification to parliaments.

Some Diaspora leaders have expressed serious concern about key points of the two draft protocols envisaging the normalization of bilateral relations. They are particularly critical of the planned creation of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians that would look into the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, claiming that this provision is tantamount to questioning the fact of the Armenian Genocide.

Diaspora groups also object to another protocol clause that commits Armenia to recognizing its existing border with Turkey. They argue that it would preclude future Armenian territorial claims to areas in eastern Turkey that were populated by their ancestors until the 1915-1918 massacres.

There are also lingering concerns in and outside Armenia about a possible linkage between Armenian-Turkish normalization and the Armenian-Azerbaijan talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

In Paris, New York and Los Angeles, President Sarkisian reiterated that Armenia is pursuing an unconditional normalization with Turkey.

“I think that we have managed to get the maximum for now,” said Sarkisian in New York on Saturday, as reported by his press office.

Sarkisian, in particular, said that the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008 created a new situation in the South Caucasus, which, according to him, to some extent prepared ground for an Armenian-Turkish dialogue. He added that the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations would in turn promote regional détente by creating an atmosphere of mutual confidence.

At his meeting with several dozen Diaspora representatives Sarkisian emphasized that the fact of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire cannot be discussed in the context of rapprochement with Turkey.

“The only question in connection with the Genocide that can become a subject for discussion is how we can help the Turkish people to be more unbiased in going through the pages of their own history or, to be more precise, how to overcome the consequences of the Genocide,” Sarkisian stressed.

On the third leg of his tour in Los Angeles, Sarkisian met Sunday with Diaspora representatives of the western coast of the United States as well as South American countries with large Armenian communities.

Speaking about the Armenia-Turkey dialogue, Sarkisian underscored that negotiations with Ankara have been conducted ever since Armenia became independent in 1991 and simply became “public” following the initiative during his presidency.

“I believe that it is possible to have normal negotiations, have normal relations with Turkey and benefit from it,” Sarkisian underscored.

Meanwhile, American-Armenian groups voiced mixed reaction to Sarkisian’s meetings in New York and Los Angeles.

New York - Representatives of the Armenian Diaspora protest possible signing of Armenian - Turkish protocols, 03Oct, 2009
Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America Aram Hamparian, who coordinated the protest actions of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in New York, said to RFE/RL: “The negotiations on these protocols proceeded in a secret atmosphere. A six-week period was set for the Armenian and Turkish sides to give approval to the documents. In reality, however, the protocols are not subject to change, even to the slightest alteration.”

“Two leading Armenian publications in the United States, Asbarez and The Armenian Reporter, conducted opinion polls among 2,400 local Armenians. The polls show that 90 percent of the respondents are against the protocols. And between 94 and 95 percent of the respondents consider that the protocols are more favorable for Turkey,” said Hamparian.

In response to this, Haig Deranian, the head of one of American-Armenian organizations, the Knights of Vartan, that supports the ratification of the protocols, said: “This is not true. Armenian organizations with a more moderate position are very angered at the circumstance that the ANCA speaks on behalf of the entire Diaspora. They represent a small group of Armenians who are treated with respect, but they have no right to speak on behalf of the majority. I can speak only on my behalf and on behalf of my organization, but not all Armenians.”

“The Armenian government should know well that the Diaspora has an emotional approach to this matter as it has felt the consequences of the genocide from the very beginning. But emotions notwithstanding, we should also be objective and try to support the Armenian nation and promote the welfare of our country,” Deranian emphasized.

According to the schedule of the tour announced by Sarkisian’s office, the Armenian president’s next stop is in Beirut to be followed by his meetings in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia.

Meanwhile, Sarkisian’s spokesman Samvel Farmanian on Monday confirmed to RFE/RL that the Armenian president had received an official invitation from his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to visit Turkey to attend the return match between the two countries’ national football teams.

The FIFA World Cup 2010 qualifier between Turkey and Armenia will be held in the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa on October 14.

According to announcements made by Turkish leaders that yet need to be confirmed by the Armenian side, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey are scheduled to sign the protocols in Switzerland on October 10.
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