Official Yerevan has refrained so far from backing a U.S. congressional resolution that calls on President Barack Obama to officially describe the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
The draft resolution was introduced in the U.S. Senate by two pro-Armenian legislators last week. Similar legislation was circulated in the House of Representatives early this year.
President Serzh Sarkisian’s office on Tuesday declined to react to the development. The Armenian Foreign Ministry, for its part, said it will not comment on the matter.
Turkey has already criticized the Senate bill through its ambassador to the United States, Nabi Sensoy. Speaking to the Voice of America late last week, Sensoy said it runs counter to the spirit of the fence-mending protocols signed by Armenia and Turkey in Zurich on October 10.
“I hope that there will be no progress on this issue. I don’t think it was the right time to take this step since the resolution was introduced immediately after the signing of the Turkey-Armenia protocols,” he said. “It is wrong and sad. I am hopeful that [the resolution] will not reach the [Senate] floor.”
The administration of Sarkisian’s predecessor Robert Kocharian was quick to welcome such bills throughout is decade-long rule, adding to Ankara’s fury with what it sees as baseless genocide allegations. Whether the current Armenian leadership has changed that policy is not clear.
The Sarkisian administration has faced accusations of a sellout ever since it unveiled the two protocols envisaging the establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey and reopening of their border. Its opponents are particularly unhappy with protocol clauses that commit Armenia to recognize the existing frontier and essentially accept a Turkish proposal to set up a commission of historians tasked with studying the World War One-era massacres. They say Yerevan is thus making it easier for Ankara to keep the U.S. and other countries from adopting genocide resolutions.
Vartan Oskanian, a vocal critic of the protocols who served as Armenia’s foreign minister from 1998-2008, insisted on Tuesday that Armenia could have cut a deal with the Turks without making either concession. In a written response to RFE/RL questions, he also confirmed that the ongoing Turkish-Armenian dialogue started in 2007, during the final months of Kocharian’s presidency.
“On the border, our formulation was the internationally accepted language used in protocols for establishing diplomatic relations which makes reference to the principle of territorial integrity, with no mentioning whatsoever of mutual recognition of current borders,” said Oskanian. “This is clearly the standard protocol text for diplomatic relations which Armenia has used with over 120 countries.”
According to Oskanian, Kocharian also insisted that the events of 1915 should be tackled by a Turkish-Armenian inter-governmental commission along with other issues of mutual interest. The controversial protocols do envisage the formation of such a commission. But it would be divided into several “sub-commissions” specializing in particular areas. One of them is to engage in an “impartial scientific examination of historical documents and archives.”
“Although when I left office, there was no full agreement on these or many other issues and there was no document on the table yet, I do believe that Armenia could have negotiated a much better text than the one we have in hand,” said Oskanian. “It could have been more along the lines of the above formulations and would have been acceptable to Turkey, if Turkey were truly ready to overcome the Azerbaijani obstacle and go to normalization.”
“This conviction has been reinforced given Turkey’s recent declaration of zero problems with all neighbors and also given the growing European and American pressure on Turkey to open the border with Armenia,” added the former foreign minister.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu indicated on Monday that Ankara is confident that it can get the Turkish-Armenian historical “subcommission” to accept the official Turkish version of the 1915 killings. In an interview with Al Jazeera television, he also seemed to suggest that the joint panel would help his government depoliticize the highly sensitive issue.
“Historical facts should be researched based on historical documents,” Davutoglu said. “There is a historical fact and there is a war of propaganda. Until now what we observed was a war of propaganda for political purposes.
“This new condition will take it to the right place: a research based on historical data. Historical data means archives.” “I am self-confident. I know the archives,” he added.