By Emil DanielyanA crucial independent study commissioned by the controversial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) has concluded that the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey fits the internationally accepted definition of genocide.
The research conducted by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a New York-based human rights organization, deals a serious blow to the long-running Turkish policy of genocide denial and could mark another milestone in international recognition of the tragedy. It could also have important ramifications for U.S.-backed efforts to reconcile the two nations.
The ICTJ report obtained by RFE/RL on Monday concludes that the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians meet the four basic criteria laid out by the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The most important of them requires the existence of a premeditated policy to destroy, “in whole or in part,” a particular ethnic, religious or racial group.
“We believe that the most reasonable conclusion to draw from the various accounts of the  Events is that at least some of the perpetrators of the Events knew that the consequences of their actions would be the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Armenians of eastern Anatolia, as such, or acted purposively towards this goal, and, therefore, possessed the requisite genocidal intent,” ITCJ experts believe.
They stress that the massacres therefore “include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the [UN] Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them.”
The publication of the ICTJ’s findings put an unexpected end to the year-long deadlock in the TARC’s activities. The unofficial body made up of ten prominent Armenians and Turks first requested an independent third-party analysis on the applicability of the 1948 UN Convention to the Armenian genocide in December 2001.
But shortly afterwards, its four Armenian members issued a statement saying that the commission “is not going to proceed” because the Turks unilaterally told the ICTJ not to go ahead with the study.
But as the ICTJ report reveals, the TARC again asked it to look into the highly sensitive matter last July. Furthermore, it emerged that the representatives of the two sides made their cases to the independent experts at a confidential meeting in New York in September. RFE/RL learned that the Turkish side was represented by Gunduz Aktan, a hardline retired diplomat who always strongly denies the genocide.
In a brief statement issued on Monday, the TARC members said they “will meet soon and resume their work for reconciliation.” It will be the commission’s first official meeting in more than a year. The commission’s future activities will depend, to a large extent, on the reaction of its Turkish members to the ICTJ’s findings. They could now find it more difficult to claim that the government of the crumbling Ottoman Empire did not seek to wipe out its Armenian population.
The ICTJ report makes it clear that although the term “genocide” defined by the 1948 convention is applicable to the bloody events of 1915, the Armenians can not use it to lay “legal, financial or territorial claim” to Turkey. “The Genocide Convention contains no provision mandating its retroactive application,” it explains.
Some analysts believe that fear of Armenian compensation claims is a key motive for the Turkish denial of the genocide.
Founded in March 2001, the ICTJ is engaged in post-conflict rehabilitation and reconciliation initiatives across the world. Its stated mission is to help transitional countries develop “effective responses to human rights abuse arising from repressive rule, mass atrocity or armed conflict.”
The center is headed by Alex Boraine, the former deputy chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and currently an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law.