By Emil Danielyan
The Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), a U.S.-backed panel of political experts and scholars, met in London this week for further discussions on ways of improving the historically strained relations between the two nations, RFE/RL learned on Thursday.
The three-day meeting, originally due in October, began on Sunday and lasted for three days at the Royal United Services Institute, a private think tank close to the British Defense Ministry. No concrete decisions or new initiatives were announced by its participants afterwards.
An Armenian member of the TARC said the two sides agreed to avoid publicizing their activities for the time being given the political sensitivity of the subject. He also said that no date was set for their next meeting.
It was the second such gathering since a landmark decision in January 2003 by a New York-based human rights organization recognizing the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) ruled that the mass killings and deportations fit into the internationally accepted definition of genocide in a study commissioned by the TARC.
The ICTJ ruling, which dealt a blow to Ankara’s continuing denial of the crime, was followed by the resignation of four of the six Turkish members of the commission. Among them were Gunduz Aktan and Ozdem Sanberk, retired senior diplomats with close government connections. Both men were regarded by their Armenian counterparts as hard-liners on the genocide issue.
Only two of the founding Turkish members of the TARC, former Foreign Minister Ilter Turkmen and political scientist Ustun Erguder, remain involved in the reconciliation initiative. They have been joined by five new Turkish participants, most of them Istanbul-based scholars.
There have been no changes in the TARC’s Armenian part that comprises former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanian, retired diplomat David Hovannisian, U.S.-Armenian lawyer Van Krikorian and Moscow-based political pundit Andranik Migranian.
The ICTJ study enabled the TARC to pay greater attention to the normalization of ties between Turkey and Armenia which official Yerevan does not link to Turkish recognition of the genocide. One of the stated objectives of the commission set up in 2001 was to make specific policy recommendations to the two governments that have no diplomatic relations.
Its Armenian and Turkish members have repeatedly called on Ankara to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border without any preconditions. That has looked a real possibility since the start of a series of meetings between the two countries’ foreign ministers in June.
Some Armenian sources claim that the Turkish government has decided in principle to lift the blockade before an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and is now looking for ways to placate Azerbaijan which is strongly opposed to such a development. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev urged Ankara last week not to reopen the border for individual travel and commerce.
The TARC’s London meeting was again chaired by David Phillips, an adviser to the U.S. State Department, and Joseph Montville, a former U.S. diplomat known as the author of the concept of “track two diplomacy” that calls for direct contacts between civil societies in conflict resolution. Montville’s presence suggests that the TARC will continue to promote meetings and joint projects between Turkish and Armenian politicians, public figures, journalists and non-governmental organizations.