By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has accused a leading Armenian-American lobbying group of complicity in what it sees as a U.S. conspiracy to spare Turkey any material compensation or other legal consequences for the 1915 Armenian genocide.
Dashnaktsutyun insists that Washington is prodding Ankara to end its long-running denial of the genocide in return for an explicit Armenian pledge not to press financial, territorial or any other claims against the Ottoman Empire’s successor state.
Such a solution would run counter to the century-old irredentist agenda of the pan-Armenian nationalist party represented in Armenia’s government. An agenda which seems increasingly at odds with official Yerevan’s more conciliatory policy on Turkey.
“Recognizing the failure of its campaign of genocide denial, Ankara has fallen back to exploring a position of acknowledgment without consequences,” Dashnaktsutyun’s influential lobbying arm in the United States, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), said in a March 28 letter to leading Armenian-American organizations.
“These efforts enjoy the support of well-placed State Department and Pentagon officials – adherents of outdated Cold War-era thinking about the U.S.-Turkey relationship,” read the memo. “These American and Turkish officials have sought to create the false impression of Armenian backing for this patently anti-Armenian undertaking by securing the nominal support of a handful of Armenians.”
Dashnaktsutyun points the finger at the Armenian Assembly of America, which together with ANCA forms one of the most powerful ethnic lobbies on the Capitol Hill. In a strongly-worded editorial, its Los Angeles-based daily “Asbarez” accused the Assembly of “helping the Turks get away with the murder of 1.5 million Armenians.”
The extraordinary accusations were angrily rebutted by the Assembly. “No Armenian organization and no Armenian individual would support Turkish admission of the Armenian Genocide without just resolution,” its chairman Anthony Barsamian responded in a statement.
The row was sparked by the Assembly’s promotion of an independent study conducted by a New York-based human rights group at the request of the U.S.-backed Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC). The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) concluded in January 2003 that the mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians’ in 1918-1921 fit the definition of genocide set by a 1948 UN convention. But it also said that the convention has no retroactive impact and therefore can not be used by the Armenians for demanding any compensation from modern-day Turkey.
Armenian supporters of the now disbanded TARC, including the Assembly, consider the ICTJ study a major blow to Turkish denial of the genocide, stressing that it was jointly commissioned by prominent Armenians and Turks. As if to drive their point home, Gunduz Aktan, a retired senior diplomat and the most uncompromising of TARC’s six Turkish members, blasted the study as “awful” and “shameful” in a newspaper article last Thursday. “The ICTJ thus gave the Armenians what they sought,” Aktan wrote in the “Turkish Daily News.”
Dashnaktsutyun, however, claims that the document in question is a dangerous blueprint for genocide recognition “without consequences.” “I think the main reason why Turkey does not recognize the genocide is the question of consequences,” Giro Manoyan, the spokesman for the party’s worldwide governing Bureau, told RFE/RL in an interview. “The fact is that some American circles want to guarantee the Turks that such a recognition would have no consequences.”
Dashnaktsutyun leaders argue that the ICTJ has persistently refused to name the authors of the genocide study and suspect that it was secretly drawn up by pro-Turkish officials in Washington. Some of them put U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans’s public description of the Armenian massacres as “the first genocide of the 20th century” in that context.
Evans is said to have drawn Armenian-American leaders’ attention to the ICTJ analysis at a series of meetings last February. And in an interview with RFE/RL shortly afterward, one of his predecessors, Harry Gilmore, made comments that were virtually identical with the ICTJ’s findings.
ANCA is particularly furious with the fact that the Assembly persuaded two congressmen co-chairing the Armenian Caucasus of the U.S. House of Representatives to mention the genocide study in a recent letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The congressmen urged President George W. Bush to use the word “genocide” in his upcoming April 24 message to the Armenian-American community. More than a hundred of their colleagues have already joined the call.
The ANCA chairman, Ken Hachikian, wrote to pro-Armenian congressional aides on March 24, warning that “statements favorably citing this document could add a measure of undeserved credibility to a conclusion that is deeply prejudicial to the rights of Americans of Armenian descent.”
Turkey, meanwhile, shows no signs of reconsidering its traditional position on the Armenian issue. Ankara is on the contrary seeking to offset the unfolding commemorations of the 90th with a public relations campaign purporting to show that the Armenian death toll is grossly inflated and that the last Ottoman rulers did not pursue genocidal policies. Turkish leaders reportedly feel that that Bush may finally term the 1915 mass killings a genocide or is exploiting the issue to clinch Turkish concessions on Iraq.
While consensus among the Armenians on the need for Turkish recognition of the genocide remains firm, there has been littler debate, let alone agreement, in Armenia and its Diaspora on what should come next. According to Manoyan, Dashnaktsutyun continues to believe that genocide recognition must, among other things, lead to Turkish territorial concessions to Armenia.
Official Yerevan recognizes Armenia’s existing border with Turkey which was set by the Treaty of Kars signed in 1921 following the country’s takeover by Bolshevik Russia. The government of the then Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was among its signatories. “Armenia is the successor state of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry explains on its website. “All of the agreements which the ASSR signed continue to be in force unless new agreements have been signed to replace them.”
Manoyan argued that Armenia can always declare that those agreements were forcibly imposed on it and renounce them. He said Yerevan should therefore leave the door open for future territorial claims.
“We believe that Armenia is unable to make such demands today,” the Dashnaktsutyun official said. “But this doesn’t mean that it will be unable to do so tomorrow. So it must not take any steps that would hamper or inhibit us tomorrow.”
However, President Robert Kocharian appears to have done the opposite in a 2001 interview with a prominent Turkish journalist. “Genocide recognition by Turkey will not lead to
legal consequences for territorial claims,” he said. “Genocide recognition does not create the legal bases to allow Armenia to present certain demands before Turkey. I am surprised that Turkish attorneys themselves have not provided the Turkish government with such counsel and such an assessment.”
“For the Republic of Armenia, for me, personally, this is more of a moral issue,” he added.
Kocharian also made it clear that Turkish recognition “will not revive in any way” the 1920 Treaty of Sevres that gave Armenia large swathes of territory in what is now northeastern Turkey. Those provisions were effectively annulled by Western powers in 1923.
“The problem is that those events have taken place in Turkey, and the Republic of Armenia did not exist at that time, and today's Republic of Armenia is not the heir to those lands,” Kocharian explained. “I don't know under what system I can present a complaint, saying that ‘certain events transpired there, and you must give me those lands.’ I can't imagine how I am to make that formulation.”
The remarks highlighted important foreign policy differences between Armenia’s leadership and Dashnaktsutyun. Those most recently came to light in February 2004 when one of the nationalist party’s top leaders, Hrant Markarian, demanded that Georgia grant an autonomous status to its Armenian-populated Javakheti region. Kocharian and his Foreign Ministry were quick to disown the demand, saying that it does not reflect the official Armenian position.
Dashnaktsutyun’s strong opposition to the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border and Turkey’s accession to the European is also not shared by Armenian leaders, notably the powerful Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. In a recent online news conference moderated by a Dashnaktsutyun newspaper, he said that Turkey’s entry to the EU would be good for Armenia.
Sarkisian, seen as Kocharian’s most likely successor, and most other members of the Armenian government believe that an open border with Turkey would benefit the Armenian economy.
“Those ministers seem to be implying that the Armenians had better cave in,” Manoyan complained. “At least, that’s the impression left by them.”