By Emil Danielyan and Hrach Melkumian
President Robert Kocharian on Tuesday officially turned down Turkey’s offer of a joint academic study on the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and said Ankara should instead work to normalize relations with Yerevan.
Meanwhile, a leading Turkish newspaper published what it described as records from one of the last Ottoman rulers and main masterminds of the genocide that contradict the official Turkish position on the subject.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote to Kocharian earlier this month, suggesting that a commission of Turkish and Armenian historians examine the events of 1915-1918 and determine if they indeed constituted a genocide. Armenian leaders unofficially rejected the idea earlier, saying that the genocide is a proven fact that can not be disputed.
“Your proposal to address the past can not be productive unless it addresses the present and the future as well,” Kocharian responded in a letter to Erdogan provided to RFE/RL by his press office. He said the two countries should instead form an “intergovernmental commission” that will tackle this and other problems hampering their relations.
“Responsibility for the development of bilateral relations is borne by the governments and we have no right to delegate it to historians,” Kocharian wrote. “We have therefore proposed and are once again proposing to establish normal relations between our countries without preconditions.”
Kocharian said that would mean establishing diplomatic relations and reopening the Turkish-Armenian border which Ankara has kept closed since 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan. “There are countries in the world and the European continent in particular that share a troubled past on which they disagree,” he argued. “But that doesn’t prevent them from having open borders, normal relations … and at the same time discussing all contentious issues.”
The Armenian government and leading political groups regard Erdogan’s offer as a ploy designed to deflect international attention from the ongoing commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the start of the genocide.
However, the offer on Sunday drew praise from U.S. President George W. Bush. “We look to a future of freedom, peace, and prosperity in Armenia and Turkey and hope that Prime Minister Erdogan's recent proposal for a joint Turkish-Armenian commission can help advance these processes,” Bush said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s mass-circulation “Hurriyet” daily revealed on Tuesday what it said is excerpts from a notebook that belonged to Talaat Pasha, the interior minister in the Ottoman regime of Young Turks who was instrumental in the genocidal campaign. The paper said the handwritten text puts the total number of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire as of 1914 at 1.2 million and the number of those subsequently deported from their homes at 924,158.
Talaat is quoted as admitting that the real size of the Armenian population was probably even bigger. Armenian and Western sources put it at at least 2 million. Only 500,000 are thought to have survived executions, bandit attacks and forced marches to the Syrian desert.
Turkey’s pro-establishment historians have claimed until now there were only half a million Ottoman Armenians before the start of the First World War and that only up to 300,000 of them died during the “evacuation.”
“I must say that Hurriyet has caused quite a stir here,” Rober Hadeller, editor of Istanbul’s Armenian-language daily “Marmara,” told RFE/RL. “This information turns upside down the theory put forward by Turkish historians until now.”
Talaat also recounts in his purported diary that as many as 6,858 Armenian children who lost their parents during the mass killings and deportations were forcibly adopted by Turkish families.
The Young Turk leader was shot dead by an Armenian genocide survivor in Berlin in March 1921. The man, Soghomon Tehlirian, was subsequently acquitted by a German court.
(Photolur photo: Kocharian and other Armenian leaders attending an official remembrance ceremony at the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on Sunday.)