A senior representative of Armenia’s ruling party on Monday expressed confidence that a majority of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora supports the current rapprochement with Turkey and, in particular, the two draft protocols envisaging the normalization of bilateral relations that the two countries are expected to sign later this month.
Deputy Chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) Razmik Zohrabian made the statement amid the continuing tour of President Serzh Sarkisian of the Diaspora communities in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Russia aimed at discussing his far-reaching overtures to Turkey.
The leading Armenian organizations in the world have expressed conflicting views on Armenia’s dramatic rapprochement with Turkey that Sarkisian initiated last year by inviting his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to Yerevan to attend a football game between the two countries’ national teams. The yearlong process culminated on August 31 in the initialing of two protocols that some leaders in the far-flung Armenian Diaspora have rejected as flawed.
Those opposed to the signing of the protocols as well as some of those with moderate views are particularly concerned over several key points. One such point envisages the establishment of a Turkish-Armenian intergovernmental sub-commission to conduct an “impartial scientific examination of historical documents and archives.” Many in Armenia and its Diaspora fear this provision is tantamount to debating and therefore questioning what Armenians view as the body of ample evidence that the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide.
Diaspora groups are also critical of another protocol clause that commits Armenia to recognizing its existing border with Turkey. They argue that it would thus preclude future Armenian territorial claims to areas in eastern Turkey that were populated by their ancestors until the Ottoman-era massacres.
Answering an RFE/RL question on Monday, the HHK’s Zohrabian downplayed the scale of protest against the protocols in Diaspora communities during the Sarkisian trips.
So far, Sarkisian was met with protests in all of the three communities that he visited, including Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
Zohrabian said that while he did not object to people staging protests, but he objected to them doing so in “an insulting manner.”
“The president himself said that people may come and express their discontent in a silent manner, because, after all, the matter concerns the 1915 Genocide and subsequent years. That is, that we also remember, are silent and in grief, but not by shouting,” said Zohrabian.
“Anyway, that’s bearable too, because not all in society are of the same opinion. One may shout loudly, even make offensive comments, others may treat it calmly,” he added. “In any case, the number of protesters was not that large.”
Zohrabian sounded confident that the Armenia-Turkey protocols will be signed on October 10. He stressed that the governing coalition will bear responsibility “if the protocols prove to be detrimental to Armenia’s state interests.”
Zohrabian’s optimism about the future benefits from the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border is shared also by wealthy Armenian-American benefactor Vahakn Hovnanian.
At a press conference in Yerevan on Monday, Hovnanian stressed that the opening of new roads for transport goods will have a positive effect on the cost of living in Armenia.
Hovnanian said in the past he, too, had a tough stance on Turkey, but having lived in Armenia and “having seen the difficulties in the homeland”, he had arrived at the conclusion that the Turkish-Armenian border must be reopened.
At the same time, Hovnanian called it “normal emotions” that some in the Diaspora oppose the Armenia-Turkey deal. “We always had protests near Turkish consulates on [Genocide commemoration day] April 24. We all would gather and go for demonstrations near Turkish embassies,” he explained.
Yet, Hovnanian contradicted the opinions that the signing of the protocols will hamper the Armenian push for the world’s governments to recognize the Ottoman-era mass killings and deportations of Armenians as genocide. “It can’t… As many as 22 countries and 44-45 states in the United States have already recognized the genocide. The next day after the opening of the border we can sue them [Turks] in court to defend our cause,” said Hovnanian.