U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet next month with representatives of the leading Armenian organizations in the United States to discuss Armenia’s controversial agreements with Turkey strongly backed by Washington. (UPDATED)
The Armenian Assembly of America announced over the weekend that it has been invited to the meeting along with another influential lobbying group, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), as well as North American dioceses of the Armenian Apostolic Church and two other community organizations. An Assembly source told RFE/RL that the meeting is tentatively slated for February 9.
All of those groups except the ANCA have been largely supportive of President Serzh Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy on Turkey that resulted in the signing late last year of two protocols envisaging the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. The ANCA is controlled by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party, a vocal critic of the deal.
The ANCA on Monday threatened to snub Clinton unless other Armenian-American structures opposed to the Turkish-Armenian agreements are also invited to attend the meeting. Some of the community groups listed by it are also part of Dashnaktsutyun.
In a letter to Clinton reported by the Los Angeles-based Armenian newspaper “Asbarez,” Ken Hachikian, the ANCA chairman, said the composition of the meeting participants selected by the State Department “does not represent our traditional community leadership, nor does it reflect the widely understood Armenian American opposition to the Turkey-Armenia Protocols.”
“As presently configured, the meeting you have proposed will not serve the vital and worthwhile aim of healthy discourse, and would, at this sensitive moment, in fact be counter-productive,” wrote Hachikian.
Dashnaktsutyun structures in Armenia, the U.S. and other Diaspora community have been campaigning against the protocols' implementation with street protests, petitions and even threats to bring down the Yerevan government. Responding to an ANCA campaign in his home state of Nevada, the U.S. Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, asked Clinton in October to give Armenian-American groups “an opportunity to share their views with you.”
“I am sure you are aware that this agreement has raised concerns in the Armenian community inside the United States,” Reid wrote in a letter to Clinton. He said Armenian-Americans are particularly worried about a protocol clause envisaging the creation of a Turkish-Armenian panel of history experts that would look into the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Dashnaktsutyun and other critics believe that Ankara would exploit the existence of such a body to deter the U.S. and other countries from recognizing the slaughter of more than one million Ottoman Armenians as genocide. They are also strongly opposed to Armenia’s formal recognition of its existing border with Turkey.
By contrast, the Assembly and the other groups invited to meet Clinton voiced support for the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement in a joint statement issued earlier in October. They argued that the documents commit Turkey to establishing diplomatic relations and opening its border with Armenia without preconditions.
Announcing the upcoming meeting with Clinton, the Assembly’s executive director, Bryan Ardouny, denounced the Turkish government for making the normalization conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. “As such, this meeting offers an important opportunity to discuss the Administration's efforts to hold Turkey accountable,” Ardouny said in a statement.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed the Karabakh linkage during an early December visit to Washington. Sarkisian responded by threatening to walk away from the agreements.
Clinton phoned the Armenian leader just hours later. According to Sarkisian’s office, she assured him that the Obama administration will continue to press for an unconditional and “speedy” implementation of the Turkish-Armenian protocols.