President Serzh Sarkisian flatly denied on Thursday his critics’ persistent assertions that unlike his predecessor Robert Kocharian, he embraced Ankara’s idea of a joint Turkish-Armenian study of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
In a rare and unusually swift reaction to a media report, his press secretary, Armen Arzumanian, demanded that an Armenian online journal, Lragir.am, “correct” an article saying that “Serzh Sarkisian accepted something that was rejected by Robert Kocharian.” Arzumanian described that claim as “overt disinformation” in a letter publicized by the presidential press office.
The Lragir.am article, posted earlier in the day, referred to one of the most controversial provisions of the two Turkish-Armenian normalization protocols that were signed in Zurich in October 2009.
It envisaged the creation of a “subcommission” of government-appointed Turkish and Armenian experts who would engage in an “impartial scientific examination of historical documents and archives.” This was widely seen as an official euphemism for a joint examination of the Armenian massacres which many international historians regard as the first genocide of the 20th century.
The idea of such a study was first floated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a 2005 letter to Kocharian. The then-Armenian president rejected it as a Turkish ploy designed to scuttle greater international recognition of the genocide.
Shortly after taking office in April 2008, Sarkisian indicated that he is ready, in principle, to accept the proposal. “We are not against the creation of such a commission, but only if the border between our countries is opened,” he declared during a June 2008 visit to Moscow.
The Armenian leader clearly changed his rhetoric after an uproar caused by the protocols in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora. Armenian critics of his policy of rapprochement with Turkey said that the very existence of the history subcommission would call into question the Armenian genocide and make it easier for Ankara to discourage more countries from officially recognizing it.
The Sarkisian government rejected the criticism, saying that the Turkish-Armenian panel would not seek to determine whether or not the World War One-era slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide.
Sarkisian appeared to have gone further in an April 2010 interview with the German magazine “Der Spiegel.” “The creation of the [Turkish-Armenian history] commission would make sense only if Turkey finally confessed its guilt,” he declared. “After that scholars will be able to jointly determine the causes of that tragedy.”
“Setting up such a commission would mean calling into question the fact of the genocide perpetrated against our people,” he said, echoing a key argument of his critics.
The presidential spokesman similarly insisted on Thursday that the subcommission in question was not supposed to tackle “historical issues pertaining to the genocide.”
Sarkisian was interviewed by “Der Spiegel” amid growing indications that Erdogan’s government will not ensure the protocols’ ratification by Turkey’s parliament before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.
Erdogan and other Turkish leaders also linked the non-ratification with a January 2010 ruling by Armenia’s Constitutional Court. The latter concluded, among other things, that the protocols cannot stop Yerevan seeking genocide recognition in the international arena.
Ankara said Armenia’s highest court thereby essentially prejudged the findings of the would-be subcommission.