Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on Wednesday strongly criticized President Serzh Sarkisian and leaders of Armenian Diaspora organizations for urging Turkey to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
Ter-Petrosian also claimed that their “pan-Armenian declaration” issued late last month commits official Yerevan to laying claim to vast swathes of land in eastern Turkey that were populated by Armenians until the genocide.
The declaration was adopted by a high-level commission planning and coordinating upcoming commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. The commission is headed by Sarkisian and comprises other senior Armenian state officials, the top clerics of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Diaspora leaders. Sarkisian personally read out the declaration at the genocide memorial in Yerevan on January 29.
The document calls on the Turkish state to “face up to its own history and past” by ending its long-running denial of the genocide.
In an extensive article published in the pro-opposition daily “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun,” Ter-Petrosian described this call as a meaningless “ultimatum” which is not fraught with any negative consequences for Ankara. “How many times should be it said that recognition of the Armenian genocide is a matter for the Turks, rather than us, the Armenians?” asked the man who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998.
“Other states can call and do call on Turkey to face up to its own history. But Armenia must in no case do the same because that would harm its dignity and not contribute at all to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations,” said Ter-Petrosian. He stood by his past statements that Ankara would recognize the genocide only after such a normalization followed by an “atmosphere of trust” between Armenia and Turkey.
The ex-president was even more critical of another declaration passage which says that Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora will strive to not only get more countries to condemn the slaughter of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians but also “overcome consequences of the genocide.” In that context, it refers to the 1920 Treaty of Sevres that envisaged Armenian control over much of what is now eastern Turkey.
Ter-Petrosian claimed that this amounts to territorial claims to Turkey which successive Armenian governments have avoided until now despite pressure from nationalist groups at home and especially in the Diaspora.The Sarkisian administration’s “drastic U-turn” will make the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations even more unlikely in the foreseeable future, he said.
The declaration in question says that commission experts are now working on a “package of legal demands” to be addressed to the Turkish government. But it does not specify whether they will include territorial claims.
Vigen Sargsian, the presidential chief of staff involved in the commission’s work, could not say on January 30 when those experts will come up with concrete recommendations. “We have set no concrete time frames as to when that group should come up with its final package,” he told a news conference aimed at stressing the importance of the declaration.
It remains to be seen whether the planned legal claims will run counter to the 2009 Turkish-Armenian protocols that committed Sarkisian’s government to explicitly recognizing Armenia’s existing border with Turkey.
The U.S.-brokered protocols never went into effect due to Ankara’s failure to have them unconditionally ratified by the Turkish parliament. Sarkisian has so far ignored opposition and Diaspora calls for Yerevan to formally annul them.