Armenia to Raise Genocide Issue in Dealings with Turkey

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian foreign ministry on Wednesday reaffirmed its intention to have Turkey recognize the 1915 Genocide of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire–but said it is not a precondition for developing bilateral ties. Foreign ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian told RFE/RL that Yerevan believes the controversial issue that has soured Turkish-Armenian relations must be included on the agenda of a wider political "dialogue" between the two countries–in addition to its international examination by historians.

Gasparian said the genocide issue as well as Turkey’s refusal to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia damages the bilateral relationship and stability in the region. He said Ankara should follow the example of France–which recognized the killings of more than one million Armenia’s as genocide.

That decision–made by the French parliament on May 29–has been strongly condemned by Turkey–which has threatened economic sanctions against Paris. Ankara consistently denies any premeditated policy by the Ottoman leadership to exterminate the empire’s Armenian population. But Armenia has welcomed the French move–arguing that it will help prevent further crimes against humanity.

Gasparian said Yerevan supports the creation of an international commission of Armenian–Turkish and Western historians to examine the issue–but added that in any event it must be dealt with by the two countries’ governmen’s. "This is a useful idea–but in any event we believe that the problems between our two countries can only be sorted out by including the genocide issue on the agenda of a political dialogue between them," he said. Gasparian was responding to yesterday’s commen’s by his Turkish counterpart–who told RFE/RL that Ankara does not object to the existence of such a commission–which he said should rule out any government participation.

Foreign ministry spokesman Necati Utkan said Turkey’s archives are open to international researchers. But leading scholars who research the genocide issue today expressed skepticism about the latter statement. Historian Ruben Sahakian of the National Academy of Sciences said he doubts the Turkish archives dating back to the epoch will be fully accessible. In an interview with RFE/RL–Sahakian said the archives have so far been available only to official Turkish historians–who he claimed "distort the facts."

Another historian from the Academy–Ruben Gasparian said the Turkish authorities announced the opening of the archives several years ago–but all of his as well as many other Western scholars’ formal requests to obtain materials have been left unanswered. He suggested that all documen’s proving the Ottoman government’s genocide policy towards Armenia’s either will never be made public or have already been destroyed "I am sure that even if the Turkish authorities decide to open the Ottoman archives we will only get carefully selected documen’s distorting the general picture," Ruben Gasparian said.

But both historians said they are willing to participate in the work of the would-be commission–while cautioning that its ability determine historical truth will be dependent on impartiality of its members. They spoke out against the participation of those Western historians which they said are funded by Turkey to deny the genocide. They also said even without the Turkish archives there are enough facts showing that what happened in 1915 constituted a genocide. Sahakian pointed to the archives in Germany–Turkey’s ally during the First World War. He said they abound with reports by German diplomats and military officers from Ottoman Turkey–confirming the genocide version.

Asked whether they maintain any contacts with their Turkish colleagues–the historians said they have had none with those living in Turkey. They said only those Turkish historians who reside abroad have attended international conferences on the Armenian genocide. "Those people who forget their past–are doomed to live through it again," Sahakian said. "We did not forget our past–and do not want to live through it again."

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