TARC Members Adopt Turkish Line on Genocide

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The expected international study on the 1915 genocide–commissioned by the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission–will be an important element in the US-backed initiative to reconcile the two nations–its Armenian participants said on Thursday.

Armenia’s former foreign minister Alexander Arzoumanian and prominent Moscow-based political scientist Andranik Mihranian confirmed that the TARC asked the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) to sponsor an "independent third party analysis of the applicability of the 1948 [UN] Genocide Convention" to the mass killings and deportations.

The request was made last week at the commission’s meeting in New York–where the recently created human rights organization is headquartered. The two men told RFE/RL that the conclusions of international law experts on the most sensitive and thorny issue in Turkish-Armenian dealings could affect the panel’s future policy recommendations to official Ankara and Yerevan.

"I am sure that the commission will discuss that report in detail," Arzoumanian said. "And I think that our recommendations to our respective governmen’s will take account of the opinion [expressed in the report]." He added that work on the ICTJ report might take months and its findings may be kept confidential.

According to Mihranian–the reconciliation process will make "very big progress" if the international experts conclude that the 1915 massacres constituted a genocide. "It will be a great political and military victory for us if the experts say that those events can be considered genocide," he said in a phone interview from Moscow.

Arzoumanian–however–sounded a note of caution–saying that the genocide study can by no means force Turkey to abandon its consistent denial of the genocide. "I’m sure that the commission will have a very frank discussion of that analysis," he said. "But whether that will affect their position is difficult to say."

Both men’stressed that whatever the results of the study–the four Armenian members of the TARC will never question the validity of the Armenian position on the issue. Said Arzoumanian: "What we need is not an international verdict but an impartial analysis of whether the genocide convention is applicable or not. But it must be emphasized that the Armenian members of the commission will never cast doubt on the historical fact of the Armenian genocide."

The TARC’s decision to turn to genocide experts was unveiled in a statement by David Phillips–an American scholar who coordinates its activities. The statement–leaked to RFE/RL on Wednesday–was not supposed to be made public–according to Arzoumanian. The ex-minister said he agreed to comment on the decisions of the New York meeting only because of the leak.

Mihranian–for his part–revealed that the TARC members asked Phillips to summarize results of the four-day meeting after they failed to agree on their own statement. He claimed that the Turkish side strongly objected to any mention of the UN Genocide Convention in the joint statement because "that would complicate their return to Turkey."

In the words of Phillips–the participants agreed that "the existence of TARC should not be used to influence the attitudes of the international community towards its relations with Armenia and Turkey." Mihranian said that was the result of the Armenian side’s threats to suspend the initiative if it damages international recognition of the genocide. "We were prepared to pull out of the TARC if they continued to use it against the recognition process and mislead the international community," he said.

Also–Mihranian confirmed Phillips’s statement that the six Turkish members of the commission–including former foreign minister Ilter Turkmen–believe that Turkey should lift its economic blockade of Armenia without any precondition. But he said the Turks avoided expressing their support for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations in a joint statement for fear of angry reaction from Azerbaijan.

Still–Arzoumanian claimed that their view could have an impact on official Ankara’s policy.

"The fact that the Turkish commissioners are conscious of the need to normalize ties with Armenia demonstrates that there is such a mood in Turkey," he argued.

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