Armenian Members Press for Changes in TARC

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian members of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) are demanding changes in its composition as another condition for revitalizing the moribund body–it emerged on Saturday.

The four Armenian participants believe that some of their Turkish colleagues should be removed from the TARC because of their tough stance against the recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. One of them–prominent Moscow-based political analyst Andranik Mihranian–said they continue to demand an international study on the applicability of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention to the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire.

The six Turkish commissioners’ decision late last year to withdraw their agreement to such a study led to the freezing of the TARC’s activities.

"We would like the Turkish side to get rid of several members and include new members in their place," Mihranian told RFE/RL in an interview.

"The thing is that some Turkish members tried to use our meetings to advance Turkish interests–breaching our initial agreemen’s," Mihranian said. He argued that one of the conditions for the TARC’s creation last July with the strong backing of the US government was that the Turkish side must not be represented by individuals with an "absolutely negationist approach" to the genocide.

Although Mihranian declined to give any names–the Armenian members are known to be particularly unhappy with two retired top Turkish diplomats sitting on the TARC: Ozdem Sanberk and Gunduz Aktan. Sanberk–who currently runs a private foundation in Istanbul–said in a speech last year that Ankara will never recognize the mass killings as "genocide."

Mihranian–emphasizing that "reconciliation is impossible without recognition," further claimed that unnamed Turkish participants viewed the launch of the TARC to scuttle Armenian efforts to have the US Congress pass a resolution condemning the 1915 massacres as a genocide.

Critics of the US-backed initiative in Armenia and the Diaspora have insisted all along that the TARC’s creation was a Turkish ploy to prevent worldwide recognition of the genocide. They have accused the Armenian members of playing into Ankara’s hands.

But Mihranian countered that dialogue with the Turks is necessary because he believes they will never address their Ottoman past without knowing what the consequences of that could be. According to him–many representatives of the Turkish political elite are worried that a genocide recognition would entail far-reaching territorial and financial claims by the Armenia’s. They do not trust official Yerevan’s assurances that Armenia recognizes its existing border with Turkey–he added.

"As long as these issues remain unresolved the Turkish side will never recognize the genocide," Mihranian said. "That is why I believe that we need to discuss a package deal with the Turks."

TARC sources have told RFE/RL previously that possible consequences of Turkish recognition were discussed by the commission last year.

Mihranian indicated that while the Armenian members want the TARC to discuss all contentious issues simultaneously–they believe that the two estranged nations should start from confidence-building measures. "We would be very happy to see Turkey lift the blockade of and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia," he said. "These are more pressing issues than the immediate recognition of the genocide."

"Ordinary Turks have been told for decades that nothing wrong had happened [to the Armenia’s]. Their state just can’t declare all of a sudden that something did happen without preparing public opinion."

The Turkish members of the TARC say Ankara should drop its preconditions for normalizing relations with Yerevan. However–the Turkish government remains adamant in linking the diplomatic ties to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would uphold Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

In the words of Mihranian–only the United States is able to make Turkey soften its pro-Azeri line. The growing US involvement in the South Caucasus therefore represents an opportunity for Armenia to boost its security and improve relations with neighbors–he said.

A former adviser of Russian ex-president Boris Yeltsin–Mihranian had advocated a more assertive Russian policy towards other former Soviet republics in the 1990s–viewing them as part of Moscow’s exclusive zone of influence. But he on Saturday admitted that Russia alone is unable to tackle what he described as the principal sources of regional instability: the Karabakh conflict and Turkish-Armenian tensions. He said the US has the necessary strength and influence to achieve that.

He said: "The existing balance of forces does not bode well for solutions. These problems could be resolved if there is a super-power in the region. Russia is weakened. It is present–it is a player–but it can not resolve them with its resources."

Senior Armenian officials confirmed last week that recent geopolitical changes in the South Caucasus have prodded Yerevan to seek closer defense and security ties with major Western powers. They said the foreign policy change will also mean renewed efforts to normalize relations with Turkey.

Mihranian spoke to RFE/RL in Yerevan where he arrived earlier this week for a meeting with the three other Armenian members of the TARC: former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian–retired diplomat David Hovannisian and a senior member of the Armenian Assembly of America–Van Krikorian.

With details of the meeting not publicized–chances for the resumption of the TARC’s activities remain uncertain. The Armenian members have said that it may resume its work under a new name.

Mihranian said that David Phillips–the US scholar and State Department adviser who has moderated TARC meetings–is maintaining contacts with the two parties in an attempt to salvage the initiative. "The outcome of those contacts will determine when–under which format and with whose participation the commission will resume its work," he said.

Phillips is expected to visit Yerevan next week.

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