Review Essay: Phillips’ Book on Track Two Diplomacy

Unsilencing the Past: Track Two Diplomacy and Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation by David L. Phillips

By Charles Garo Ashjian–JD–PhD

This is a book about third party mediation (ie–Track Two Diplomacy) in a world filled with "intractable conflicts that confound traditional diplomacy." Whereas–according to Phillips–the State Department "inculcates a risk-averse culture that discourages initiative and stifles creativity;" (see p. 135) informal third party mediation–or Track Two Diplomacy–embodies a flexibility that compensates for such inherent constraints on government officials. Thereby–private citizens may succeed or make inroads where officials seem only likely to fail. This book depicts the author’s own experiences as chair and facilitator of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC)–the fulcrum for the Track Two Program on Turkey and the Caucasus. The Commission was quietly financed by the State Department and initiated during the Clinton Administration and formally established in 2001 and–at least–tacitly approved by the governmen’s of Armenia and Turkey. Presumably based on the author’s experiences–the book concludes with the offering of practical principles which may be of utility to those involved in such future endeavors.

However–even though the author attempts to depict important accomplishmen’s as the direct result of the efforts of TARC–there is no actual resolution of the conflicts and issues which–nevertheless–still exist between the governmen’s and peoples of Turkey and Armenia. Actually–the Track Two activity herewith merely aggravated and compounded the situation. Contrary to the insinuations of success by the author–the overall activity of TARC was a failure. The book unwittingly or transparently corroborates and underlines this failure. For instance–in the Preface– Elie Wiesel asks the question: "Has it been fruitful?" Wiesel refrains from giving an answer. The author–Phillips–nearly gives an answer when–summarizing and referring to the concluded activity of TARC–he states: "Track Two rarely results in a breakthrough." The Bush administration never reacted with anything but a courteous nod toward this activity.

The major obstacle to rapprochement or reconciliation between the governmen’s and peoples of Turkey and Armenia is the matter of the Armenian Genocide. The TARC addressed this matter by seeking and obtaining a legal opinion–purportedly objective and unbiased–which was titled "A Legal Analysis on the Applicability of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to Events Which Occurred During the Early Twentieth Century" (i.e. the Armenian Genocide). They did so by referring the request to the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). The ICTJ is a reputable and expert organization founded by and presided over by Alex Boraine.

Its purpose is to "advise emerging democracies on addressing legacies of human rights abuse." The ICTJ–in turn–merely and only facilitated the request of TARC by referring it to an independent third-party for a legal analysis or opinion. In actuality–and since then–the ICTJ has distanced itself from the ensuing analysis by a "legal analyst" who remains unidentified–according to my knowledge–and said analyst has also been referred to as "the group" to be contacted through Phillips at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Note: the brief legal analysis is not even printed in the book.)

It is repeatedly false for Phillips to indicate (e.g. pp. 154–116) that the resultant "opinion" or "analysis" is authored by the ICTJ. Why does Phillips persistently do so throughout the book while also providing the contradictory text of the letter–dated 9/16/02–to him from Boraine? The letter states: "ICTJ has agreed to facilitate the provision of a legal analysis. The analysis will be performed entirely independently of the ICTJ. The analysis will not be conducted by any ICTJ staff member; nor will the ICTJ be involved in any way in seeking to influence the conclusions reached by the analysis. Our role is merely that of helping to identify an appropriate expert to undertake the analysis requested by TARC." (see p. 110)

Why is the resultant opinion or analysis so onerous?

–It falsely states that the term "genocide," though applicable to the "Events" (i.e. the Armenian Genocide)–is merely a "terminological" one with "no legal applicability" whatsoever;

–The opinion or analysis–in contradiction of overwhelmingly prevalent evidence and scholarship–challenges the historical truth and verity of the Armenian Genocide as merely a yet unresolved historical issue;

–It treats the Genocide as a local or limited regional event and minor in both its character and magnitude;

–It disputes the direct involvement and culpability of the governmental leadership and officialdom of the time.

This is historical reductionism and revisionism. This is genocide denial.

The actual purpose of this so-called analysis was to break the truth and throw a distorted fragment of it to each side. Armenia’s were supposed to become grateful because they were being given permission or sanction by TARC–even though strictly qualified–to apply the term "genocide" to their past plight. Armenia’s do not need such permission from anyone. But perhaps some of this is not entirely correct as Phillips–the chairman of TARC–in reference to Turkish-Armenian relations–states: "I was not concerned with the response of Armenia’s." Phillips was not concerned about the Armenian response to the harmful misdeeds of TARC since the key Armenian member of TARC had privately offered him assurances of support from the unidentified and most prominent or powerful members of the Armenian community. (see p. 57) The Armenian community was supposed to line up in lockstep behind TARC. It did not happen. It never will happen. (Lest there be any mistake as to the identity of this key Armenian member of TARC–it is Van Z. Krikorian–a New York attorney.)

In turn–the Turkish side was supposed to become elated because if the term "genocide" does not have any legal applicability–then the Genocide Convention may not be used by Armenia’s to claim territory or financial reparations. Actually–even if the Genocide Convention did not exist–there remains an abundance of legal ground on which Armenia’s may still pursue such claims if they so choose. However–I do not believe this legal course is presently the prevailing disposition of the worldwide Armenian community or the government of Armenia. The entirety of this matter is otherwise amenable to solution.

Phillips describes Krikorian as a "champion of the Armenian people." With this kind of champion–who needs an enemy. This member of TARC chose to propound and argue that the ICTJ analysis "should give both sides something" (see p. 109). Accordingly–both Phillips and this member openly advocated that the analysis achieve a "balanced outcome." These words had different meanings for each of the parties. One leading Turkish member of TARC–vocally fearful of the truth–was guaranteed such a "balanced outcome" by Phillips (see p. 111). This analysis was wrongly guided by standards more appropriately applicable to a fair and conscientious business transaction. The goal should not have been to assure a "win-win" situation. This is the source of the rot. The improper goal of TARC–which surely was communicated to the "legal analyst" for direction–was to gild and memorialize lies and provide plausible and comforting argumen’s for both sides–however false–for respective public consumption in the guise of seeking and establishing reconciliation. The outcome of the "legal analysis" with its false historical and legal conclusions–was designed and rigged beforehand. The members of TARC should not–as they do–rationalize that truth was not their proper or paramount concern. The proof is the stench coming from all of the lies. Everyone can smell it.

What TARC and its anonymous "legal analyst" merely accomplished–because of the multitude of ulterior and ill-concealed personal and political motives–was to unduly disappoint and discourage and aggravate each side. The book by Phillips–though otherwise intended–actually provides a case study in what should not be done during Track Two Diplomacy.

Phillips should have heeded his own admonition: "Track Two will flounder if its integrity is compromised by either participants or the organizer" (see p. 144). Actually–it will eventually drown. The whole truth of any genocide should actively be sought and maintained. The people who do otherwise should be exposed and rebuked. Any attempt to establish reconciliation or rapprochement on a duplicitous base of distortion and falsity is outrageous and intolerable. Ultimately–this is the most important lesson to be derived from the book. The book itself should have been titled Distorting the Past. I hope the book is read widely with due credit.


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