Sarkisian Signals Support for Turkish-Armenian Historian Commission

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Signaling a major shift, President Serzh Sarkisian confirmed Thursday that he is ready to accept, in principle, Turkey’s proposal to form a controversial commission of Armenian and Turkish historians that would examine the already proven 1915-1923 Genocide of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire.

But he made clear through a spokesman that such a commission should be created only after Turkey agrees to unconditionally establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia.

The proposal was formally made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a 2005 letter to then Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Erdogan suggested that the would-be commission determine whether the Armenian massacres constituted genocide and said his government would accept any conclusion reached by it.

In a written reply, Kocharian effectively rejected the idea and came up with a counterproposal to set up a Turkish-Armenian intergovernmental commission that would deal with this and other issues of mutual concern. Other Armenian officials, backed by local and Diaspora scholars, as well as international genocide scholars, dismissed Erdogan’s move as a Turkish ploy designed to scuttle international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. They also said that by agreeing to the proposed study the Armenian side would play into Turkey’s campaign of denial, which attempts to question the very fact of the genocide.

“We are not against the creation of such a commission, but only if the border between our countries is opened,” Sarkisian declared during a visit to Moscow earlier this week.

Sarkisian’s press secretary, Samvel Farmanian, reaffirmed this in a statement issued on Thursday. “We are not against any study of even obvious facts and widely accepted realities,” he said. “Agreeing to a study does not mean casting doubt on the veracity of facts.

“However, the creation of such a commission would be logical only after the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border between our countries. Otherwise, it could become a tool for dragging out and exploiting the existing problems.”

Farmanian’s statement came amid an uproar from the country’s main opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. In a statement on Wednesday, Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement condemned Sarkisian’s “dangerous” remarks, saying that the new Armenian leader has agreed to a proposal “calling into question the fact of the Genocide.”

Farmanian rejected the opposition claims. “It is strange that the genocide issue is being exploited by individuals who had done everything in the past to condemn that tragic page of our history to oblivion,” he said regarding Ter-Petrosian’s more conciliatory line on Turkey.

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