WASHINGTON–DC (ANCA and RFE/RL)–The State Department’s public and private assurances that it was not involved in the formation or operation of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission were dramatically called into question this week with the release of a Congressional report documenting that the "Department provided financial assistance to support the Commission’s activities," reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The existence of this Commission was first revealed this July by the New York Times–which reported the group had been meeting secretly since the time of last year’s Armenian Genocide Resolution in the US Congress. White House and State Department officials have repeatedly denied–both in public statemen’s and during discussion with the ANCA–that the US government had any role in the creation or activities of the Commission. The Congressional report on this matter was prepared–in response to Congressional inquiries–by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The CRS is the highly regarded official research arm of the US legislative branch. The four page report–entitled–"Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission and US Role," (dated October 2–2001) noted that the Turkish reaction to the creation of the Commission "has been overwhelmingly positive," while the Armenian reaction has been "much more negative than positive."
On the subject of US State Department funding–the CRS reported that: The Department provided financial assistance to support the Commission’s activities as it says it does other civil society initiatives or people to people contacts. The funds were in the form of a grant to the American University for a conflict resolution program–which is supporting the activities of the Commission. (Complete copies of this report can be obtained by contacting a member of Congress and requesting the study by name and date.) The Armenian members of a controversial group denied any knowledge of possible US government funding for their activities–revealed by a US Congressional report publicized over the weekend. But they did not rule out the possibility that Washington–which strongly supports the initiative–has contributed financially to the work of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC).
In discussions following the creation of the Commission–Administration officials assured the ANCA that the Administration did not play any role in the creation or activities of the Commission. Administration officials did–however–inform the ANCA that they viewed the purpose of this body as essentially providing Congress with an excuse not to pass an Armenian Genocide Resolution and as a Turkish ploy to head off further recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide by Western nations–while proponents insist that it could lay the groundwork for an eventual Turkish recognition of the tragedy.
The other group active on Capitol Hill–the Armenian Assembly of America–is a staunch backer of the TARC. Assembly chairman Van Krikorian is one of the four Armenian members of the ten-member group. He–on Monday–downplayed the significance of the Congressional report cited by the ANCA–saying: "From the beginning–the US government said it was supporting us. So I don’t think that’s a surprise."
But he and two other Armenian members of the TARC–former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian and retired diplomat David Hovannisian–did not confirm or deny the reported US assistance to the commission–in separate interviews with RFE/RL. "I don’t have such information," said Arzumanian. "I haven’t seen any interference in our work by a single US government official," said Hovannisian.
"They (the State Department) are saying it’s a private initiative–which it is–but they are supporting it," Krikorian told RFE/RL by phone from New York. "Maybe they are giving out some gran’s. But the Armenian members of the commission have not received any financial assistance from the State Department."
In a related development–members of the European Parliament recently cited the existence of the Commission as their justification for dropping a long-standing provision calling on Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in their annual report on Turkey’s progress toward accession into the European Union. In a sharp reversal for the European Armenia’s who have worked on this issue over a period of decades–a key Parliamentary Committee has replaced a long-standing provision calling upon Turkey to end its denial of the Armenian Genocide. The panel avoided making any reference to the Genocide–noting instead that the European Parliament "supports the civil initiative launched by a group of former diplomats and academics from Turkey and Armenia–the aim of which is to arrive at a common understanding of the past."We are deeply troubled–first–that our State Department has apparently participated in an initiative plainly directed at undermining the ability of US citizens to petition their government of an issue of abiding concern–specifically the right of Armenian Americans to pursue official recognition of the Armenian Genocide through the institutions of our democracy," said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. "We are–at the same time–equally disappointed that our government has apparently misled our community–both publicly and privately–to hide its role in this deeply flawed undertaking."
A sample of official US statemen’s denying any government role in the formation or activities of the Commission is provided below:
* "US Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones said in Yerevan today that the creation of the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation commission’ was a ‘private initiative.’ Jones said this after a meeting with Armenian President Robert Kocharian in reply to a question from Mediamax as to whether the US administration had anything to do with the creation of the Armenian-Turkish ‘reconciliation commission.’" (Mediamax news service–August 28–2001)
* "The commission on Tuesday received the indirect support of the United States. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones told reporters in Yerevan that Washington welcomes any initiative aimed at a normalization of ties between Armenia and Turkey. But she denied any US government involvement in the ‘private’ dialogue." (RFE/RL Armenia Report–August 29–2001)
* "To what extent was the US State Department supporting this [Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission]? Jones denied her department’s participation–saying that–’this is only an individual initiative.’" (Hayots Ashkhar–August 29–2001)
* "The Armenian-Turkish Reconciliation Commission is a private initiative. US Deputy State Secretary on countries of Europe and Eurasia–Elizabeth Jones–announced to journalists in Yerevan." (ARKA News Agency–August 29–2001)
* "During a recent visit to Armenia–US Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones denied any US government involvement in the ‘private’ dialogue–but Western media reports have said the State Department actively encouraged the secret negotiations." (RFE/RL–September 8–2001) "Sadly this revelation only compounds the serious credibility issues created by the State Department’s long-standing complicity in Turkey’s denials of the Armenian Genocide," added Hachikian. "The State Department certainly owes the Armenian American community a full accounting of its role in this Commission and an explanation about what appears–by all accounts–to be a clear pattern of misrepresentation aimed at denying American citizens information to which they are rightfully entitled–information which they require in order to make informed judgmen’s about profound issues of public policy – namely our national response to the crime of genocide."
For additional information on the Commission–visit: