ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SAYS NO TO “RECONCILIATION” WITH TURKEY.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 148

On July 31, the Armenian parliament closed ranks against the recently created, unofficial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission and its proposals (see the Monitor, July 18). Five parliamentary parties and two nonpartisan parliamentary groups, making up an overwhelming majority of that fractious body, issued a joint declaration condemning the commission, its programmatic intentions and the concept of reconciliation itself. These political forces had all along been aware of United States support for the reconciliation initiative.

Terming that initiative “suspect,” the parliamentary declaration condemned Turkey for “continuing to deny the 1915 Armenian genocide” and for its stand on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. As distinct from “reconciliation,” the parliamentary statement called for a “normalization of relations” with Turkey if the latter abandons those positions. The declaration warned the Armenian participants in the reconciliation initiative that “it is unacceptable to weaken the process of garnering international recognition of the Armenian genocide and split the united Armenian front.”

A cross-section of Armenia’s political forces, both governmental and in opposition, adopted this declaration. These include the Republican Party of Prime Minister Andranik Margarian, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)-Dashnaksutiun allied with President Robert Kocharian, the Communist Party, and several right-wing nationalist parties and groups. The declaration caps a systematic political assault, initiated by the Dashnaks but which turned into a bandwagon, against the reconciliation initiative in general and its Armenian supporters in particular. Those supporters are mainly associated with the formerly ruling (1991-98) Armenian Pan-National Movement, its successor groups and the few media outlets still backing them.

The political backlash has forced the government onto the defensive. The Foreign Affairs Ministry had initially signaled its tentative assent, however cautiously and noncommittally worded, to the Reconciliation Commission’s initiative two weeks ago. Since then, Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian has taken pains to distance himself and the ministry from the reconciliation project.

In the diaspora, the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA)–a major force on the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission–has come under virulent attack from the ARF-led Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and like-minded groups. At the heart of the controversy is the “genocide issue.” Those opposing the reconciliation initiative fear that it would thwart their campaign for international recognition of the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians as a “genocide” organized by the Ottoman government. While the political forces behind that campaign are diverse, activists envisage recognition as leading to reparation and restitution–the “three Rs”–by modern Turkey to Armenia and Armenians. That agenda, traditionally associated with the diaspora’s activist sections, was shunned by the Armenian state in 1991-98, but was subsequently adopted by Kocharian and his government.

Turkey for its part points out that the conflicts in 1915-18 in Anatolia and 1918-20 in the South Caucasus killed and displaced equivalent numbers of Armenians and Turks in a chaotic, mutual bloodletting. Turkey, moreover, feels that the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict also needs to be addressed as part of attempts to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations. Ankara argues that it cannot ignore the eviction of 700,000 Azeris from their homes by Armenian forces in 1993 and the seizure of that part of Azerbaijan.

The Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission does not propose to resolve the genocide issue, though it does propose to have it researched by historians, lawyers and social psychologists. Nor does it propose to deal with the recent Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The commission’s members want Turks and Armenians to move from residual hostility and mutual ignorance to some level of understanding and cooperation. Economically, Armenia needs such cooperation far more than Turkey does. Yet the political backlash in Yerevan seems designed, first, to pillory the advocates of reconciliation, and, second, to force the government to stick to the view that “genocide recognition” must be a precondition to any normalization.

In Turkey and Azerbaijan, the political forces have paid only scant attention to the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission and its initiative. Turkish mainstream press reactions, while sporadic, have been cautiously favorable. The governments in Ankara and Baku seem, publicly at least, to bide their time and give this American-backed initiative a chance (Roundup based on recent reporting by Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Azg, Armenpress, Groong Armenian News Service and Turkish press monitoring, July 18-August 1).

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