On December 11, the four Armenian members of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) announced their withdrawal from that body. The Armenian members accused the Turkish members of breaching reciprocal trust in connection with a proposed third-party inquiry into the massacres and deportations of 1915-1918, which are described as genocide by Armenians, and as war and intercommunal conflict by Turks. Western historiography is divided on the issue.
The recently founded, New York-based International Center for Transnational Justice was preparing an inquiry, pursuant to a tentative agreement reached by both sides of TARC at a session in New York last month. The proposed inquiry’s specific goal was to determine whether or not the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention is applicable to the 1915-1918 massacres and deportations. At some point in December, however, TARC’s Turkish members requested the International Center for Transnational Justice to refrain from proceeding with this undertaking. The Armenian members’ December 11 response statement announced that “the TARC is not going to proceed.” The degree of ambiguity in that formulation appears designed to avoid killing the TARC outright.
In practice, TARC had already been brought to a comatose state by two factors: on one side, virulent political attacks from Armenian nationalist circles in the diaspora and the country, as well as lack of sympathy for TARC from official Yerevan; on the other, the Turkish government’s unimaginative approach to the issues of trade and cross-border communications with Armenia–an approach that undercut the position of moderate Armenians vis-a-vis their hardline detractors.
TARC was founded earlier this year by prominent Turks and Armenians, most of whom had earlier served in their respective governments, but are currently not in government service. The U.S. government, unofficially but unmistakably, supported TARC all along. The commission was intended to break the deadlock in communications between Armenian and Turkish political circles and civil societies, but it was also hoped that it would lead to a dialogue between the two governments. Both governments observed TARC’s work closely. Its Armenian founding members–who now apparently abandoned it–are former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Arzumanian, former ambassador now Yerevan University professor David Hovhanissian, Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) Van Z. Krikorian, and the prominent Russian-Armenian foreign policy analyst Andranik Migranian. TARC’s six Turkish members included high-level former diplomats, think-tank directors and an internationally respected psychology professor.
TARC foundered over the genocide issue. This divisive issue was forced onto the front burner by internal political pressures in the Armenian-American diaspora and in Yerevan. The Armenian parliament voted overwhelmingly for a resolution stigmatizing participation in TARC as unpatriotic, unless TARC focused on recognizing the 1915-1918 events as genocide. In the diaspora, the debate pitted the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaksutiun and its affiliate, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) against the AAA. The two organizations also clashed over the issue of lifting restrictions on U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan. The AAA favored relaxing the curbs while the ANCA unsuccessfully opposed that move.
The ARF takes the position that any reconciliation initiative must be conditional on Turkish recognition of a genocide and of compensation claims; and that dropping that precondition would interfere with the ARF-spearheaded international campaign for “genocide recognition.” The ARF’s vilification of TARC made it difficult for the latter’s members and sympathizers to speak out; it also placed them under an onus to bring the genocide issue to the center of TARC’s agenda. That turned out to be a prescription for failure and a setback to reconciliation among the two nations (Noyan-Tapan, Mediamax, AAA and ARF press releases, December 11-13).
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