President Serge Sargsian categorically rules out historians' commission for 1915
Published: Thursday November 13, 2008Yerevan -
In an interview published on November 11 by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, President Serge Sargsian of Armenia categorically ruled out a joint Armenian-Turkish commission of historians to study the events of 1915. In earlier statements, he had held out the possibility of agreeing to the establishment of such a commission.
"There is no need for it whatsoever," the president stated during the interview, which was conducted by Nicolas Boussen.
Referring to Armenia and Turkey, which do not have diplomatic relations with each other, Mr. Sargsian added, "We wish to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries without preconditions, to open the borders, and after that, we can discuss on the intergovernmental level the whole range of issues existing between neighbor states. We do not put the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey as a precondition for the establishment of bilateral relations. We wish to establish relations, but not at any cost. In the past the European nations did not create any commissions for the establishment of normal relations either."
The president concluded, "Such a step could also mean an attempt to mislead the international community, especially when the process could last for years."
Indeed, the proposal to form such a commission is widely seen as a means to postpone, perhaps indefinitely, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by foreign governments, and to alleviate pressure on the Turkish government to acknowledge the Genocide.
The proposal to form a commission was first made in an April 10, 2005, letter from Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an to Armenia's president at the time, Robert Kocharian. Mr. Erdo?an had written, "It is not a secret that we have diverging interpretations of events that took place during a particular period of our common history," and had proposed "to establish a joint group consisting of historians and other experts from our two countries to study the developments and events of 1915."
The proposal got a cool response from Yerevan.
Vartan Oskanian, Armenia's foreign minister at the time, had noted, "Historians have done their job. It remains for Turkey to come to terms with its past and its neighbors."
In his formal response, Mr. Kocharian called on Turkey to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia without preconditions; he suggested that Armenia and Turkey could form an intergovernmental commission to address all bilateral concerns.
But on June 23, 2008, just over two months after assuming the presidency, President Sargsian had sounded a somewhat different note in prepared remarks delivered in Moscow. He had said, "The Turkish side suggests forming a commission that would study the historic facts. We do not mind establishing that commission, but only when the border between our countries is opened. Otherwise, it can become a means of protracting the solution of the issue for many years."
In response to questions from the Armenian Reporter, however, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and the president's spokesperson each stated at the time that there had not been any change in policy. And in a Wall Street Journal commentary published July 9, Mr. Sargsian pointedly reverted to the wording used by Mr. Kocharian in 2005. He was in favor of "a commission to comprehensively discuss all of the complex issues affecting Armenia and Turkey."
The wording Mr. Sargsian used in his interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reflects a complete confirmation of the policy articulated by Mr. Kocharian in 2005. Mr. Kocharian had written, "As two neighbors, we both must work to find ways to live together in harmony. That is why, from the first day, we have extended our hand to you to establish relations, open the border, and thus start a dialogue between the two countries and two peoples. There are neighboring countries, particularly on the European continent, who have had a difficult past, about which they differ. However, that has not stopped them from having open borders, normal relations, diplomatic ties, representatives in each other's capitals, even as they continue to discuss that which divides them. Your suggestion to address the past cannot be effective if it deflects from addressing the present and the future. In order to engage in a useful dialog, we need to create the appropriate and conducive political environment. It is the responsibility of governments to develop bilateral relations and we do not have the right to delegate that responsibility to historians. That is why we have proposed and propose again that, without pre-conditions, we establish normal relations between our two countries. In that context, an intergovernmental commission can meet to discuss any and all outstanding issues between our two nations, with the aim of resolving them and coming to an understanding."