- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

The genocide of more than 1 million people is sure to breed persistent enmity. And yet, even in wake of colossal human tragedy, reconciliation is possible, as Armenia and Turkey could be poised to prove.
Last week, prominent Armenians and Turks in Geneva formally launched a reconciliation commission aimed at improving relations between those countries through dialogue and cultural exchange. Although governments weren't formally involved in the commission, many of the participants are former high-ranking government officials with a close connection with official power. "There is no question that they were in constant contact with the government," said Van Z. Krikorian, chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, an Armenian-American advocacy group. "It's a bit of a charade, but it works." And in recent months, there have reportedly been reports of increased economic, cultural, religious, even governmental contacts between Turkey and Armenia.
The significance of this apparent rapprochement shouldn't be underestimated. Few historical issues are as inflammatory as the Ottoman Empire's genocide of more than 1 million Armenians, a Christian minority that tried to form an autonomous state before and during World War I. Most Turks, particularly nationalists, hotly deny genocide ever occurred and their education system teaches them that a far smaller number of Armenians died during that period due to the hardships of war. The Armenians, meanwhile, have lobbied, sometimes violently, to have the genocide recognized.
A warming of Armenian-Turkish relations would certainly be positive for Armenia for economic reasons, since Turkey currently has a trade blockade on Armenia, and by Turkey for the sake of its legacy. But a key step toward reconciliation will be Turkey's opening of Ottoman-era archives and an honest account of what occurred to the Armenians under Ottoman rule. Turkey is increasingly being pressured to take this step by the international community.
In recent months, the French and Italian governments, the European Parliament and the Vatican have all recognized the Armenian genocide. But sadly, much of the political discussion regarding the Armenian genocide in the rest of the world has been chillingly pragmatic. Last year, the Clinton administration argued that U.S. recognition of the tragedy could hurt efforts to build a gas pipeline through Turkey and limit access to Turkish airspace. Fortunately, the Bush administration has taken a more principled stance. "Today marks the commemoration of one of the great tragedies of history: the forced exile and annihilation of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the closing years of the Ottoman Empire. These infamous killings darkened the 20th century and continue to haunt us to this day," Mr. Bush said on April 24 in commemoration of the 86th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, which began in 1915.
And the governments of Turkey and Armenia have certainly shown courage in tacitly endorsing the Geneva reconciliation commission. The political cost of holding such a commission could be high, given the hostility the people of both countries continue to feel towards each other. "For us, getting to this point was huge. We had secret negotiations for a long time," noted Mr. Krikorian.
Hopefully, the commission will eventually lead to concrete results. Certainly, it is a step in the right direction and a reflection of Turkey's and Armenia's maturity and goodwill.

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