- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

As the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide approached last month, Turkish Prime Minister Receip Tayyip Erdogan came up with an initiative in a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, proposing creation of a joint commission to address the history. In response, Mr. Kocharian called on Turkey to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia without preconditions, and to form an intergovernmental commission to address all bilateral concerns.

No matter how unconventional this type of public communication may be between leaders of two neighboring nations, it is tempting to see Turkey may really open up for serious dialog.

Mr. Erdogan’s initiative, assuming its sincere aim is normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, still raises many questions. A genuine effort by the Turkish government to allow the Turkish scholars to investigate the dark chapters of Turkish history would be worthy, though much belated. Such a move by the Turkish government would undoubtedly be applauded by our nations’ true friends, as it would indeed begin a process of alleviating the burden of history in our region.

Armenia would be the first to welcome such a move by the Turkish government. This would allow Turkish scholars to reveal the truth and help its political leadership accept and condemn it. Let us hope, however, that Prime Minister Erdogan’s call to concentrate on addressing the past will not deflect from addressing pressing issues of the present and the future and that this will not deepen still further the division on both sides about what happened in 1915.

Yet, as long as there are political taboos and legal obstacles to the free discussion and comprehension of this issue in Turkey, including criminal penalties in the new Turkish Penal Code for mere assertion of the term genocide, any investigation mandated by the Turkish government will have a pre-determined outcome. A Turkish newspaper, Zaman, noted on April 23 that the Turkish Government should “lift all legal and other obstacles to the free investigation, discussion, and comprehension of ‘What happened in 1915?’ ”

Also, we witness the dangerous temptation of modern-day Turkish officials to present the extermination of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population as a result of World War I. We want to remind all that it was the exact hope, argument and calculation of the perpetrators that the massacres and deportations of Armenians would pass unnoticed under the cover of World War I. Neither war nor anything else can explain or justify the murder of 1.5 million innocent Armenian children, women, and men in the Ottoman Turkey.

Turkish officials claim Armenians alone define the history of those days. First, the historical record is both rich and well-documented. The process for establishing the truth started in the wake of World War I, as the Turkish military tribunal sentenced the perpetrators of the massacres and deportation of Armenians to the death penalty in 1919. That fact is deliberately bypassed by governments in modern-day Turkey.

This process has progressed very far, especially in the last decade, with a growing number of countries properly recognizing and strongly condemning the events of 90 years ago. Turkey coming to terms with its past has become a test of its willingness to embrace human rights and fundamental values. And it is Turkey that is “missing the bus,” at a cost of credibility and time.

Second, we should not be blamed for defining the history alone: Ever since its independence, Armenia has consistently proposed, without preconditions, establishing diplomatic relations, opening the border and allowing the people to interact freely, thus helping create the proper environment for a discussion of all issues of bilateral importance. However, Turkey’s denial of history has not been the only problem. Turkey has persistently refused to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, imposed a blockade on the Turkish-Armenian border and prioritized ethnic solidarity with Azerbaijan over Turkey’s international obligations, instead of helping settle the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Thus, Turkey’s rejection of not only the past but also the present left Armenians with no choice but to pursue its quest for justice — both historical and contemporary — within the international framework.

Armenia is firm on its intent to seize on the opportunity presented by the exchange between our two countries’ leaders. However, caution is also inspired by the fact Prime Minister Erdogan’s letter was hurriedly circulated to European capitals and the United States Congress prior to the April 24 Commemoration Day and even before Armenian President Kocharian had an opportunity to respond formally. This left an impression the initiative may not have been mainly directed at Armenia. Could it have been a tactical maneuver intended to upstage the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, or to sidetrack European and other inquiries?

We are interested in concrete steps and results, never in a vague process for the sake of process. That is why we proposed and are proposing again the establishment without preconditions of normal relations between Armenia and Turkey. As President Kocharian mentioned in his reply, that will allow an intergovernmental commission to meet and discuss any and all outstanding issues between our nations, with the aim of resolving them and reaching an understanding.

Tatoul Markarian is the ambassador of Armenia to the United States.

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