Kamer KASIM, Assoc. Prof. Dr.
09 May 2006 - JTW
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.iq0 À="justify">TURKISH-ARMENIAN RECONCILIATION COMMISSION: MISSED OPPORTUNITYRTurkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) was set up in Geneva on 9 July 2001 after three days of discussions hosted by the Henry Dunant Center for Humanitarian Diologue and it survived until 11th of December when the Armenian members quitted from the commission with a joint declaration. Œ}It is argued that the short-lived Commission was an historic opportunity for the both sites to reach reconciliation and mutual understanding, which would be beneficial for the both communities.
The TRAC had six Turkish and four Armenian members, who were well-known people and they took important positions. Turkish members of the TRAC are: Gündüz Aktan (Former Ambassador), Özden Sanberk, (Director of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation and former Ambassador) ?lter Türkmen (Former Foreign Minister of Turkey), ?adi Ergüvenç (Rtd Lieutenant General), Üstün Ergüner (Former President of Bo?aziçi University) and Vam?k Volkan (Professor of Psychiatry, University of Virginia). Armenian members of the Commission are: Van Krikorian (Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America), Alexander Arzumanian (Chairman of Armenian National Movement and former Foreign Minister of Armenia), David Hovhannissian (Professor at Yerevan State University and Former Armenian Ambassador to Syria) and Andranik Migranian (Former Presidential Advisor to Russian President Boris Yeltsin).
The objectives of the commission were published in the document called Terms of Reference. According to this document, the Reconciliation Commission aimed to promote mutual understanding and good will between Turks and Armenians, to encourage improved relations between Armenia and Turkey, to build on the increasing readiness for reconciliation among Turkish and Armenian civil societies including members of diaspora communities, to support contact, dialogue and cooperation between Armenian and Turkish societies in order to create public awareness about the need for reconciliation and to derive practical benefits. Terms of Reference mentioned that the Reconciliation Commission would undertake activities and catalyze projects by other organizations and it would also develop recommendations to be submitted to concerned governments. The Reconciliation Commission pledged to support activities in the fields of business, tourism, culture, education and research, environment. It would secure expertise based on project requirements on historical, psychological, legal matters and on other topics.
As was seen in its objectives, the TRAC would not deal with Armenian genocide claim and the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. To reach above-mentioned objectives, the TRAC skipped the issues in which difficult to compromise. The same strategy was followed in the dialogue between Turks and Greeks, which were conducted by Greek Turkish Forum established in 1998. Özdem Sanberk stated that the main idea behind the Commission was “to open new horizons for the future and enhance mutual understanding.” Gündüz Aktan stated that the TARC would follow a method known as “track-two” or “unofficial diplomacy” and it would intent to bring both parties together and would reduce the effects of events in history on the present day. ?lter Türkmen said that “It is the first time there has been an attempt at structured dialogue between civil society in Turkey and Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.”
2. The Reactions Towards the TRAC
2.1. Reactions of Armenians
The TRAC was an example of civilian diplomacy in which people involve in the negotiations did not have any official title and duty. Although the Reconciliation Commission did not attract much attention in Turkey and the Turkish people around the world, it was discussed in the Armenian diaspora and Armenia widely. The establishment of the Commission and the each meeting of it debated among the Armenian diaspora organizations. Despite some exceptions, Armenians’ reaction towards the TRAC was negative. The harshest criticism towards the Reconciliation Commission came from Dashnaks and their organization Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). Contrary to the harsh criticism of Dashnaks, Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) supported the Reconciliation Commission and its activities.
Dashnaks (the ANCA and also the Armenian Revolutionary Front -the ARF-) around the world showed negative reaction towards the TARC. The ARF Bureau made a statement in which they stated that although they did not oppose the principle of free dialog between the two peoples and neighboring states, they rejected any initiative mandated by foreign powers, which involves unsanctioned individuals, and which did not depart from Armenian national interests. The ARF considered the TARC as an initiative aimed at strengthening the position of Turkey vis vis Armenian demands and damaging the national security of Armenia. The ARF feared that the establishment of the TARC would divide the Armenians and undermine their efforts for the recognition of “genocide”. The ARF’s argument about the TARC’s role to divide Armenians will be discussed later.
The Armenians, who are against the Armenian National Movement and the AAA, also opposed the TARC. The main reason for this was the features of the Armenian members of TARC. Alexander Arzumanian was the former Armenian Ambassador to the United Nations and Foreign Minister of Armenia during former Armenia’s President Levon Ter-Petrosyan era. Arzumanian is also Chairman of the Armenian National Movement. David Hovhanissian was Armenian Ambassador to Syria from 1992-1998. They had important positions during Ter-Petrosyan’s presidency.
The ANCA and other Armenian organizations, which opposed to the TARC, strongly criticized the US State Department for its involvement in the TARC. They argued that the State Department was only care about the US oil companies’ strong interests in the Caspian Sea and the US government has supported the Bakü-Ceyhan oil pipeline to carry the Caspian oil to the world markets and the US has vested interests in Turkey. Thus the State Department has no interests in Armenia and Armenian genocide recognition. According to Dashnaks, the TARC was the creation of the State Department in order to convince the Armenian community for concessions on issues such as the Armenian “genocide” and the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.
The US State Department had very positive reaction towards the TARC. The State Department openly expressed its support for the TARC. Although US Deputy Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones stated that the TARC was a private initiative and the US government did not involve in it, media wrote about the US government’s involvement in the initiative. Congressional Research Service also published the four pages report titled “Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission and US Role”. The report mentioned that the State Department provided financial assistance to support the Commission's activities as it does other civil society initiatives or people to people contacts. The funds were in the form of a grant to the American University for a conflict resolution program, which is supporting the activities of the Commission. Regarding the claims of the US government’s financial support of the TARC, Van Krikorian stated, “From the beginning the US government said it was supporting us. So I don’t think that is a surprise.” Arzumanian and Hovannisian stated that they did not have information about the US government funding.
On the contrary to the harsh criticism from the ANCA, the AAA, which is one of the biggest Armenian organization in the US, supported the TARC. Harair Hovnanian from the AAA stated that
“This is the first multi-disciplinary, comprehensive attempt to reconcile differences between two neighbors, separated by bitterness and mistrust, and as such, it is a major advance.” He further stated, “I am particularly proud that the Assembly's Board of Directors Chairman Van Krikorian is on this high-level Commission.” Carolyn Mugar, from the AAA's board of trustees commented, “We believe that the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission will benefit and build on the experiences of other similar international efforts.” Arti Vartanian, acting executive director of the AAA considered the Commission as a groundbreaking step. She said, “Turkey and Armenia are neighbors. Right now they are not communicating. This is going to open the line of communication and hopefully the border.”
The AAA is in competition with Dashnak’s organization, the ANCA. The ANCA views the AAA as an organization closely aligned with the US State Department, which means that it followed the interests of the US rather than those of Armenia and the Armenian people. It might be argued that the ANCA and the AAA have consisted of different social classes and their interests differ accordingly. The AAA is an organization consists of Armenian-Americans that represent the elite and establishment. The AAA’s members have more business minded and they aware of the fact that if Turkish-Armenian border opened, Armenia and Armenian and American-Armenian businessmen would benefit from it. They realize the benefits of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians. On the other hand, the ANCA members are more politicized and economically less advantaged.
The AAA’s support of the TARC and Van Krikorian’s presence there instigated the division among Armenian diaspora especially in the US. As it was mentioned above the ANCA accused the AAA of dividing the Armenians and disrupted their joint lobbying efforts in the US. Van Krikorian, stated, “Armenian-Americans are already divided.” Van Krikorian also pointed out differences between the ANCA and the AAA in terms of structure and capacity. For example when it was asked why was not the ANCA invited to join the TARC?, he replied that the ANCA/ARF did not have any member who meet the three criteria to join the Commission; 1) Significant international and national political experience; 2) Fluency in English; 3) Willingness to work.
It might be argued that the TARC soured relations between the ANCA and the AAA and affected their joint lobbying activities. Indeed, the ANCA and the AAA were in disagreement about the mechanism and timing of introducing a genocide resolution in the House of Representatives. The dialogue was started by the TARC also affected other states’ attitude towards the Armenian genocide claim. The European Parliament attributed significance to the TARC and it refused to include “genocide” issue in a resolution about Turkey. The European Parliament stated that
“It supported the civil initiative launched by a group of former diplomats and academics from Turkey and Armenia, the aim of which was to arrive at a common understanding of the past; hoped that this initiative would contribute towards the normalization of relations between the two communities concerned.”
The German Parliament also refused to deal with a petition about Armenian genocide claim. The German Parliament referred to the contact between Turkish and Armenian organizations (the TARC).
The establishment of the TARC also affected the ARF’s relations with the Armenian government The ARF had suspicion about the Armenian government’s involvement of the TARC. As a reaction, the ARF voted against a bill about the privatization of the electricity distribution network. The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 13th of July 2001 in which it welcomed the establishment of the TARC. However, the Armenian Foreign Ministry emphasized that a full normalization of relations between the two neighboring states only possible after the establishment of diplomatic relations. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian stated that the Armenian Foreign Ministry was informed about the process but not involved in it. He said, “Nobody had asked us whom we want to see in the commission. Nor did we have a right to say yes or no to any candidate.” Armenian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian sated that “ In connection with the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the Reconciliation Commission, I must say that Armenia has always hailed any public contact and dialog between the Armenian and Turkish peoples, which will promote public discussions on current problems.”
The TARC received a negative reaction from several leading Armenian political parties. They made a joint statement on 31st of July 2001 in which they condemned the TARC and considered it as “artificial reconciliation”. The Armenian political parties’ reaction affected the Foreign Ministry’s opinion about the TARC. As a result, on 1st of August Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement different than its earlier statement. As a response to the political parties’ joint statement Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aghajanian said, “It is noteworthy that the political forces holding the majority in the parliament have assumed a unified position over the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation commission. We believe that opinions voiced in the statement, as well as other opinions made public so far will be taken into account by the commission.” Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman also stressed that the TARC could not divide Armenians and deviate Armenian authorities from consistently pursuing and realizing the process of Armenian genocide recognition, one of the priorities on the agenda of the Armenia's foreign policy. She also pointed out that the TARC activities could not replace state level discussion and all existing problems between Turkey and Armenia could be solved only through an inter-state dialog. Armenian President Kocharian also stressed that Armenian-Turkish relations should be discussed on the state level. It can be argued that criticisms from Armenian political parties and Armenian diaspora led the Armenian authorities to distance themselves from the work of the commission.
As was seen from the reaction of the Armenian diaspora and Armenian political parties the TARC was viewed negatively by some Armenians and Armenian organizations. As a response of criticisms, the Armenian members of the Commission claimed that most Armenians from around the world have offered support, both publicly and privately towards the TARC and most Armenians believed that if Armenians and Turks talk directly and in a structured fashion, addressing the numerous issues that cause problems, some progress may follow. One of the criticisms to the TARC was about the members of the Commission. As was mentioned above the most Armenian members of the TARC had important position during the former Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan era and they were strongly criticized by the opponents of the Ter-Petrosyan. The Armenians involved the TARC were also criticized of not consulting the other Armenian organizations. The Turkish members of the TARC were criticized by some Armenians as being hardliners on the Armenian question and being connected with the Turkish establishment.
2.2. Reactions of the Turkish Side
Although in Turkey, the TARC did not attract as much interest as it got in Armenia and Armenian diaspora, there were positive reactions towards the TARC and a dialogue between the Turks and the Armenians. Mahmet Ali Briand argued that Turkey should support the TARC and should encourage meetings with Armenian business groups. Ömer E. Lütem, Director of the Institute for Armenian Research emphasized the benefits of the TARC for softening of the strained atmosphere between the two states and nations. Nuzhet Kandemir Turkey’s former Ambassador to the United States argued that the TARC was a positive development, but it would be wrong to have great expectations. He also added, “Turkish participants should coordinate with Azerbaijan when they do something in order to prevent any damage to Turkish-Azerbaijani relations.” Sami Kohen from Daily Milliyet newspaper considered the establishment of the TARC was a right step on the right time. Turkish Armenians welcomed the TARC. Markar Eseyan from Agos newspaper argued that the establishment of the TARC had a big step for civilization and friendship and he stated that TARC would provide prestige to Turkey. Eseyan also argued that Western states did not want reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and they used the Armenian problem to put pressure on Turkey.
2.3. Reactions of Azerbaijan
The TARC met with cold reaction from many Azerbaijani politicians. Main reason for the negative approach was that the TARC would not deal with the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Therefore the TARC would not play any role to make Armenian forces withdraw from the occupied Azeri territories. The Speaker of the Parliament of Azerbaijan, Murtuz Aleskerov considered dealings with Armenia as a betrayal of Azerbaijan. He said that he was against the steps taken between Turkey and Armenia to improve economic and cultural ties, despite the lack of political ties between the two countries. The Chairman of the National Liberation Party, Etibar Memedov argued that the establishment of the Commission is a result of the passivity of Azerbaijani diplomacy. He stated, “as long as there are unresolved problems in Turkish-Azerbaijani relations, supporters of the restoration of Turkish-Armenian ties will be allowed to flourish.” Ali Kerimov, the Chairman of the People’s Front of Azerbaijan (reformist wing) argued that any cooperation or diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia could only be established after the liberation of Azerbaijan’s occupied territories. Therefore it is not correct to establish a Turkish-Armenian reconciliation commission in the current situation.
The most positive reaction came from Mirmahmut Fattayev, the Chairman of the people’s Front of Azerbaijan (Traditionalist wing). He stated, “he did not see any problem in the establishment of the Commission.”
3. The Second Meeting of the Commission
As it was mentioned the TARC was criticized by some Armenian diaspora organizations and particularly by Dashnaks. Under this atmosphere the TARC hold its second meeting in Istanbul on 23-25 September 2001. At the end of the meeting, the declaration was made in which the Commission members expressed their will to continue their efforts for reconciliation. They also evaluated media reaction to the TARC in Armenia, Turkey and worldwide. They decided to increase the number of Armenian members of TARC and to hold next meeting in New York. The Commission members also agreed to invite the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) to organize a “Seminar on Legal Issues” (including international models for reconciliation).
Van Krikorian, in an interview, commented about the some of the decision taken in the Istanbul meeting. He mentioned that he expected the number of Armenians in the TARC would increase from four to six and he emphasized that the Commission members agreed in Istanbul to form a group of psychologists and psychiatrists to explore how issues that divide Turks and Armenians affect both sides and to find some common ground. He also stated the TARC would ask the assistance from the ICTJ to put a framework to the legal issues. Arzumanian argued that Istanbul meeting produced encouraging results. Migranian expressed cautious optimism about the Commission’s chances to lay the groundwork for the reconciliation of the two bitterly divided peoples.
Although, the Commission members gathered in Istanbul, Turkish press did not show much interest about the event. On 25th of September 37 journalists were invited to the lunch with the members of the TARC and only 7 of them participated it.
4 The Third Meeting of the Commission
As it was decided in the Istanbul meeting of the TARC, the Commission members hold the third meeting in New York on 18-21 November 2001. This meeting turned out to be the last meeting of the TARC. To evaluate the meeting and discussions following it, which resulted dissolution of the TARC, will give us clue about what should be done for the long lasting dialogue between the two sides.
According to media information, the three-day meeting entitled Reconciliation Models and Issues of International Law and professor Ani Kalajian, a psychologist, also participated the meeting. At the end of the meeting the members of the TARC agreed on several issues: The Commission discussed issues related to international and inter-state reconciliation models and decided to create a working commission to deal with several issues. The Commission also decided to secure the issue of the Turkish and Armenian communities more active participation in the process of reconciliation through more contacts and their involvement in the process of normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. The TARC also decided to open secretariats in the USA, Turkey and Armenia and to open an Internet site. The representatives from the Assembly of Turkish American Association (ATAA) and the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA) also participated the meeting to discuss Turkish-Americans expectations and their possible role to strength Turkish-Armenian ties.
After the New York meeting controversy aroused among the Commission’s Armenian and Turkish members. The two sides could not agree about the joint statement. As a result mediator and a chairman of the meeting David Phillips summarized the results of the New York meeting. Despite this, David Hovhannissian expressed his hope for the continuation of the TARC. According to Hovhanissian, the meeting produced serious results. The most important result was that the TARC asked the assistance from ICTJ to investigate the applicability of the UN Convention on Genocide of 1948 to the events in 1915. Arzumanian and Migranian also considered the decision to ask assistance from the ICTJ was the most important result of the meeting. Arzumanian commented that the study by the ICTJ could affect the Commission’s future recommendations to Ankara and Yerevan. They also stated that normalization of trade and transportation between Turkey and Armenia was discussed in the meeting. However, the commissioners indicated that the existence of the TARC should not be used as a means to influence Armenia and Turkey's international relations.
Although the statements from the commissioners indicated hope for the Commission’s future activities, problems arisen between the two sides of the TARC. Moreover, the opponents of the Commission also continued their criticism with increased fashion. After the New York meeting of the TARC, Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian suggested that the members of TARC needed to evaluate the situation and decide whether to continue or not.
On 11 December 2001, the four Armenian members of the TARC withdrew from the Commission with a joint statement in which they stated that they learned that the Turkish members of TARC unilaterally asked the ICTJ to refrained from proceeding with its study regarding the applicability of the UN Genocide Convention to the events in 1915. The four Armenian members also expressed that “they believed the necessity for full normalization of relations between Armenians and Turks and between Armenia and Turkey. Contact between members of Armenian and Turkish civil societies, such as those which have been enabled through the TARC, continued to be necessary to accomplish these essential goals.”
The demise of TARC was welcomed by the organizations opposed to the initiative. Azg newspaper considered TARC’s failure as a pleasant surprise and continued to criticize the Commission’s activities even after its demise. The AAA, the proponents of the TARC expressed its disappointment for the demise of the Commission and towards the Commission’s Turkish members.
The Commission members blamed each other for the failure. Interestingly, the opponents of TARC from the Armenian side also blamed the Turkish members of TARC, arguing that Turkish members did not want ICTJ to study applicability of the 1948 UN Convention to events of 1915. However, the opponents of the TARC from the Armenian side opposed the Commission’s proposal for the third party study to the applicability of the UN Convention of 1948 to the events of 1915. They argued that Armenians had nothing to gain from such a study and there was no need of the study, which would question veracity of the historical “fact”.
5. Why did the Commission Dissolve?
There were two main reasons for the demise of the TARC. First, some Armenian diaspora organizations were not ready for dialogue with the Turkish side and they put enormous pressure on the Armenian members of the TARC. The ANCA and the ARF accused the Armenian members of betraying the Armenian people and jeopardizing Armenian national interests. Under this pressure the Armenian members started to put forward some demands from the Turkish members of the Commission as if they had the authority to meet their demands. The Armenian members main aim was to give message to the diaspora organizations and to say that they defended the Armenian interests and put pressure on the Turkish members of the TARC, but the Turkish members did not accept their demands.
Second reason for the demise of the TARC was the Armenian genocide claim. As mentioned above, with the inception of the TARC, the members decided not to deal with the issues difficult to compromise and Armenian Genocide claim was one of the issues that the Commission members had definite opinion and they had statements about the subject. For example, Gündüz Aktan clearly stated that none of the Turkish Participants of the TARC considered the events of 1915-16 as genocide. ?lter Türkmen also said
“Nothing changed in the attitudes of the sides. There is no change in attitude of the Armenians regarding claims on so-called genocide on Armenians. Of course, there is no change in our attitude. We will be in an effort to overcome the problem through dialogue.”
The Armenian members of TARC had similar statements. Arzumanian stated that “the Armenian members of the commission would never cast doubt on the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide.” In fact, the Commission would not intent or expect either side’s position to be changed regarding the issue of genocide claim. The Armenian members of the TARC were particularly eager to discuss the issue in the Commission meetings, because they wanted to respond critics that they neglected “genocide” issue. As was mentioned above, after the New York meeting, the TARC’s Armenian members stated that the most important result of the meeting was that the Commission asked for assistance from ICTJ to study the applicability of the UN Convention to the events in 1915. David Phillips, mediator and the Chairman of the meeting, published a declaration, which reflected the Armenian members demand for the assistance of the ICTJ, without getting approval from the Turkish members of the Commission. After the declaration the process of demise of the Commission was started and as discussed above the TARC was dissolved on 11th of December 2001.
6. Conclusion
The attitudes of the Turkish and Armenian side towards the TARC were very different. While many Armenian diaspora organizations and the Armenian political parties had negative attitude towards the TARC, the Turkish side considered it as a very positive development. The Armenian members of the Commission came under pressure and they felt that they had to take into account at least some of the critics. The TARC should have continued its activities behind closed doors for a while, which would reduce the criticisms, particularly towards the Armenian members of the Commission. As it was mentioned above the demand of study from the ICTJ was used by the Armenian members of the TARC to ease the pressure and it was publicized against the will of the Turkish members of the Commission, which damage the mutual trust. Any attempt of reconciliation should be based on mutual trust and understanding. When the confidence of the commission members towards each other was lost, the failure of the TARC became imminent.
The establishment of TARC had an impact on Armenian diaspora activities for “genocide” recognition. The TARC was considered as positive step by other states and they did not want to take genocide claims on the agenda in order not to damage the dialogue atmosphere.
For Turkey there are two issues to deal with in the dialogue process with Armenians. One is the establishment of Turkey’s or Turkish groups and organizations’ contacts with Armenian diaspora organizations. The other issue is Turkey’s relations with Armenia. As was seen in this article, the two big diaspora organizations in the US, the AAA and the ANCA had different policy towards the reconciliation. This indicated that at least there are Armenians with whom Turkish organizations can contact for reconciliation. Turkish organizations and even officials’ contact with the AAA would be useful for dialogue between the two communities. Turkish and Armenian members of the TARC might also continue to keep in touch, which create atmosphere for another reconciliation attempt in the future. Turkey’s relations with Armenia are more complicated than Turkish-Armenian diaspora relations. The Nagorno-Karabakh problem and Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan had the factors should be taken into account in Turkey’s relations with Armenia. During the reconciliation process, the Armenian members of the TARC dealt with the normalization of Turkey’s relations with Armenia without mentioning the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. While the % 20 of Azerbaijan’s territory was under the Armenian occupation, the normalization of trade and transportation between Turkey and Armenia and establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states would damage Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan and would encourage the Armenian side not to make any attempt for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.
Achieving reconciliation between Turks and Armenians is a historical necessity and it would also help to establish bring peace and to bring prosperity in the Caucasus. Some diaspora organizations did not want to involve any kind of reconciliation attempt. Besides they tried to prevent it. The Armenian members of the Commission and the AAA might play an important role to change the opinion of Armenians regarding the dialogue with Turkey. It might be possible the Commission to be resumed and the dialogue process to be started. The TARC member Üstün Ergüner stated that “I think the reason (the Commission) probably looks dead right now was technicalities. We were pressed for time. If we had more time, we probably could have made the thing live.”

Kamer KASIM is assist. Prof. Dr. at Abant Izzet baysal University, Bolu, and head of the Caucasus Studies Desk, ISRO

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