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Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
26 April 2006 - ?KSAREN
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!ថ face="Verdana" size="2">Every year since his inauguration President Bush issues a statement on the 24th of April, a date the Armenians consider as the initiation of the so-called genocide. As with previous statements issued on “Armenian Remembrance Day” President Bush refrained from using the term ‘genocide’ but has used the phrase ‘mass killings’ which carries approximately the same meaning. He has also referred to the relocation as “one of the most horrific tragedies of the 20th century” and goes on to say that “this event is a tragedy that all mankind should remember” and defines the era as “a terrible chapter in history”. In short President Bush has repeated his annual tactic that involves omitting the term ‘genocide’ to appease the Turks while invoking a synonymous terms  to satiate the Armenians.

Due to Armenians’ obsession with the term ‘genocide’, the absence of this term from the presidents statement was not welcomed by them. The  American Armenian Assembly  and its rival Armenian National Committee of America both issued statements criticizing the President for not using the word ‘genocide’ in his annual statement.

In Turkey the Presidents message was met with standard media coverage mainly referring to the absence of the term ‘genocide’. Apart from our assessment there have up till now been no other such comments made on this issue.  If made, no one should expect that any thanks will be allotted to the President. Furthermore the omission of the term ‘genocide’ aside, the Turkish stand point and President Bush’s remarks are in a dichotomy. Also the statement of President Bush referring to the “mass killings” of 1.5 million Armenians during the relocation without a solid base of reference is not noteworthy of Turkish applause.

A point of interest in the statement is this quote; “We praise the individuals in Armenia and Turkey who have sought to examine the historical events of this time with honesty and sensitivity”. This quote does not reference the hundreds of Turkish academicians, including the writer of this article, who are devoted to scientifically proving the non-existence of the so-called ‘genocide; but refers to thirty or so people ,the majority of which are employed by Universities backed by endowments, who this last September met at Bilgi University and voiced Armenian views.

Another intriguing aspect of the statement, as with last year was the reference to the appraisal of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) that, without putting a final judgment on the issue, contributed to an in depth understanding of the relocation issue. To be able to decipher these choice of words a degree of backtracking is necessary. The ICTJ is a private legal institution that is not well-known even in the United States. The now defunct Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission had referred to the ICTJ the question of whether the United Nations Genocide Treaty could be applicable to the events of 1915. The ICTJ answered with the statement that this treaty was not retroactive and thus the request for Turkish land and reparations was unfounded. Although the question was not posed to it, the ICTJ stated that had the UN Treaty been retroactive the events of 1915 would be classified as genocide. In short the formula presented by the ICTJ appears to insinuate that Turkey should recognize the ‘genocide’ and that in due course Armenia should not request land and reparations.

The fact that for two consecutive years the American President has chosen to refer to this sidelined legal body points to how the U.S. State Department  is inclined to accommodate this  proposed formula. The Armenian government which, on its own, is incapable of acquiring land and reparations from Turkey would be prone to embrace this approach as well, if it could silence its coalition partner the Dashnaks. On the other hand Turkish public opinion has always had a great sensitivity towards  ‘genocide’ allegations and the fact that the current government and all preceding Turkish governments have refused these allegations  makes the formula presented by the ICTJ inconceivable and therefore of no material importance.

The most important section of the presidents statement is “ we encourage dialogues, including through joint commissions, that strive for a shared understanding of these tragic events and move Armenia and Turkey towards normalized relations”. In a letter sent to President Kocaryan on the 14th of May last year, Prime Minister Erdogan had suggested that a group comprised of historians and other experts convene to “shed light on this dark chapter of history”. President Kocaryan however seized this opportunity and proposed that an intergovernmental commission be established to not only cover historical disputes, but also all other issues between the two countries. With it becoming apparent that President Kocaryan planned to sideline historical issues and bring forth issues such as opening borders, this initiative failed. President Bush stated last year that “Prime Minister Erdogan had suggested a new Turco-Armenian joint  commission.” This year however he only mentioned that the United States would support the joint commission proposal and other such initiatives between the two states. That the proposal came firstly from Prime Minister Erdogan was not indicated could be viewed as a reaction to the visit Hamas leader Mesal made to Ankara last February.

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