YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian said on Thursday that he will tour major Armenian communities abroad early next month to explain and promote his far-reaching diplomatic overtures to Turkey which the Diaspora have been following with unease.
Sarkisian made the announcement as he met with His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians at Echmiadzin. He said he will start on October 1 a series of visits to Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Beirut and Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
All of those cities and their surrounding areas have sizable Armenian communities. Sarkisian was quoted by his press service as telling the Catholicos that he wants to hear community leaders’ “views on the process of the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.”
Karekin II welcomed the initiative.
“The Diaspora is an important and inseparable part of our people and it is only right for our Diaspora sons … to be able to hear answers from you personally to questions preoccupying them,” said Karakin II, according to the presidential press service. “Also, you will expose yourself to the thoughts, opinions and concerns of our Diaspora sons.”
Diaspora leaders have expressed serious concern about key points of two Turkish-Armenian draft protocols envisaging the normalization of bilateral relations. They are particularly critical of the planned creation of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians that would probe the Genocide.
The Diaspora also opposes another protocol clause that commits Armenia to recognizing its existing border with Turkey based on past relevant treaties. This clause will preclude future Armenian claims to the territories of historic Armenia illegally occupied by the Republic of Turkey.
His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia added his voice to those concerns in a letter to Sarkisian made public on Thursday. “The ongoing developments in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey have become a cause for serious concern in the Diaspora,” he wrote.
Aram I singled out the planned “sub-commission” of historians for criticism. He said its existence would make it easier for Ankara to deny the Armenian Genocide.
Etchmiadzin has rarely challenged Yerevan governments and will likely be more supportive of the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. Karekin II told Sarkisian that the church’s Supreme Spiritual Council will meet soon to discuss and formulate its position on the issue.
The planned meetings will be part of “internal political consultations” which Ankara and Yerevan pledged to initiate before signing the controversial protocols by mid-October. Sarkisian described the intensifying debates on the matter as “very useful.”
“Of course, they have some emotional manifestations and elements,” Sarkisain told Karekin II. “And it could not have been otherwise because a huge segment of our people are a generation of persons subjected to genocide. Besides, we have our shrines, our churches, our [medieval] capital and the remnants of many, many people’s ancestral homes across the [Turkish] border.”
“I do realize this because often times I myself internally struggling with my emotions,” added Sarkisian.