YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Official Yerevan on Tuesday distanced itself from the recent creation of an unofficial Turkish-Armenian "reconciliation commission" in the face of domestic fears that the initiative may thwart international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian denied any government involvement in the commission as he was challenged by the country’s leading historians who gathered at the Armenian Genocide Institute in the capital.
"The government of Armenia has absolutely nothing to do with this dialogue," Oskanian declared–denying claims by one of the commission members that the authorities had given their go-ahead to the initiative.
Former foreign minister Aleksandr Arzumanian said in a newspaper interview this week that Yerevan was informed about and encouraged secret negotiations between retired senior diplomats from Armenia and Turkey. The negotiations ended in a July 9 joint statement in Geneva saying that the ten-member private group will try to foster cooperation and communication that could lead to direct talks between the two hostile neighbors. Arzumanian said the government itself offered him to join the commission.
"I was really surprised to hear that," Oskanian said. "Perhaps he thereby wants to legitimize his participation."
Oskanian insisted that the Armenian foreign ministry was informed about the process but not involved in it. "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," he said.
The reconciliation effort has drawn a negative reaction from several leading Armenian parties–including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Some Armenian Diaspora groups have also expressed their misgivings.
Oskanian sought to dispel their fears that the unfolding dialogue could lead the parliamen’s of the United States and other Western nations to refrain from adopting anti-Turkish resolutions recognizing the genocide. He said: "I am sure that there will be no agreement on the genocide issue. On the contrary–the whole process could break down because of the genocide issue. And we could in turn use that to show the United States and other countries that Turkey is unable to address problems through such dialogues and that international recognition is the only way out."
Turkish members of the commission have made it clear that it will not determine the validity of the Armenian and Turkish positions. According to Ozdem Sanberk–executive director of a private foundation in Istanbul and a former Turkish ambassador to Britain–the idea is "to open new horizons for the future and enhance mutual understanding."
In a statement released on July 13–the Armenian foreign ministry welcomed the commission’s creation–but reiterated that a full normalization of relations between the two neighboring states will be impossible without Ankara agreeing to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan.