Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul reiterated on Wednesday his
government's calls for the creation of a commission of Turkish and
Armenian historians who would jointly examine the mass killings and
deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
The move appeared to be part of Turkey's ongoing efforts to scuttle the
passage of a U.S. congressional resolution recognizing the 1915-1918
slaughter of more than one million Ottoman Armenians as genocide.
Writing in `The Washington Times,' Gul warned that the resolution's
approval by the U.S. Congress would jeopardize Turkish-American
`strategic partnership' and would be `deeply offensive to the Turkish
people.' Still, he stopped short of explicitly denying that the
Armenianmassacres constituted a genocide, describing them
as a `tragedy' that requires deeper academic research.
`With regard to the Armenian allegation describing the tragedy
that befell them as genocide, the question, from the point of
view of international law, is whether the Ottoman government
systematically pursued a calculated act of state policy for their
destruction in whole or in part,' Gul wrote. `The answer to this
question can only be established by scholars who have the
ability to evaluate the period objectively, working with the full
range of available primary sources.'
`Hence, Turkey made a proposal to Armenia in 2005 to establish a
joint commission of historians to find out once and for all what really
happened, and how it took place,' he said, adding that Ankara is still
`eagerly awaiting' Yerevan's positive response to the offer.
In his written response to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
President Robert Kocharian effectively rejected the idea and suggested
that this and other contentious issues be tackled by a Turkish-Armenian
intergovernmental commission. Armenia's government and Diaspora argue
that the Armenian genocide is a fact recognized by many international
historians. They regard the Turkish offer as a ploy design to stop a
growing number of countries from affirming the genocide.
The offer appears to have marked a major change in the Turkish state's
position on the highly sensitive subject. Successive Turkish governments
have for decades asserted that Ottoman Armenians died in smaller
numbers and were not victims of a premeditated genocidal policy. They
have also claimed that Armenians themselves massacred hundreds of
thousands of Ottoman Turks.
Gul and other Turkish officials now say they are ready to accept any
conclusion to be drawn by the would-be commission of historians. In his
article, Gul said the Erdogan government would also welcome involvement
of scholars from the United States and other countries in the proposed
research. `The establishment of such a commission will also help shape
an atmosphere conducive to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian
relations,' he added.
A group of prominent Armenians and Turks already initiated a
third-party study of the events of 1915-1918 when they jointly
approached the International Center for Transitional Justice
(ICTJ) in 2002. In a detailed report, the New York-based
organization concluded that the Armenian massacres `include
all of the elements of the crime of genocide' as defined by a
1948 United Nations convention.
U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly cited the ICTJ study in
his annual April 24 messages to the Armenian-American community.
The most recent of Bush's statements called it `a significant contribution
towar deepening our understanding of these events.'