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 Armenian massacres 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 toward deepening our understanding of these events.”