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Armenia: Government To Raise Genocide Issue With Turkey

Yerevan, 4 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Armenia's Foreign Ministry yesterday said that it intended to raise the issue of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire while dealing with Turkey, but made it clear that it is not a precondition for developing bilateral ties.

Foreign ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian told RFE/RL that Yerevan believes the controversial issue that has soured Turkish-Armenian relations must be included on the agenda of a wider political "dialogue" between the two countries, in addition to its international examination by historians.

Gasparian said the genocide issue as well as Turkey's refusal to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia damages the bilateral relationship and stability in the region.

He said Ankara should follow the example of French parliament, which recognized the killings of more than one million Armenians as genocide. That decision, made last week (on May 29), has been strongly condemned by Turkey, which has threatened economic sanctions against Paris. Ankara consistently denies any premeditated policy by the Ottoman leadership to exterminate the empire's Armenian population. But Armenia has welcomed the French move, arguing that it will help prevent further crimes against humanity.

Gasparian said Yerevan supports the creation of an international commission of Armenian, Turkish and Western historians to examine the issue, but added that it must be dealt with by the two countries' governments.

"This is a useful idea, but in any event we believe that the problems between our two countries can only be sorted out by including the genocide issue on the agenda of a political dialogue between them," he said.

Gasparian was responding to yesterday's comments by his Turkish counterpart, who told RFE/RL that Ankara does not object to the existence of such a commission, which he said should rule out any government participation. The Turkish Foreign ministry spokesman Necati Utkan said Turkey's archives are open to international researchers.

But scholars who research the genocide issue have expressed skepticism about that statement. Historian Ruben Sahakian of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences says he doubts the Turkish archives dating back to the epoch will be fully accessible. In an interview with RFE/RL, Sahakian said the archives have so far been available only to official Turkish historians, who he claimed "distort the facts."

Another historian from the academy, Ruben Gasparian said the Turkish authorities announced the opening of the archives several years ago, but all of his as well as many Western scholars' formal requests to obtain materials have been left unanswered. He suggested that all documents dealing with the Ottoman government's genocide policy towards Armenians either may never be made public or have already been destroyed. "I am sure that even if the Turkish authorities decide to open the Ottoman archives, we will only get carefully selected documents distorting the general picture," Ruben Gasparian said.

Both historians said they are willing to participate in the work of the commission, while cautioning that its ability to determine historical truth will be dependent on impartiality of its members. Asked whether they maintain any contacts with their Turkish colleagues, the historians said they have had none with those living in Turkey. They said only those Turkish historians who reside abroad have attended international conferences on the Armenian genocide.