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06 11 28 - Armenian foreign minister reaches out to Ankara
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Daily Star- Lebanon . Monday, November 27, 2006

NICOSIA: Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian is reaching out to historical foe Turkey to normalize ties as the key step toward a political settlement on the ultra-sensitive issue of genocide recognition. "For Armenia, recognition [of the genocide] by Turkey is not a precondition for normal, good neighborly relations," the Harvard-educated minister told AFP in an interview during a presidential visit to Cyprus.

Nine decades after the massacre of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman empire, Oskanian said both countries needed to "transcend" the horrors of their common past.

"This obstacle [of Turkish recognition] can be removed and memories can be ameliorated by new experiences, by interaction between the Turkish and Armenian people as neighbors," he said.

However, Oskanian scoffed at a proposal from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan for historians from both sides to form a commission to study the bloody events of 1915-1917, which Ankara refuses to classify as genocide.

"Erdogan's suggestion was a smokescreen," he said, asking how any joint commission could be set up without diplomatic ties between Ankara and Yerevan. "This is a political issue. You've got to address this issue from a political angle."

Oskanian was also critical of what he called Turkey's new "state policy" of denial even as more countries join the ranks of states that officially recognize the genocide.

"As more countries recognize, Turkey becomes - as the record shows - more aggressive in its policy of denial ... The Turks have never been this organized at a state level to pursue a policy of denial," he said.

Oskanian pointed to an article in Turkish law which punishes those who refer to the events of 1915 as genocide.

Dozens of intellectuals - among them 2006 Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk - have been brought to court under an amendment in the penal law that makes it a crime to denigrate Turkish identity or insult state institutions.

The French Parliament's adoption of a bill making public denial of the genocide in France punishable by law was "a clear reaction to the aggressive denialist policies of the Turkish government," Oskanian said.

He said he placed little hope in Washington exerting pressure on its Turkish ally on the genocide issue because of its strategic interests, but it "must be more assertive in calling on Turkey to open the border" and normalize ties.

The minister, who himself was born in Syria, denied any gulf between Yerevan and Armenians of the diaspora, who outnumber their 3 million compatriots in Armenia and have been at the forefront of a worldwide recognition campaign.

"It's the moral obligation of every Armenian in the diaspora and in Armenia to remember and to pursue recognition because we think that will be the minimum compensation after almost 100 years," he said.

Oskanian tried to allay concerns that recognition could lead to claims for compensation.

"Armenia today has on its foreign policy agenda only the issue of genocide recognition. That's what we are after as a nation," he said.
But he admitted that the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inside neighboring Azerbaijan, where the Armenians set up a breakaway state in 1992, posed a major obstacle for ties with Turkey.

Ankara's "unequivocal solidarity with Azerbaijan also works against Turkey because it undermines their credibility and weight in the Caucusus ... and their claim to be a bridge between East and West," he said.

Oskanian dismissed any similarity between Karabakh and the self-declared Turkish Cypriot statelet, insisting the former emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the latter from a recognized UN member state. - AFP


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