Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission

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The Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission was established in July 2001 at the State Departments initiative and concluded in April 2004. TARC members were "civil society representatives who came together to explore cooperative activities between Turks and Armenians". The conclusion of the commission was basically a 3rd party report they commissioned on whether the actions of the Ottoman authorities constituted genocide. The conclusion of the International Center for Transitional Justice report was that yes, it did.

Founding Members:

New Members (2003-2004)


University Website Discloses TARC Proposals and More...

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

The controversial Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission, contrary to its members' repeated assurances that it has terminated its activities, is apparently alive and well, and plotting.

Even though TARC announced on April 14, 2004, (yet again) that "its work as a commission is ending," it made it clear that rather than fading away, it intended to expand the scope of its sinister work by stating: "We have decided to convene an initial meeting of a larger group than TARC to discuss the subject of Turkish Armenian rapprochement and reconciliation. This conference is planned for the fall of 2004. In addition we intend to support a Turkish Armenian consultative group which would meet at least annually to exchange views, review progress, and recommend actions to promote improved relations. TARC's website, www.tarc.info, will continue to function."

TARC stated that it would submit shortly its recommendations to "the concerned governments," probably meaning Turkey and Armenia, and also the United States, the main financial backer of this scheme, to the tune of several millions dollars.

TARC did not make its recommendations public. Its official website does not include this document. The website of the American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., however, not only reveals the full text of this internal document, but also discloses the vast number of Turkish-Armenian exchanges sponsored by the AU's Center for Global Peace which received its funding from the U.S. government. David L. Phillips, the Chairman of TARC, is the Director of the Center for Global Peace and Deputy Director of the Center for Preventive Action of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also a senior advisor to the US Department of State.

Here are TARC's seven recommendations to the governments of Turkey and Armenia:

  • Official contacts should be further improved;
  • Opening of the Turkish Armenian border should be announced and implemented in 2004;
  • The two governments should publicly support civil society programs focused on education, science, culture, and tourism;
  • Standing mechanisms for cooperation on humanitarian disaster assistance and health care should be established;
  • Security and confidence building measures between Turkey and Armenia should be enhanced;
  • Religious understanding should be encouraged; and
  • The Turkish and Armenian people need to develop more confidence that their governments are working to surmount the difficulties related to the past.

To gain a better insight into the extent of time and effort as well as money spent by the U.S. government to divert the attention of Armenians away the genocide issue, I have summarized below, from the AU's website, the list of extensive activities undertaken by the Center for Global Peace to promote Turkish-Armenian exchanges:

    • Conflict Resolution Training;
    • Diaspora Dialogue: Regular meetings between Armenian and Turkish organizations in Washington, D.C., "to discuss issues affecting the Diaspora communities;"
    • Regional Mayors' Project: Meetings with mayors from bordering provinces in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey;
    • Turkish-Armenian Parliamentary Exchanges; and
    • Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission.
  • II - MEDIA
    • Documentaries for Turkish, Armenian and US television stations; Production of a CD;
    • Reciprocal visits by Turkish and Armenian journalists;
    • Radio programs broadcast in Turkey and Armenia; and
    • Women's magazine published by Turkish and Armenian women (15,000 copies, 96 pages).
    • Plans to renovate the Akhtamar Church; and
    • Dialogue between Armenian and Turkish religious leaders; and
    • Exchanges between Turkish and Armenian musicians.
    • Exchanges between Turkish and Armenian businessmen;
    • Marketing network of the Caucasus;
    • Regional economic working group; and
    • Cooperative manufacturing effort for textile producers in Turkey and Armenia.
    • Mutual Perceptions Research Project (Armenia/Turkey and Armenia/Azerbaijan);
    • Regional Academic Cooperation;
    • Visiting scholars; and
    • Youth Peace Education.
    • Exchange visits by Armenian and Turkish women; and
    • Institutional exchanges.

The main problem with TARC's patently obvious recommendations and the extensive Turkish-Armenian exchanges organized by the American University's Center for Global Peace is that they are directed by a group (TARC) that is set up and funded by a foreign entity (the Bush Administration) for the purpose of stifling the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. Congress as well as the legislatures of all other countries.

As I reported back in 2001, Ozdem Sanberk, one of the Turkish members of TARC, had blurted out the following admission in a moment of weakness or inattention: "The basic goal of our commission is to impede the initiatives put forth every year in the U.S. Congress and parliaments of Western countries on 'the genocide issue'.... The key goal is to prevent 'the genocide' issue from being regularly brought onto the agenda in Western countries.... The significant matter for us is that 'the genocide' issue is not discussed by the American Congress anymore. As long as we continue the dialogue, the issue won't be brought to the congressional agenda. If it is not discussed in Congress, we, meaning Turkey, will gain from that. The US Congress will see that there is a channel of dialogue between Turks and Armenians and decide that 'there is no necessity for the Congress to take such a decision while such a channel exists."

TARC disbands

Turkish-Armenian Panel Says Mission Accomplished

By Emil Danielyan

The U.S.-backed Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) said on Wednesday that it has achieved its main objectives and is disbanding to pave the way for broader contacts between the two estranged peoples.

The announcement came after a three-day meeting in Moscow attended by three Turkish and four Armenian members of the private body. One of them, political scientist Andranik Migranian, lives and works in the Russian capital.

“TARC is announcing that its work as a commission is ending,” they said in a statement obtained by RFE/RL. “TARC’s term was to be one year, but the course of events required a longer period to accomplish our goals.

“We feel that advances in civil society contacts are now permanent and will only grow in time. We also feel that beyond our recommendations, official relations can now best be continued and advanced independent of the TARC structure.”

The commission, which was set up in July 2001 with close U.S. State Department involvement, finished its work by approving a set of “recommendations” to the governments of Turkey and Armenia on how to improve their strained relations. Their content was not disclosed.

“The recommendations have a better chance of being implemented if they are presented privately,” one commission source told RFE/RL. He said it will be up to the two governments to decide whether they should be made public.

TARC is likely to have reaffirmed its strong support for the unconditional reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border sealed by Ankara eleven years ago out of solidarity with Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan. The current Turkish government has signaled over the past year its readiness to stop linking that with a pro-Azerbaijani solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Azerbaijan is strongly opposed to the lifting of the Turkish blockade, fearing that it would lose a serious bargaining chip in Karabakh peace talks. Azerbaijani leaders have issued Ankara with a series of warning in recent weeks, with President Ilham Aliev going as far as to claim that an open border between Armenia and Turkey would make a Karabakh settlement impossible.

The Azeri alarm suggests that the Turkish cabinet is seriously considering reopening the frontier for travel and commerce, a move which would please both the United States and the European Union. The U.S. has for years been pressing the Turks to soften their Armenian policy. Visiting Yerevan late last month, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Ankara has been busy dealing with the events in Iraq and Cyprus.

“I hope that as those concerns are ameliorated there will be a return of their attention to reopening the border,” Armitage said.

It is not clear whether TARC recommendations also address the other thorny issue in Turkish-Armenian relations: the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The commission members have not discussed it in detail since receiving in January 2003 the findings of a third-party study commissioned by them. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a New York-based human rights organization, ruled that the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians fits into the internationally accepted definition of genocide.

TARC also announced plans to hold a big conference on “Turkish-Armenian rapprochement and reconciliation” this fall. “In addition we intend to support a Turkish Armenian consultative group which would meet at least annually to exchange views, review progress, and recommend actions to promote improved relations,” the statement said.

The Moscow meeting was chaired by Joseph Montville, a former U.S. diplomat known as the author of the concept of “track two diplomacy” that calls for direct contacts between civil societies in conflict resolution. David Phillips, an adviser to the U.S. State Department who has coordinated the panel’s activities, was in Yerevan on a brief low-key visit on Sunday. He then proceeded to Ankara.

TARC has faced strong criticism from nationalist groups in Armenia and especially its Diaspora ever since its creation. They say that its activities hamper international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Migranian and other Armenian members have denied the charge, pointing among other things to the ICTJ study.



TARC Moderator's Book Reveals Initiative's Anti-Armenian Intent

By Harut Sassounian Commentary 2005 February The California Courier

David Phillips, the moderator of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, is about to publish a book that discloses the true motives of those who initiated and supported TARC.

Based on an advanced copy of Phillips's book, "Unsilencing the Past: Track Two Diplomacy and Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation," analyst Emil Danielyan wrote two lengthy reports last week for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Here are some of the highlights of Phillips's interesting revelations, as reported by Danielyan:

Phillips confirms that the US government was the driving force behind TARC. The idea was suggested to him by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, the number three figure in the State Department under the Clinton and Bush administrations. TARC held its first meeting in Vienna in early 2001.

Phillips acknowledges that the State Department provided "some of TARC's direct costs." All of the sources of TARC's funds and their uses have not been made public.

Phillips accuses Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian of reneging on his pledge to support TARC. Apparently, he would have preferred that Oskanian continue backing TARC, even after it became clear that TARC was a clever ploy to undermine the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Phillips bitterly complains: "Instead of standing by its commitments, the Kocharian government ran for cover." This made Phillips so furious that he slammed the Kocharian regime in an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal by calling it "corrupt and inept," and accusing Pres. Kocharian of "running a mafia state."

Phillips attributes Oskanian's change of mind on TARC to criticism from Armenian "nationalist circles." Once TARC's anti-Armenian intent became clear, just about everyone in Armenia and the Diaspora opposed this sinister initiative. Shortly after TARC's creation, one of its Turkish members, Ozdem Sanberk, even gave an interview acknowledging that the purpose of this initiative was to block the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Gunduz Aktan, a Turkish member of TARC, who repeatedly and aggressively denies the Armenian Genocide, put his foot in his mouth by suggesting that an independent panel of experts review the facts of the Genocide. TARC engaged the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) for that purpose. Aktan boasted that he would "destroy" the ICTJ experts with his legal arguments during his testimony. Phillips says that Aktan appeared "nervous" after making his presentation. Aktan had good reason to be nervous. The ICTJ qualified the events of 1915 as genocide.

Trying to give importance to his own efforts, Phillips claims that Turkey came within an inch of opening its border with Armenia in the summer of 2003. Showing his political naivetИ, Phillips says in his book: "I had hoped that Ankara would quietly open its border sometime during the dead of summer, when everyone was on holiday and not paying attention."

Phillips writes that when Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul came to Washington in July 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice reminded him at every meeting that "the issue of genocide recognition was not going away. He was told that real progress was the best way of deflecting pressure." Not surprisingly, the US officials' real intent for pressuring Turkey into opening its border with Armenia was not the improvement of Armenia's economy, but the removal of the nettlesome Armenian Genocide issue from the agenda of the Congress.

As further evidence of the sinister intent of the Bush Administration, Phillips writes that Vice President Cheney personally intervened by lobbying against a congressional resolution that barely mentioned the Armenian Genocide. "Cheney worked the phones and was assured by [House Speaker] Dennis Hastert that [the resolution] would be kept from the House floor," Phillips says.

In an interesting revelation, Phillips reports that Pres. Kocharian was highly infuriated when the Armenian Genocide resolution was blocked by Pres. Clinton and Speaker Hastert. A month later, when Pres. Kocharian received Stephen Sestanovich, an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, the Armenian President was "in a foul mood and railed against Clinton's betrayal," Phillips says. This is yet another indication that Armenian officials, not just the Diaspora, care deeply about the Genocide issue.

Phillips reveals that he helped arrange the controversial February 2001 interview between Pres. Kocharian and prominent Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand that "helped mollify [Turkish] concerns about Armenia's intentions." Apparently, Phillips promised Pres. Kocharian that should he make conciliatory statements during the interview, the Turks would then open the border with Armenia. Pres. Kocharian kept his end of the bargain.

Phillips did not or could not, since the border remained closed! -- Phillips wrongly blames "Armenian nationalists" for both of his failures - inability to have Turkey lift its blockade of Armenia and collapse of the reconciliation efforts. Phillips refuses to acknowledge that his profound ignorance of Armenian-Turkish issues played a much greater role in his failures than anything said or done by so-called Armenian nationalists.

More on Phillips's escapades, once we get hold of his book!

More Coverage

TARC: A Problem with a Solution

The Armenian Mirror Spectator Watertown, MA September 15, 2001 TARC: A Problem With a Solution by David B. Boyajian The first thing you notice about the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), with its 6 Turks but only 4 Armenians, is that the Armenian side is not very good at arithmetic. And things go rapidly downhill from there. For one thing, there's the word "reconciliation" and warm, fuzzy expressions such as "promote dialogue" and "reconciliation is a process not an event." Indeed, the commission, complete with a resident shrink, has some of the feel of a New Age encounter group. Apparently, the Western interests who have sponsored TARC are again trying to de-politicize Armenian issues by suggesting that they are emotional in nature and consist mainly of "hatred." Let us, therefore, remind ourselves, before TARC's brainwashing campaign shifts into high gear, that the Armenian Cause is a political matter: the Genocide, territory, restitution, and reparations.

And what are we to make of TARC's Turkish members? They could hardly be worse unless the commission were to dig up Talaat and Enver and seat them as its 11th and 12th members. Commission member Gunduz Aktan, for example, penned a Genocide denial article in the Turkish Daily News just three weeks after TARC was announced.

Yet another TARC member, Dr. Vamik Volkan, is a psychiatrist who has co-authored three books with a well-known Genocide denier, Princeton's Norman Itzkowitz. In their book, The Immortal Ataturk, the mass murder of Armenians is referred to merely as "the Armenian-Turkish troubles of 1916." In Turks and Greeks, another joint work, they approvingly quote another author: "There may have been cases when, by their avarice and treachery, the Armenians deserved the hatred of their Turkish neighbors..." And let us not be impressed by Vamik's "doctor" title. After all, the president of the denialist Assembly of Turkish American Associations, Orhan Kaymakcalan, is a medical doctor, as were several leading Turks, such as Shakir, Nazim, Resid, and others, who carried out the Genocide.

I point these things out because commission member Van Krikorian, chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, has said of TARC: "Everyone is acting in good faith. No one is being a jerk." Genocide deniers never, of course, have "good faith" though they may "act" as if they do. No doubt, however, all six Turks have been quite charming and convincing in person.

To know who wants the Armenian Genocide issue to disappear is surely to know who first pushed the idea of TARC. Did the US State Department initiate it? "No, I wouldn't say that," says Van Krikorian in one interview, while in another he adds, "I would not like to talk about it now." As for the commission's funding, Mr. Krikorian says, "Some money is coming from the US."

It is revealing that for a commission that is supposedly a positive development, no one is willing to stand up and take credit for initiating and funding it. Sadly, this controversial commission may have been made possible because a few diasporan Armenians have become too close to, and been unduly influenced by, US Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh and the State Department.

But regardless of who launched TARC, it is clear that Turkey, the US State Department, and certain Western interests wish to use it to neutralize, rather than honestly resolve, those Armenian issues that they regard as potentially dangerous.

Turkey fears Armenian Genocide acknowledgment because it could lead to the public unearthing of large-scale crimes it has committed against, for example, ethnic Greeks, Assyrians, Alevis, and-perhaps most ominously-its large and restless Kurdish population. Anything that could split Turkey along ethnic lines threatens what it defensively terms its "unitary state." In particular, territorial questions surrounding both the Genocide and the Kurdish issue cast a shadow over eastern Turkey, which is that country's only direct path into the Caucasus and Turkic Central Asia. As a crucial land bridge, eastern Turkey is also important to the State Department and some Western nations because their post Cold-War strategy is to contain Russia along its southern borders through economic and political penetration of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Just as a Karabagh settlement would facilitate such Western penetration by opening the Armenian-Azeri border, so too would an Armenian-Turkish accord that opened the Armenian-Turkish border.

Yet were genuine political discourse on the Genocide to drag in Armenian and Kurdish territorial claims, eastern Turkey could become destabilized, thereby jeopardizing the State Department's entire strategy to contain Russia's southern perimeter. The destabilization of eastern Turkey, incidentally, more than concern about offending Turkey, explains the State Department's non-recognition of the Genocide. The Genocide issue is just too dangerous and must be neutralized, and TARC is one means to that end. That Turkey has joined TARC demonstrates the cumulative effectiveness of Armenian pressure. Unfortunately, that does not mean that the creation of TARC is a loss for Turkey.

In order to derail the consideration of Armenian issues by other nations, Turkey can now claim that it is engaged in sincere "dialogue" in TARC. In the US, the State Department will plead that Congressional Genocide resolutions would disrupt the commission's alleged progress. Turkey has, therefore, scored a minor success from TARC without having made any concessions whatsoever.

Another hazard is that the world will hallucinate that TARC is achieving progress when, in fact, its Turks will only be playing for time and stringing Armenians along. Each step by the commission-say, a cultural exchange or business event-will be hailed as "great progress" no matter how insignificant. Armenians will be told to wait patiently-months and even years-until the next step. In the meantime, Armenian attention will have been sucked into this very seductive black hole of a process, and Genocide acknowledgment will fade into the background.

Is TARC a plus for Armenians? So far, no, because having been created in secret it has exacerbated differences within the community. In addition, the controversy surrounding the commission makes for a weak start for the Armenian side in such a high-profile confrontation with a determined adversary.

Because the commission has been widely criticized, the reputations of its Armenian members and organizational supporters may now hang in the balance. Having backed itself, and been backed, into a corner, its Armenian side must deliver.

That leads to another danger: To "save face" and prove that joining TARC was the right thing to do, the commission's Armenian members and backers may unconsciously collude with the State Department and Turkey to produce results-any results-no matter how trivial or even harmful.

To keep TARC and the friction it has produced going indefinitely, the State Department will privately push Turkey to make minor concessions, and the commission's Armenians may feel compelled to play along. Though it is true that TARC's Armenian side cannot officially speak on behalf of Armenians, nevertheless the State Department and the West will ensure that the commission continues to have a high profile.

Will the Commission accomplish anything? Yes, it will probably sponsor cultural, business, and sports events, though to some extent such events already take place. On a more substantive note, some Turkish bank accounts or a few "abandoned" pieces of property that belonged to Armenians in the early 20th century may be "discovered" and returned.

The commission's "progress" will be shamelessly acclaimed by the world press in an avalanche of stories planted, of course, by the State Department, Turkey, and a few Armenians who want to tout the commission. We will see pictures of smiling TARC members hard at work. "Anonymous" senior State Department officials and Western diplomats will gush about the "thaw" between Turks and Armenians. Clergy will utter clichés about love and peace. Elie Wiesel, who has called TARC a "miracle," may make another naïve statement. The Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, which is moderating the commission, will issue cheery updates to enhance its own reputation. Finally, trumpets will sound, the Heavens will part, and God Himself will appear and endorse the commission.

Like any State Department-orchestrated propaganda campaign, the purpose is to create the appearance of progress, change people's expectations, and hope that policy changes follow. In the case of TARC, the purpose is to soften perceptions of the Genocide and related issues so that, eventually, they are somehow neutralized. Recall some similar State Department charades: Caspian Sea oil and gas riches are played up even as many major drillings continue to come up empty. The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline deal, we have been told for four years, is all sewn up even though not one inch has been built and may never be. And the State Department and its media groupies ooze optimism after the Key West negotiations on Karabagh only to see those negotiations soon fall flat on their face.

The international con job on behalf on TARC is already underway. Is there a way out of this mess? Maybe. For most of the 20th century, Turkey has been remarkably successful in its negotiations because it has been ruthlessly firm no matter the cost. Whether on the Cyprus issue, Kurdish rights, the annexation of Alexandretta, water flow to Syria, Aegean Sea claims, human rights, or the Genocide, Turkey's strategy can be summed up in the little word it tells its adversaries: No. That is, Turks make maximal demands while conceding little or nothing. Crude, but it works.

Against this brick wall of Turkish intransigence and cunning, the I'm-a-nice-reasonable-moderate-civilized-Armenian approach will shatter into pieces. Instead, Armenians should emulate Turkish tactics. The commission's Armenians, using the "No" tactic that Turkey would itself use, must work with our own, not TARC's, specialists to lay on the table our complete set of issues for discussion-the Genocide, restitution, reparations, property, the Sevres boundaries, the massacres of the 1890s and 1909, historical monuments, denialist propaganda, everything-and accept no Turkish counterproposals whatsoever. Take it or leave it.

This will shock the Turks and the State Department, and a stalemate will result. The Turks will then probably walk out of TARC. If so, fine. Let them shoulder the blame. Armenians might take a public relations hit for being unyielding, but as the aggrieved party the right spin can handle that. The beauty of this approach is that the commission's supporters can rightly assert that the Armenian members are patriots who upheld our national rights, while TARC's critics will be pleased that Turkey failed to exploit us. Admittedly, this is not an easy tactic, and, furthermore, the commission's Armenians may not be temperamentally inclined toward it. In any case, a parallel strategy is needed.

Armenian organizations worldwide, including those that back the commission, must conduct a fresh drive, using imaginative new strategies, for recognition of the Genocide and awareness of the territorial and other issues. Such a drive would advance the Armenian Cause, reinforce our sense of common purpose, disorient Turkey and the State Department, and place the commission in the background.

Though the commission has rightly been criticized by Armenians, going negative only takes us so far. TARC has strong Western backers and will continue to be news unless Armenian organizations regain the initiative and prove that their approach, not that of TARC, will deliver the results that Armenians demand.

The Diaspora and Armenia must also review and sharpen their political agenda vis-à-vis Turkey. A more detailed and comprehensive set of strong demands will allow Armenians to act swiftly as future events unfold and to preempt ventures such as TARC. This is all, admittedly, much easier said than done, but there is no doubt that the Armenian nation will more than rise to the challenge ahead.

See also