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Gunduz Aktan: How shameful (1)

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  • Gunduz Aktan: How shameful (1)

    Gunduz Aktan: How shameful (1)

    Turkish Daily News
    Mar 31, 2005

    Two weeks ago David L. Phillips, the organizer of the Turkish-Armenian
    Reconciliation Commission (TARC), arrived in Istanbul where he
    promoted his book, "Unsilencing the Past." He took part in conferences
    staged at a number of prestigious Turkish universities, participated
    in television programs and was interviewed by leading Turkish
    newspapers. He had taken an unprecedented step, succeeded in bringing
    together the two "intransigent" sides. Some Turkish columnists have
    commented on what he has said and written, assessing his

    On this occasion another book, the Turkish edition of "The Truth will
    set us Free," has been put on the market as well. Written by an
    Armenian named George Jerjian, the book contained a "legal" study into
    the 1915 incidents. The study was made by the International Center for
    Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a prestigious nongovernmental
    organization based in New York at the instigation of the TARC.

    The TARC meetings began in earnest in early 2002 and ended in February
    2003. Bringing the two sides together was an important first
    step. Some Armenian members of the commission braved death threats
    from the Dashnaks and attended the meetings.

    No common ground could be created during the talks. We suggested a
    joint investigation of the incidents by historians, archivists and
    psychologists. The Armenian side did not accept our proposals. For
    them, what happened between 1915 and 1923 was genocide; the whole
    world accepted that fact; and the problem would be over once Turkey
    accepted it.

    That was "perfect" rhetoric from their standpoint. However, it had a
    shortcoming. According to the Genocide Convention only a competent
    court would be able to decide whether that had been a case of
    genocide. No such court decision existed. And there was no way for the
    Armenian side to have a convention (that took force in 1951)
    implemented retroactively. However, to overcome that obstacle, Turkey
    could accept retroactive application of the convention and Turkey and
    Armenia could, together, take this issue to an international tribunal
    for adjudication or seek arbitration.

    I had made that proposal repeatedly at international forums and the
    Armenians had rejected it consistently because they knew that the law
    was not on their side. They were dying to kill that proposal since it
    constituted a mortal threat to their claims. Phillips rushed to their
    aid on this issue. There was an organization named ICTJ. We, the TARC
    members, could pose the ICTJ the following question: Can the Genocide
    Convention be applied retroactively?

    >From the legal standpoint the answer to that question was quite
    simple. According to Article 28 of the Vienna Convention on the Law
    of Treaties, it was impossible to invoke the genocide convention
    retroactively. There was no need to conduct a study to arrive at that
    answer. However, since the Armenians wanted it we saw nothing wrong in
    going along with that proposal.

    The outcome of the ICTJ study was announced on Jan. 28, 2003. In its
    first section the report admitted that the convention could not be
    retroactive and stressed that, for that reason, the Armenians would
    not be able to demand land and compensation from Turkey. That was in
    our favor. The second -- and longer section; however, claimed that if
    the convention could have been implemented retroactively the Armenian
    incidents would have been genocide indeed. Answering a question that
    had not been posed to it, the ICTJ thus gave the Armenians what they
    sought -- disguised as a legal opinion.

    As the Turkish side we felt deceived and we left the TARC. Soon after
    that the TARC died.

    The "legal" work of the ICTJ was, in a word, awful. To show how flimsy
    the Armenians' legal theses were, I made the full text of the ICTJ
    report appear in the Feb. 17-18, 2003 issues of the Turkish Daily News
    (TDN). The TDN's Feb. 19, 2003 issue carried our side's views on the
    same subject.

    Our side's opinion had been communicated to the ICTJ so that it would
    be published together with the ICTJ study. However, the ICTJ did not
    even make reference to the Turkish side's opinion let alone publishing
    it. Obviously they did not want the total refutation of the Armenian
    thesis that was weak as it was.

    Since then I have published five articles on this issue. In the March
    27 issue of daily Hurriyet, Ozdemir Ince asks whether the TARC members
    knew about the aforementioned ICTJ decision. Obviously my articles
    escaped public attention.

    The TARC was created and operated according to "track II diplomacy" or
    informal diplomacy. When that method is adopted the discussions that
    take place during the sessions cannot be published by quoting the
    members by name. In his book Phillips not only violates that ethical
    rule but he also embellishes the deliberations with stories that are
    the fruits of his fertile imagination. Those who read the book can
    easily understand that he has certain problems with me and with Ozdem
    Sanberk. Our views against the genocide claims must have upset him
    together with the Armenians.