by Marianna Grigoryan

Nov 3 2010

A US Embassy statement in late October doesn't seem to have defused
tensions in Armenia over a controversial YouTube video clip that
shows US Vice-President Joe Biden claiming that Armenian President
Serzh Sargsyan asked him not to push the issue of genocide recognition
with Turkey.

In the clip, allegedly recorded before a 2009 speech by US President
Barack Obama on the 94th anniversary of the 1915 slaughter of ethnic
Armenians by Ottoman Turkey, Biden tells a representative of the
Armenian diaspora that Sargsyan had asked him not to force the issue
of genocide recognition with Turkey while Armenia's negotiations with
Ankara about diplomatic reconciliation were underway. Talks between
Turkey and Armenia came to a standstill earlier this year amidst
heated disputes over mutual grievances, including demands from many
Armenians that Turkey recognize the 1915 slaughter as genocide.

In an October 30 statement, the US Embassy in Yerevan asserted
that President Sargsyan did not address Vice-President Biden about
President Obama's statement for Armenian Remembrance Day, which
commemorates the massacre, or seek a delay in consideration of a
congressional resolution that would have recognized the event as
genocide. "Instead, the discussions between Vice President Biden and
President Sarkisian that were recently referenced . . . were about the
need to take immediate steps to improve Armenian-Turkish relations,"
the statement reads. "The two leaders agreed that there should be no
preconditions to normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey."

The statement hit many Armenian analysts as a weak attempt to use
diplomacy to smooth over an awkward situation. "I don't think the US
vice-president would say those words without having any grounds,"
commented Manvel Sargsian, a political scientist at the Armenian
Center for National and International Studies, a think-tank run by
opposition Heritage Party founder Raffi Hovannisian. "The United
States understood pretty well that this issue would provoke a huge
scandal, if it entered the domestic [Armenian] arena, so they decided
to escape it. Maybe it was Armenia that addressed them with such a
request. Anyway, the situation still remains unclear."

A senior member of the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary
Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, one of the most outspoken Armenian political
parties on genocide recognition, claims that the embassy statement
was an attempt "to avoid the problem."

"Yet they could not totally escape it, and had to provide some
explanations saying it was not true, in a ... diplomatic way," claimed
Kiro Manoian, head of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau's
Hay Dat (Armenian Cause) and Political Affairs Office. "But this does
not solve the problem at all."

The controversy only underlines that, despite earlier pledges to pursue
reconciliation with Turkey without conditions, the issue of genocide
recognition exists as a criterion for Yerevan in order to normalize
relations with Ankara, commented independent political analyst Yervand
Bozoian. "It does not really matter now who phoned whom. The fact is,
the genocide issue was taken as a precondition; in other words, the
Armenian side made a miscalculation in this process," said Bozoian,
in reference to the talks with Turkey. "The video confirms that the
genocide issue has received a serious blow."

The government and Sargsyan's governing Republican Party of Armenia
have dismissed claims that the president would ever urge a go-slow
approach on genocide recognition. Republican Party of Armenia
spokesperson Eduard Sharmazanov called the video "absurd." Sargsyan's
office has asserted that the conversation between Biden and the
president did not take place, and has promised to "publish the record
of the mentioned conversation." So far, a transcript has not been

Vladimir Karapetian, the spokesperson for Armenia's largest opposition
coalition, the Armenian National Congress, contended a joint 2009
statement made by Armenia and Turkey about agreement on a "road map
to peace" indicates that Sargsyan's alleged request to Biden to tread
lightly with Turkey on genocide recognition could be "quite likely."

Representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, in turn,
have used the scandal to call on President Obama to make amends by
recognizing the World War I-era slaughter of ethnic Armenians by
Ottoman Turkey as genocide. The adoption this spring of a non-binding
resolution on genocide recognition by a US congressional committee
stalled in the House of Representatives.

Editor's note: Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance journalist based
in Yerevan.

From: A. Papazian