Richard Hovannisian: “A joint historians’ commission is a dangerous trap”

Historians in the News

Historian Richard Hovannisian of the University of California, Los Angeles, met with Tatul Hakobyan of the Armenian Reporter on April 24 in Yerevan at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a think tank established by Armenia's first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian.

Tatul Hakobyan: Professor, in the early morning hours of April 23, Armenia and Turkey, through Swiss mediation, issued an optimistic joint statement announcing that they had charted a roadmap toward normalized relations, and even though we don't know the content of the roadmap, it has caused serious criticism, especially in the diaspora. The reality is that it was signed on the eve of April 24. How would you assess this?

Richard Hovannisian: It would have been good if the Armenian side had found a way to wait until Sunday, April 26. Issuing the joint statement on April 22, can clearly be tied with U.S. President Barack Obama's address on April 24. It occurs to me that the sides, especially the Armenian side, were under extreme pressure to give their consent to that document, the road map. I don't know how the Armenian side was forced or gave itself the right to sign, knowing full well that that would have a negative impact on President Obama's statement.

Now, I can no longer hope that President Obama will clearly use the word genocide. [This interview took place on April 24, but before the president's statement was released.] President Obama could possibly get close to the Genocide word, but it will be just as important for him to say how many victims there were, that the Armenians and Turks must find a dialogue, at the same time praise the Armenian people, American-Armenians. A few days before April 24, Turkey's prime minister once again stated that Armenian-Turkish relations could not be successful as long as the Karabakh issue has not been resolved. I must admit, that Erdogan's statements did not affect me adversely. I believe that this can be a good incentive so that President Obama will no longer have an excuse not to use the Genocide word.

We don't know the inside story; we don't know what role and influence the United States and Russia had on the signing of the April 22 document. I can only assume that there was pressure both on Armenia and Turkey - if you don't come to an agreement, then we are going to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Otherwise I cannot understand why Foreign Minister Nalbandian and President Sargsian agreed to sign such a document on the evening of April 22....
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