Eyewitness: First steps in Caucasus peace process

July 20, 2001

The long-standing enmity between Armenians and Turks could be resolved by a "reconciliation commission", which met for its first session last week.

Commission members from Armenia, Turkey, Russia and the United States, include academics Ustun Erguder, former president of Bogazici University in Turkey; David Ovannisyan, former ambassador to Syria who is a lecturer at Yerevan University in Armenia; and Vamik Volkan, director of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction at the University of Virginia, United States.

Turkey still refuses to acknowledge the alleged genocide of Armenians in 1915.

Turkey has a considerable interest in promoting peace in the Caucasus - its gateway to the oil and gas resources of the Caspian basin and Central Asia. Armenia and Azerbaijan are in dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh - an enclave within Azerbaijan with a predominantly Armenian population. The meeting coincided with a visit of an Azerbaijani delegation, led by parliament speaker Murtuz Alasgarov, which was concerned that rapprochement could be at the expense of Turkey's support over Nagorno-Karabakh.

While prime minister Bulent Ecevit said that Turkey would not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia until the dispute is resolved, Mr Alasgarov suggested cementing Turkish-Azerbaijani relations with a joint university in Azerbaijan.

Dr Volkan said more work is needed for each side to acknowledge that victimhood is part of both their identities. "The commission members have committed themselves to continue working in spite of disagreements over historical events."

Tom Woodhouse, of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Bradford, said conflicts that have moved into a phase where peacemaking is considered have normally witnessed the involvement of dedicated people prepared to take risks in order to further dialogue.

But Seamus Dunn, professor of conflict studies at the University of Ulster, said: "There will... be intransigents on both sides who see the very establishment of the process, never mind the outcome, as immoral and unacceptable."

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