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Tentative deal between Armenia, Turkey brings opposition from both sides

Armenian Americans and Turkish Americans both say the governments in their homelands are giving too many concessions. A commission that would study the Armenian genocide is a sore point for some.

October 04, 2009|Ann M. Simmons

Upset over an agreement that would establish diplomatic ties between Armenia and Turkey and reopen their common borders, members of the Los Angeles Armenian community plan to rally in Beverly Hills today.

Organizers of the demonstration say they will call on Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who is scheduled to visit L.A. today, to refrain from signing protocols with Turkey that they believe would threaten Armenia's interests and security.

A deal that would essentially normalize relations between the long-estranged nations is expected to be signed this month. But the agreement faces opposition from both Armenian Americans and Turkish Americans, who argue that the governments in their homelands are making unreasonable concessions.

"We're not against normalization and peace with Turkey," said Arek Santikian, a UCLA student and chairman of the Armenian Youth Federation of the Western United States. "We really would want peace. But we can't have peace with preconditions."

Among the agreement's provisions is the creation of a historical commission that would evaluate the bloody history between the two countries. The Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1918 claimed the lives of about 1.2 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, which became the modern republic of Turkey. The Turkish government disputes that a genocide took place.

A historical commission would allow Turkey "to question the veracity of the genocide," Santikian said. "We know that it happened. We can't put a question mark on that."

Turkey disputes the number of those killed and argues that Armenians were equally brutal in slaying Turks when they revolted against their Ottoman rulers and aligned themselves with invading Russian troops.

Armenian American critics of the agreement also argue that the protocols would allow Turkey to keep eastern territories they say are historically part of Armenia.

They are also concerned about the future of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed enclave populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but within the borders of Azerbaijan, which has close ethnic and political ties with Turkey.

But many Turkish Americans believe the Turkish government is selling out Azerbaijan by reconciling with Armenia before the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is settled. Others fear Turkey might be forced to give back land.

Ergun Kirlikovali, West Coast director of the Assembly of Turkish American Assns., argued that a historical commission would allow experts to come to a "nonpolitical" verdict on the genocide issue, and said that's why Armenians were opposed to such a panel.

Gunay Evinch, the assembly's Washington, D.C.-based president, said the agreement presents "a unique opportunity to move forward for these countries and their people, but not without risks."

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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