Editorial: Armenia and Turkey at a Crossroad

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By Edmond Azadian

October 10 marked a historic watershed in Armenian and Turkish relations with the signing of the controversial protocols in Zurich, Switzerland. The pictures at the signing ceremony said as much — if not more — than the contents of the papers themselves. Besides the foreign ministers of the signatory countries, present were the heads of the foreign ministries of the host country, Switzerland, which brokered the deal, as well as the foreign ministers of the major world powers — the US, Russia, France and the European Union.

That picture symbolized the convergence of the interests of those powers, which seldom happens in recent diplomatic history. Ironically, the protocols reflected more the interests of those countries than the interests of the signatories themselves.

For the US and the European Union, the Caucasus region has become a new battleground to grab energy sources, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For Moscow, it continues to be a losing battle to retain its influence in “near abroad.” Turkey and Iran have tried to fill in the power vacuum, each with the help of a major power. The three mini republics in the region were only pawns in this maze of interests and power struggle. They certainly had their own priorities, which could be achieved only in consonance with the interests of one or other major power.

The predictions that Turkey would cease to be a major power player in the region after the demise of the Cold War turned out to be only wishful thinking, as Ankara came out stronger and more dominant, thanks to its military and political buildup during the Cold War years. Turkey mended its relations with Russia faster than the West was able to do. That placed Armenia between a rock and a hard place.

The three Caucasian republics had very limited space to maneuver. Georgia threw in its lot with NATO and the West, with dire consequences. Azerbaijan kept its balance between the two camps under Turkey’s tutelage. Armenia’s “complementarism” ran its course, as Russia worked out a modus vivendi with Turkey and with the West.

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This is the scenario in which the crucial protocols developed and were eventually signed. Of course, this is the beginning of the road rather than its destination. What happens during the forthcoming months and years in Armenia and Turkey will determine the ultimate outcome of the deal.

In the historic perspective, for Turkey, Armenia is a hurdle in its drive to reach Central Asia, to achieve its age old Turanian designs. They believe their national interests are hampered by the tiny republic, remaining after the Genocide. One way or another, the Ottoman, Ittihadist, Kemalist and current rulers, have vied for the destruction of our nation. Just a few months ago, Turkey’s current minister of defense, Vecdi Gonul praised the Ittihadist ethnic cleansing, asking the rhetorical question that could Turkey have the present unified territory had Armenian and Greek minorities not been expelled and destroyed?

For Armenia it is a determination to survive, prosper and recover its historic land.

At today’s political and strategic stalemate, the goals of both parties have become entangled with the interests of the major powers.

After 17 years of the blockade, Armenia needed to come out of its isolation and take the road to economic recovery. With its dwindling population and shrinking economy, it could run the risk of not even being able to protect its own borders.

Realizing this dire situation, Turkey offered to open the borders at a stiff price. To begin with, blockading Armenia was a virtual act of war for which Turkey needed to be reprimanded rather than compensated.

Also, opening the borders benefited Turkey more than Armenia, because with closed borders Ankara could never make headway in its drive to join the European Union.

Therefore, Ankara tried to obtain double or triple gain against opening the borders, by a) reviving the 1921 Kars Treaty, b) discrediting the Genocide issue and c) conditioning the border issue with the settlement of Karabagh conflict in favor of Azerbaijan.

Armenia drove a hard bargain to defeat the Turkish demands. The last-minute ditch, which delayed the signing of the protocols, indicates that we have been dealing with an extremely devious adversary and the implementation of those protocols may still pose some surprises down the road.

There are some pitfalls that warrant extreme caution in negotiations and implementation of the measures ahead.

a) mutual recognition of the existing borders and territorial integrity of each party is tantamount to reviving the Kars Treaty of 1921, without direct allusion to it. But that also guarantees Armenia’s territorial integrity, which was under threat during the late Turgut Ozal’s administration.
We lost historic Armenia by blood and we can only regain it by blood. As the Turkish dictator Kenan Evran cynically remarked once, that territories cannot be given; they can only be taken by force. In fact, which was the treaty that we breached when Armenian reconquered Karabagh? Therefore, trading territories is contingent upon the relative strength of the parties involved and historic opportunities presented.

b) The inter-governmental subcommittees mentioned in the protocols are open to interpretations. For Armenia, they indicate to tackle a host of issues between the parties. For Turkey, it is mostly to study “scientifically” the historic facts about the Genocide, as if there was any doubts left about Genocide. It is a forgone conclusion that the Armenian Genocide is an established fact by the august body of Genocide, scholars and by more than 20 countries in the world. If Turkey wishes to take up the issue again, with the help of discredited scholars such as Heath Lawry, Justin McCarthy, Halajoglu, etc. it stands to lose more credibility. Turkey will not recognize the Armenian Genocide, until the Article 301 is removed from its penal code and until the Turkish population is educated enough to face its tragic past courageously and honestly. The hard task of educating the Turkish populace has already begun with the scholarly works of historians such as Taner Akçam, Murad Bilge, Halil Berktay and others.

Taking up the issue with Turkey on a governmental level may only contribute to the drive taken up by these valiant scholars. We have historic facts and justice on our side and we should never miss the opportunity to confront the Turks on any level, be it scholarly or diplomatic.

Discussing the Genocide issue with Turkey should not be interpreted as questioning the veracity of the Genocide.

Turkey has some very tangible fears in recognizing the Genocide, foremost among them, being the fear of compensations. Even if Turkey refuses territorial concessions, material compensations are inevitable.

It will be a long and arduous process to come to terms with Turkey on the Genocide issue and that can be achieved only with the help of the international community, especially when the European Union stands firm on its condition of Genocide recognition before admitting Turkey into the EU.

A case in point was the TARC negotiations, which led the way to the International Court for Transitional Justice, which established the fact of Genocide. Although the conclusion was mutually binding, Turkey refused to abide by it, because there were no consequences.

Prior to the signing of the protocols, the president of Armenia took a trip to the diaspora, flying into the eye of a storm. It was a necessary trip which did not yield the intended results because Armenians are so fragmented in the homeland and the diaspora.

Nothing pleases the Turks more than watching the Armenians divided. One can imagine the day when the Turks signal that they are ready to recognize the Genocide or to discuss our territorial claims. At that point, the fragmentations and turmoil may become even more rampant because we have lost the collective will to confront historic opportunities with appropriate political sobriety.

Today Armenians are divided in many ways; some segments of the diaspora are against the Armenian government, party against party. Most of the commotion is generated because very few people have read or understood the protocols, therefore, they are easy prey for demagogues. Others are intent in settling selfish or partisan scores by questioning the legitimacy of the president. Yet others, like the ARF call for the resignation of Foreign Minister Nalbandian, believing they have the monopoly on patriotism and the Armenian case. What the Dashnak party has proposed does not go beyond some editorial changes in the language of the protocols. But their hunger strikes, calling for the resignation of the foreign minister, labeling the president as a “traitor” are not commensurate with their editorial changes of some cosmetic value. Some renegade members of the ADL, deviating from the traditional party line, have been hanging on the coattails of Dashnaks.
However, every group is for the opening of the borders and resumption of diplomatic relations with Turkey, but on a variety of terms.

Contrary to some allegations, the Armenian government has come up with a clear statement that it is not compromising on the Genocide issue, it is not selling out Karabagh and that there are no preconditions whatsoever to affect the agreements.

Fortunately, major organizations, especially in the US and Canada, have come up with statements calling for unity and caution. Emotional outbursts do not amount to policy. We are at a very critical crossroad of our history.

At one point or another, one administration had to take the initiative to break the logjam There is no guarantee that any previous or future administration could or can achieve a better deal. There is more likelihood that we can get a less favorable deal as the interests of the greater powers converge.

We are at a very critical crossroad of our history. United we stand and divided we fall.