Tempers Rising in Diplomatic Exchanges

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Emulating President Richard Nixon’s highly-successful ping pong diplomacy with China’s president, Serge Sargisian tried to engage Turkey in a football diplomacy, which raised some hopes at home and heaped upon him a tremendous amount of kudos from the world diplomatic community. But that diplomacy hit a snag when Turkey dug its heels in refusing to approve the Protocols before the settlement of the Karabagh issue.

Although the Protocols did not call for any such preconditions, Turkey raised the ante by embarrassing the supporters of the Protocols and continuing to keep Armenia under blockade.

Turkish leaders would like to imply that the lifting of the blockade is a favor to Armenia, whereas the blockade is in violation of international law and is a roadblock for Turkey’s path towards its aspirations to join the European Union.

Turkey is trying to wait out the complete depopulation of Armenia so as to see the latter disappear from the global map. Certainly leaders in Ankara are overjoyed to see droves of Armenian citizens abandoning their ancestral homeland, driven out by economic necessity. And the blockade is one of the contributing factors to that economic hardship.

After stalling the approval of the Protocols, Turkey was under diplomatic pressure as the ball was in its court. To move that ball somewhere else, Turkish d iplomacy has resorted to the principle of “the best defense is an offense” and has unleashed a diplomatic campaign against Armenia. One such attack took place on April 13, when both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu used the opportunity afforded to them at the European Council’s spring session in Strasbourg. Erdogan has tried to kill more than one bird from the Strasbourg forum, by insulting a French parliamentarian who had questioned him about religious freedom in Turkey. Such a macho attack was mostly for domestic consumption, in view of the parliamentary elections in Turkey on June 12. Erdogan has learned by experience that standing up to the Europeans earns him high marks among the Turkish electorate.

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The other target was Armenia, whose leadership had blamed Turkey for the failure in the passing of the Protocols.

“When it comes to opening borders with Armenia, we have our own criteria. We cannot allow Armenia to trample on the rights of our Azerbaijani brothers. In order for the doors to be opened, problems have to be solved. That is why the Protocols were signed in the first place.We are not scared of anyone. If Armenia can overcome its fear from the diaspora, then problems can be solved.”

The statement above raised some pointed questions, first suggesting that pre-conditions for signing the Protocols were back on the table. Initially, both countries had agreed to negotiate without pre- conditions. And Turkey should be the last nation talking about “occupied territories,” while keeping 38 percent of Cypriot territory under occupation, as stated in the rebuttal by Eduard Shahnazarov, the press secretary of the ruling Republican Party in Armenia, who also indicated that Turkey has committed genocide and occupies Western Armenian territory.

Prime Minister Erdogan has resorted to his old arsenal of using the canard of 70,000 illegal Armenians working in Turkey. That weapon was also used, before him, by the former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. However, the 70,000 figure is grossly exaggerated, as knowledgeable sources put that figure at 10,000 maximum.

Erodgan’s other target is to drive a wedge between Armenia and the diaspora, blaming the latter for its supposed intransigence in the issue of the Genocide.

After raising the issue of illegal Armenian workers in Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has magnanimously added that “we could expel them from our country, but we don’t do it, because hardships at home have forced them to leave their country.”

But the response was not delayed, as Republican Party deputy Karen Avakian has asked, “how many million illegal Turks roam in Europe?” “And besides,” he added, “the Armenian immigrants are not in a foreign country, they are on their ancestral lands.”

Foreign Minister Davutoglu, in support of his prime minister, has attacked Shahnazarov, pontificating in a condescending statement that he should study international law before accusing Turkey of genocide and aggression in Cyprus.

But most revealing in these exchanges of barbs is not in their diplomatic content nor their political effect, but a scandal, which is full of potential dangers, as Turkey becomes a major player in the world diplomatic arena.

During the Strasbourg session, the Turkish president of the European Council, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has blocked the Armenian representatives from speaking in the session, to create an unobstructed forum for Mr. Erdogan. This makes international diplomacy a mockery as the council’s president confused the European Parliament with a Turkish bazaar. But we cannot blame him for holding that position, as European representatives are to blame for electing a conniving Turk to that position.

Indeed, the Prosperous Armenia party representative, Nayira Zohrabian, was supposed to be the third speaker and Zaruhi Postanjian the fourth, but after allowing a free hand to Mr. Erdogan for his diatribes, they discovered that Cavusoglu had moved them to the numbers of 21 and 27, respectively.

This Turkish intrigue opens up a can of worms; wherever Turkey occupies an influential position in any international forum, that position will be used against Armenia, as was proven recently time and again.

When Turkey became the rotating president of the United Nations Security Council, it helped Azerbaijan to win a favorable vote at the UN General Assembly on the issue of Karabagh. Similarly, when Turkey assumed the presidency of the Islamic Council, again that council passed resolutions against Armenia on the Karabagh issue.

The moral of the story is that those who believe that Turkey will be under closer scrutiny and thus better behaved by joining the European Union, and that we will enjoy a next-door civilized neighbor are in the wrong. Once they are members of that body, the representatives of Turkey will use their voting power against Armenia every step along the way.

Besides the Armenian parliamentarians, President Serge Sargisian has seized the opportunity on April 13, during his visit to Slovenia and made the following statement: “Slovenia has resolved its problems with its neighbors peacefully, whereas our neighbor Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union, refuses to open the borders, contrary to its international obligations.”

Referring to the Protocols, Mr. Sargisian added: “Yerevan will not take any steps towards approving the Protocols, as long as Turkey has not approved them. Turkey is proposing pre-conditions before approving the Protocols, namely the settlement of the Karabagh issue. Armenia has not accepted those pre-conditions and never will.”

One may wonder where do Erdogan and his government get the encouragement to bully Armenia. Despite Erdogan’s row with Israel, and despite his dissension with the NATO Alliance on the conflict in Libya, the US is still continuing to cajole Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Indeed after reading the US State Department’s annual report this year portraying Karabagh and Armenia as aggressors and occupiers of Azeri territory, Erdogan will never think of taming his arrogance versus Armenia.

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