Another Setback in Armenian-Turkish Relations


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkey has become a big player in regional politics and the scope of its foreign policy not only covers the Middle East and the Caucasus, but it has extended far beyond those geographic areas to include the Balkans and Europe (via its NATO affiliation) and even China. Indeed, Turkey’s prime minister is not only the champion of the Palestinian cause, in order to lull the Arab world into delusions, but he has come out on as the champion of Uyghur rights in China.

Uyghurs are a restless Moslem minority, most of the time in conflict with the Chinese authorities. During one of the recent ethnic flare-ups, Prime Minister Erdogan accused the Chinese government of perpetrating genocide against the Uyghurs.

Erdogan’s pronouncement certainly did not scare the mighty Chinese government, but perhaps it helped to push China closer to Armenia — a true victim of genocide, perpetrated almost a century ago by the Turkish government.

On the chessboard of the politics of the Caucasus, Armenia, with its size, is not a challenge for Turkey. But history weighs too heavily on Turkey’s strategic planning. Another factor, which Turkey has to take into account, is not Armenia’s size nor its military capabilities, but its alliances in the continuing cold war in the region.

Since Turkey is an unreliable partner for its allies, it has to invent and re-invent various deceptive policies, to fool its allies for a while, while consolidating long-term plans on the ground. One of those deceptions was the apology game with Israel, its long-term strategic ally in the region. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended an apology to Turkey for the raid on the Mavi Marmara and promised to compensate the families of the Turkish victims, Israel’s political circles do not believe that Turkey will make good on its end of the bargain.

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Efraim Inbar has written a seething article about the apology game in the Jerusalem Post, under the title, “Israel’s Apology to Turkey Was a Mistake.” The journalist states that “the Israeli apology will hardly stop Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regular Israeli-bashing rhetoric. Nor has it secured a clear Turkish commitment for the resumption of full diplomatic relations.”

At this time in Turkey’s domestic policy, the Kurdish minority has been facing such a deception policy. While the Kurds are laying down their arms, in view of the administration’s demonstrative negotiations with their jailed leader, Abdullah Öçalan, no concrete commitments have been announced by Ankara.

Armenia has suffered the brunt of Turkey’s deceptive policy over the last two decades. In flagrant violation of the international law, Turkey has blockaded Armenia since 1994. And there is no power on earth to even chide Turkey for that lawless behavior.

Yet Turkey continues to tempt and tease the international community that it is about to take an initiative towards establishing peace and stability in the region. The first farce in that direction was Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s “zero problem with neighbors” policy, which soon proved to be nothing more that empty rhetoric. Yet Turkey’s “good intentions” never reverberated around the word. Even world leaders encouraged Turkey’s neighbors to take advantage of the historic opportunity.

One expression of Turkey’s “good intentions” were the Protocols, supposed to become the crown jewel of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who rushed to Switzerland to witness the historic breakthrough. True to its deceptive nature, Ankara never ratified the Protocols, but benefitted tremendously by the commotion it created.

The most recent incident was the cancellation of the planned twice-weekly chartered flights from Yerevan to Van. Although outwardly a positive move, the plan was of dubious nature for Armenia. It was necessitated primarily for the economic isolation of Eastern provinces in Turkey (historic Armenia).

There was mounting pressure by the governors of the region to open the border with Armenia to allow some economic activity. Ankara’s intention was to punish Armenia with its blockade. In the meantime it punished the population on the other side of the border, but that did not bother policy planners in Ankara because that population happened to be mostly Kurds. For the Armenians, the 45-minute flight would afford them the opportunity to visit their ancestral lands, but economically it would present a drain on Armenia’s economy, since cheap flights to Antalia had already forced out the competition in resort areas of Armenia and Georgia. However, the plan inspired an aura of positive sentiments, a hope that Armenian-Turkish relations are inching toward a better place.

The first flight was scheduled to take place on April 3, but a decision was made on March 30 by the Turkish side to cancel the flights, which were to operate by a private charter company. That company has not yet commented on the cancellation of the flights, but other indications emerged to prove that the cancellation was due to Azerbaijan’s pressure. Indeed the spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, Elman Abdullayev, has publicly thanked Ankara for the cancellation. He has further commented, “In the present condition, the position of brotherly Turkey is critically important. It is important that Turkey exert pressure on Armenia. We always see Turkey’s contribution to that affect and we are thankful for that.”

Perhaps Turkey never intended to allow those flights, but the announcement reaped some dividends for Ankara; to begin with, it once more demonstrated Turkey’s “good intentions” on the political markets. Second, out of nowhere it offered a free victory for Azerbaijan, against some political and business rewards. Together, Ankara and Baku enjoyed the satisfaction knowing they gave a slap to Armenia’s face.

Azerbaijan is not hiding its intentions against Armenia. Baku’s plans are to wipe Armenia out of the region. Aliyev himself has arrogantly announced that their intention is to continue the “liberation” of 20 percent of its territory “occupied” by Armenia. He has announced time and again that Armenia has been sitting on historic Azeri territory. He has also boasted several times that Baku was successful in isolating Armenia and leaving it out of all regional development plans, including rail and energy networks. This illegal plan is being implemented with the collusion of the great powers in the West and Russia.

When Azerbaijan threatens the very existence of Armenia, no restraining rebuke is heard from the UN headquarters nor its major world capitals.

Each time Azerbaijan violates the ceasefire agreement, the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), tasked with solving the Artsakh impasse, issues a polite warning to both sides to refrain from escalating the explosive situation.

The cancellation of flights may seem an insignificant, singular act, but it is the symbolic expression of a broader policy of stifling Armenia out of existence.


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