Armenia-Israel-Turkey: The Toxic Trio

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Turkey’s foreign policy establishment is working overtime to convince the Biden Administration to abstain, like its predecessors, from using the term genocide during the annual commemoration on April 24.

Relations between the US and Turkey continue to be frigid, as there are several outstanding issues between the two parties that need to be resolved. Ankara prioritizing and concentrating its efforts towards stopping the recognition of the Armenian Genocide indicates the importance of the issue for Turkey. When Turkey invests so much in this problem, the Armenian side — particularly those who question and dismiss the issue by questioning what difference recognition makes — need to also recognize its political currency and consequences for the future of Armenia.

The pro-government Turkish newspaper Sabah has announced on its site that President Erdogan’s Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has reached out to the White House through Jack Sullivan, the national security advisor, to warn against the use of the term genocide, advancing four points, as if lawyers and historians needed any tutorials on the issue.

Mr. Kalin maintains that the Armenian massacres do not qualify to be termed as genocide because no court ruling exists about the issue, such as those regarding the more recent horrors in Rwanda and Srebrenica, ignoring the rulings of the 1919 Istanbul Military Tribunals.

He next suggests that the term genocide was officially adopted in 1948, perhaps referring to the UN resolution, which is retroactive anyway. Third, he suggests that the use of the term may affect Turkish-American relations, which are already damaged; really, it is that Turkey that must be more worried about repairing the frayed relations than the US. The fourth point is the same old rhetoric that a new situation — in this case in the Caucasus — may be disrupted as a result.

Regarding his last point, a cautionary warning should be included: the Armenian government must not fall into a Turkish trap which has caused previous attempts for recognition to fail, allowing Ankara to spread the false narrative that negotiations are ongoing between Armenia and Turkey, and that any third-party involvement may jeopardize the outcome.

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We have to analyze Turkey’s relations with the US and Israel to find out the conditions created which led both legislative branches of the US government to adopt the Genocide resolution with a wide margin last year. That was a period when Turkey had bombed and massacred NATO’s Kurdish allies in Northern Syria. That operation coincided with a particularly rough spot in Turkish-Israel relations, at which time pro-Israeli lobbying forces publicly announced that they would refrain from helping Turkey, as they had been doing for a long time. Therefore, the convergence of those two events helped the passage of the resolution.

Today we are facing a different picture. The Turkish government is hard at work to repair the relations with the US and Israel. It would be naive to assume that the drive behind this move is only preventing the recognition of the genocide, as there are many outstanding issues between those countries. Still, certainly for Ankara, recognition of the Genocide is a major issue on its foreign policy agenda.

Menekse Tokay, in the March 31 edition of Arab News, writes, “From the Turkish side, any diplomatic reconciliation with Israel would try to break its regional isolation and also please US President Joe Biden’s administration.”

Ankara has tried to ingratiate itself to Washington by taking other political and military initiatives in other regions of the world. Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and its joint action with Russia to create a new political order in the Caucasus, bypassing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group format, had angered Washington and strained relations with Europe, as these actions were considered to be catering to Russian interests. Now, however, Ankara is teaming up with Ukraine to challenge Russian forces in the Black Sea region, specifically Donbass and Crimea.

The US has placed its forces in Europe on high alert in anticipation of a confrontation with Russia. Turkey has interjected itself into this developing crisis, to regain its NATO credentials in the eyes of the Biden administration.

Recently, the defense and foreign ministries of Turkey and Ukraine started holding consultations to create a common forum in view of the gathering storm. Rick Rozoff published in the March 26 issue of antiwar.com site that these consultations are meant “to serve as the institutional Turkish-Ukrainian efforts to consolidate the Black Sea region for NATO and in the process, drive out Russia. … During the meeting, the Turkish diplomat confirmed his country’s readiness to take part in the work of the Crimean Platform, which will serve as a platform for consolidating international effort to de-occupy Crimea.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Moscow will take appropriate measures to reply to those provocations. Western observers have already noticed Russian tanks are rolling towards its borders with Ukraine, while President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has indicated with barely-disguised cynicism that no one should be alarmed when Russia holds war games within its borders.

These developments not only amount to war rhetoric, but rather a warning, and Ankara is prepared to reap dividends from this confrontation.

Some analysts in Yerevan warn that Russia, once again, may reach some compromises with Turkey at Armenia’s expense, like it did in the Karabakh war.

On the other front, Turkey has engaged with its continuing love-hate relations with Israel.

This type of political engagement is characteristic of post-Cold War international relations. During the Cold War, political boundaries were marked through ideological paradigms. After the collapse of the Soviet empire and the advent of a multi-polar world, almost all major powers had to micromanage their foreign policies, as they had conflicting and converging interests at the same time. Thus, for a long, long time, Turkey was the only Muslim country that had established diplomatic relations with Israel and they cooperated in many areas of common interest.

With the emergence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist policies, divergences emerged in the relations of the two countries. As Israel was neutralizing Arab antagonism to its Palestinian policies, with Washington’s muscle, Turkey found itself in isolation, particularly after the Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

But for a long time, Erdogan was able to dupe the Arab and Muslim world, pretending to espouse the Palestinian cause, sometimes comparing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu to Hitler and calling back his ambassador from Israel, but continuing its trade relations with the latter and particularly cooperating with its intelligence gathering against Palestinians.

Israel seldom retaliated against Erdogan in kind since Netanyahu was convinced that Erdogan’s tantrums were part of his political theatrics. This was also the reason why Israel never recognized the Armenian Genocide, because there was much more to jeopardize behind the scenes.

Erdogan is a shrewd politician and he knows any change in Washington’s Middle Eastern policy has to have Israel’s blessing. That is why he has been eager to mend relations with Israel to pave his way towards Washington. Arab News on March 31 wrote that “Turkey may have stepped up normalization efforts with Israel in the wake of press reports saying that Biden would refer to the 1915 massacres of Armenians as ‘genocide’ on the upcoming April 24 anniversary. Turkey might be hoping to win back support of the Israeli lobbies in the US congress in this regard.”

In response to Turkey’s rapprochement with Israel, the latter may request the expulsion of Hamas leaders being hosted in Turkey; Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, with which Israel is in uneasy relations.

Turkey has toned down the hostile rhetoric with another Middle Eastern ally of the US, Egypt. Relations between the two soured after Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Mohammed Morsi’s Islamist government, which enjoyed Erdogan’s support.

For many years, when Cairo and Ankara enjoyed normal diplomatic relations, Turkey had turned Egypt into a hub for anti-Armenian propaganda, sponsoring publications, media agencies and academic centers. After Erdogan’s fallout with al-Sisi, many newspapers, talk shows and academic publications highlighted the Armenian Genocide and the issue was even placed on the agenda of the Egyptian parliament.

Israel has treated Armenia in a cavalier manner. Despite calls from academic circles and from the halls of the Knesset to recognize the Armenian Genocide, the government has not taken any action. Even in the face of this position, and the deep Israeli and Azerbaijani relations, Yerevan took a half-hearted step by opening its embassy in Israel without reciprocation.

That did not serve any useful purpose. It only helped to anger its Arab and Iranian neighbors. After the debacle of the Karabakh war, with Israel’s active participation, in answer to Armenia’s recall of its ambassador and some Israeli-Armenian demonstrations, official and unofficial quarters in Israel bluntly stated that Israel has to tend to its own interests, never mind the deaths of 5,000 Armenian youth by Israeli and Turkish drones.

Israeli drone sales to Azerbaijan proved to be self-serving, as Israel expanded its surveillance capabilities from the newly captured territory by Azerbaijani forces from Armenian control. This was in addition to petrodollars earned for shedding Armenian blood.

The newly-extended access to the Iranian border also became a gift to Israel from Turkey, which conducted the war against Armenia. The Karabakh war was one of the few theaters where Turkish and Israeli interests converged as they became involuntary bedfellows.

In view of the bloody outcome of the war, one is hard-pressed to understand the ironic jubilation that the Iranian Foreign Ministry demonstrated by congratulating Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for recovering “its territory” from the Armenians. The Iranian regime is certainly aware that in addition to the spying capabilities from Azerbaijani territory, the latter had provided military airport facilities to Israel, when the latter plans an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Turkey is posing an existential threat to Armenia. Ottomanist territorial expansionism is the centerpiece of its foreign policy. Erdogan has skillfully managed that policy by calibrating its message to its audience. When Erdogan’s megaphone is directed at the Islamic countries, he is the champion of political Islam. When that megaphone is directed at the West, he becomes the champion of Western democratic values.

A research paper in Strategic Assessment by Gallia Lindenstrauss and Remi Daniel states, “Turkey’s actions in Northern Syria and Northern Iraq show that while Ankara claims to be respecting territorial borders of those countries in practice, it is undermining their sovereignty over considerable sections of their respective borders.”

Turkey is at Armenia’s borders and in recent months, it has concentrated its forces not only within its borders, but also in Nakhichevan, an exclave ruled by Azerbaijan. It is too close for comfort.

Since the start of the year, Turkey and Azerbaijan have held four war game exercises near Armenia’s border. The intention of these games could just be to intimidate Armenia, yet the silence of Moscow, Armenia’s strategic ally, renders the issue more ominous.

If it can violate the territories of its neighbors with impunity, nothing can hold it back from taking a chance against Armenia — again. After all, Erdogan is no different than his Ittihadist ancestors. If it was conceivable for them to wipe out an entire nation, to take over its historic homeland, and remain unaccountable to the world community, there is no reason for Erdogan not to do the same.

Armenia, Israel and Turkey form a trio and a toxic one at that. Their interactions are influenced by the US, Russia and Iran. Improved relations and cooperation between Israel and Turkey on the one hand, and the latter three countries on the other, will increase the toxicity. Ironically, strained relations between these two latter groups of countries may lower the level of that toxicity.

 

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