Ruben Safrastyan

Professor Safrastyan Discusses Turkish-Armenian Relations at ADL Press Meeting

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WATERTOWN — Prof. Ruben Safrastyan spoke at the Armenian Democratic Liberal (ADL) Party press online lecture on February 16 on recent developments in Turkish-Armenian relations.

Safrastyan is director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, a former counsellor of the Armenian Embassy in Germany, and author or editor of 12 books. He is also founding editor of the academic periodicals Turkic and Ottoman Studies and Contemporary Eurasia, as well as editor of the academic yearbook Peoples and Countries of the Near and Middle East.

Organizer of the Zoom series and Beirut’s Zartonk newspaper editor Sevag Hagopian welcomed the participants and turned over the (virtual) podium to moderator Hagop Avedikian, editor of Azg newspaper of Yerevan. Avedikian provided a biographical sketch of Safrastyan. As background, Avedikian observed that Turkish-Armenian negotiations are not new, noting the meeting of Turkish Foreign Minister İhsan Sabri Çağlayangil in the late 1970s with representatives of three Armenian political parties, and the three prior attempts at establishing diplomatic relations in the post-Soviet era.

Safrastyan began by providing a background to the current attempt at “normalizing” Turkish-Armenian relations after the Armenian defeat in the 2020 Artsakh war, which upset the geopolitical status quo in the south Caucasus. Russia now has to deal with Turkey as a serious rival for influence, he pointed out. While Turkey failed in becoming a signatory to the trilateral agreement of November 9/10 2020 or joining the peacekeeping forces in Karabakh, it was able to participate in a joint Russian-Turkish monitoring center in Aghdam with 60-70 Turkish officers.

Safrastyan placed great importance on the Shushi agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan of June 15, 2021, which sets the foundation for a deeper integration of political, military and economic relations between the two countries, following the model of the Russia-Belarus union. Safrastyan saw this agreement as a step on the path to realization of Pan-Turkic plans, and declared that in the future Turkey would want Central Asian Turkic nations to join the union. He found Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be fundamentally following Pan-Turkic ideology, mixed in with some neo-Ottomanist and Pan-Islamic elements.

Safrastyan pointed to a new development which for the first time allowed Turkey to directly influencing the Kremlin domestically. This is the development of the Moscow Azerbaijani community, with very rich oligarchs who are in contact directly with the Russian political elite.

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Safrastyan saw a great danger in normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey, fearing that if the borders are opened Armenia will enter into the sphere of Turkish economic and political influence. Safrastyan pointed to the positive reinterpretation of the Ottoman Turkish period in Bulgarian history as a model to what could happen to Armenia. He noted that Turkey appointed a very experienced diplomat, closely connected with Erdogan, as its representative to these negotiations, indicating their importance to it.

Turkey in the prior three attempts at negotiations with the independent Republic of Armenia had three preconditions: 1. Abandonment of the issue of Armenian Genocide recognition; abandonment of protection of the rights of the people of Nagorno Karabakh; 3. Reaffirmation of the Treaty of Kars (1921). Armenia did not accept them, so the negotiations failed, he said.

One positive change compared to the past three attempts, Safrastyan remarked, was that all three states cochairing the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group negotiations on Karabakh have recognized the Armenian Genocide. He thought that no matter how hard it might be, Armenian diplomacy should try to use this situation to get Turkey to take steps towards recognizing the Genocide too.

Despite all the potential dangers of the current negotiations, Safrastyan concluded that it was correct to enter them, since many of the world powers greeted this positively. If it were rejected from the start, he said Armenia would be in greater isolation diplomatically than it was during the 2020 war. On the other hand, he stressed that Armenia should not accept any of the aforementioned three Turkish preconditions.

After his initial exposition, Safrastyan answered questions from the audience on related topics. When asked about the future of Kazakhstan, where Armenia joined Russian and other Collective Security Treaty Organization forces to intervene recently, he noted that this intervention could only temporarily halt the anti-Russian and pro-Turkish trend in that country. He declared that Kazakhstan must eventually be considered a lost country for Russia.

In response to a question about whether the Armenian government had its own clear goals and agenda for the negotiations, he responded that he wondered the same thing, but could not give a clear answer. While it was clear that some concessions or compromises would have to be made by Armenia in the process, he said that he hoped they would not concern fundamental issues.

One error that had already been made, Safrastyan said, was in the method of preparation for the negotiation. He said that Armenian diasporan representatives should have been invited to participate in these preparations since the issues at stake were pan-Armenian, on which the leaders of the Republic of Armenia do not have right to make decisions alone.

 

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