Ever since Armenian President Serge Sarkisian invited Turkish President Abdullah Gul to Yerevan for the Armenia-Turkey World Cup qualifying soccer match in September 2008, there have been a slew of reports alluding to an imminent rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. Following Gul’s visit, high-level negotiations between Armenian and Turkish officials continued in places like New York, Istanbul, Helsinki, Zurich, Davos, and Munich, all with the stated intent of normalizing relations between the two countries.
After each of these meetings, we have heard vague utterances about the process “going well,” that “there is a willingness on both sides to solve their issues,” and that “we have never come this close to a plan regarding the final normalization of relations.” What has not been uttered are the actual details of the discussions and what Turkey is demanding in exchange for ending its 16-year illegal blockade of Armenia. The public has been left wondering what exactly is being said and agreed to that makes these meetings so “constructive.”
Given the cloud of secrecy surrounding these developments, the following question naturally arises: Should the Armenian public simply trust that its leaders are negotiating effectively with Turkey for the long-term interests of the Armenian people; or are they, rather, being used by Turkey in another ploy to derail the cause of a genuine dialogue, based on truth and justice, between the two nations?
To answer this question, we must begin by recalling that immediately upon Armenia’s independence in 1991, it was Turkey who set preconditions for normalizing relations and establishing diplomatic ties. Foremost among these preconditions was the requirement that Armenia renounce all efforts at achieving international genocide recognition and officially legitimate its current borders with Turkey. In 1993, following the successful defense and liberation of Artsakh (Karabagh), Turkey escalated its pressure tactics even further by blockading Armenia and calling for the return of Artsakh’s territory to Azerbaijan, among a host of other demands.
Successive Turkish administrations continued this policy and consistently made clear that they did not intend to normalize relations until Armenia capitulated to their demands. Even during the presidency of Levon Ter-Petrossian—with his administration’s more soft-line position on accommodating to Turkey’s wishes—Ankara refused to reciprocate Yerevan’s overtures, and only raised further preconditions and threats.
Did one mere soccer match in September change all of this? Has the ruling class in Turkey all of a sudden forsaken its earlier policies and chosen to take a different path vis-à-vis Armenia?
Despite however much one may wish to believe that Turkey has reversed course, the evidence suggesting that this is the case is sorely lacking. On the contrary, developments surrounding the recent spate of negotiations between Turkey and Armenia seem to create more cause for concern than hope about any genuine effort at a just normalization.
For one, we see that the Turkish government and its agents have, once again, jumped at the opportunity to use the appearance of dialogue as a way of hampering efforts at international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. This became apparent immediately after Gul’s visit to Armenia, when Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told the Turkish NTV channel: “If we manage to make rapid progress in our initiative to solve the problems, then there will be no need for third country parliaments to discuss these issues. We can tell them: ‘Mind your own business. Armenia and Turkey are getting along well.’”
More recently, Babacan warned the U.S. and other countries that passing genocide resolutions will harm the reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Armenia, stating, “It would not be very rational for a third country to take a position on this issue… A wrong step by the United States will harm the process.” The speaker of the Turkish Parliament sounded a similar chord when he told the Hurriyet newspaper in early December that resolutions will be harmful for Armenian-Turkish relations, and that “Politicians and parliaments cannot judge history.”
Indeed, as April nears and the genocide resolution in the U.S. House picks up steam, we can surely expect Turkish lobbyists to use the pretext of improving relations as a key tool for seeking to defeat the legislation.
On the issue of Artsakh, again, we see no signs of the Turkish position shifting away from one of unequivocal solidarity with Azerbaijan. President Gul admitted as much himself when he went to Baku a few days after going to Yerevan, stating during a press conference, “Turkey has always supported Azerbaijan in political issues, and will continue to do so.”
Despite this obvious bias, Ankara seems intent on securing a role as a broker between Armenia and Azerbaijan in exchange for normalizing relations—an outcome that will inevitably be to the detriment of the people of Artsakh. Interestingly, the U.S. seems to also be encouraging Turkey in this process with Artsakh in mind. In a December podcast interview with the Turkish Embassy, the U.S. mediator in the Nagorno-Karabagh negotiation process, Mathew Bryza, insisted that one of the advantages of opening the Turkish-Armenian border will be to make Armenia “more flexible in discussions on Nagorno-Karabagh.”
For these and other reasons, many in Armenia have expressed their skepticism and concern over the undisclosed negotiations taking place between Turkey and Armenia. In November, over 300 of the most prominent intellectuals and artists in Armenia sent a letter to Gul advising that the only way to turn the page, enable a “frank dialogue,” and “achieve the true reconciliation so much desired” is by admitting to the reality of the Armenian Genocide. In addition, an October public opinion poll carried out in Armenia by the Gallup Organization found that 43 percent of respondents felt “Armenia should be very careful in its relations with Turkey,” while 25 percent expressed opposition to the establishment of relations altogether if Turkey did not recognize the genocide.
Here in the diaspora, the ANCA has taken the lead in communicating to public officials and the media our community’s concern over Turkey’s use of these cosmetic undertakings as a means of silencing genocide recognition efforts and furthering its anti-Armenian agenda. The AYF-YOARF has also initiated a call for the community to sign an online petition calling on the Armenian government to heed caution in its relations with Turkey and “clearly and immediately state its intentions regarding these issues.” Concerned activists and community members are encouraged to sign this petition by March 15th by visiting www.armenianpetition.com.
We must let our policymakers know, both in Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora, that we will not stand idly by as major decisions over the fate of our people are negotiated behind closed doors. It is our duty to ensure that Turkey is not allowed to use negotiations with Armenia as a front for stifling genocide recognition and, at the same time, that Armenia does not make unwarranted concessions in order to establish relations with a country that has done nothing but attempt to harm its interests.
We cannot “wait and see” what happens any longer; the time has come to transform our concern over these developments into clear and concise action.