The Unholy Alliance of the Turkish and Armenian Governments

It seems from the latest ANC-sponsored forum on Turkish-Armenian relations [held in Watertown on March  26] that the ARF is resigned to the fact that a document will be signed between the governments of Armenia and Turkey to start “normalization” of relationships. Unfortunately, the content of this document is not something that Armenians, either at home or in the diaspora, have been or will be privy to up until the last possible moment.

The sudden surge in the rapprochement efforts between the governments of Armenia and Turkey is a direct result of the most sophisticated efforts to date by the Turkish government to hinder efforts directed towards the affirmation of the Armenian Genocide by the United States government and elsewhere. Instead of sinking into a defensive posture as it has over the past few decades, the Turkish government has gone on the offensive, and in doing so has taken the lead and dictated the course of action. Hedging its bets on a democratic win in the U.S. presidential elections, the Turkish government laid out the groundwork for a much more potent and sophisticated TARC-style effort well ahead of the elections. Learning its lessons from the failures of TARC, the Turkish government decided to engage the Armenian government directly, killing two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it addressed one of the keys reasons for TARC’s failure, lack of involvement on part of the Armenian government, and on the other hand, it put the Armenian Diaspora, the driving force behind the recognition efforts, in a very complicated situation. As a bonus, they got to exploit one of their favorite tactics of late, driving a wedge between the diaspora and homeland Armenians. This tactical/diplomatic master plan was rewarded by a “football/soccer diplomacy” coup de grâce served by none other than the government of the Republic of Armenia.

On a side note, the originator of the term “football/soccer diplomacy” most likely based it on the Sino-American ping-pong rapprochement efforts of the 70’s, albeit clumsily and with minimal research. China and America were both large and powerful players on the international scene. Armenia, on the other hand, is a young, thinly populated and impoverished quasi state that is heavily burdened by corruption, lack of natural resources, and a non-existent industrial sector, which relies primarily on a service based economy, tourism, aid from other governments and world monetary institutions (both of which come with strings attached), and remittances from Armenians living and working abroad to stay afloat. Armenia holds some strategic advantages, mostly resultant from its geographic location; but this card has yet to be played, and when played, done so poorly.  On the other hand, Turkey is a relatively vast and largely populated nation with the second largest standing army in NATO and one of the 20 largest economies in the world, boasting centuries of experience in diplomacy, warfare, and the subjugation of weaker neighbors. Turkey is hell bent on establishing itself as a regional power, aiming to shed its image as a minion of the United States, hence the motivation to block the U.S. troops’ transit routes to Iraq in 2003 and onward. Turkey has been dealing with a number of significant issues on the international stage, namely its EU ascension aspirations, relationships with Cyprus, Greece, Israel (who must stop playing the Armenian Genocide card every time it wants to settle a score with Turkey), Syria, Iran, and Russia, and the Kurdish problem (which is becoming a multi-pronged problem with the establishment of the Autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region and its cozy relationships with Israel), all of which are of much greater significance than the opening of borders and normalization of relationships with a poor and landlocked state. Therefore, to compare dialogue efforts between a small and weak state with its powerful neighbor, which has tried to annihilate the said small state in not too distant a past, to the Sino-American dialogue of the 70’s is irresponsible and flat out dangerous. Despite all the recent rapprochement dialogue, Turkey still is the first enemy and abettor of the second enemy of Armenia (anyone remember the repeated one nation two states declarations?), which has and continues to pose an existential threat towards Armenia and Armenians. Efforts to minimize this by any party, especially the Armenian government, are naive at best and treasonous at worst.

The other aspect of Turkey’s sophisticated denial effort is its recent relative openness to the leftist segment of its society, who is interested in addressing the “Great Catastrophe” that befell the Armenians at the turn of the 20th century. The government has learned the value of maintaining a pressure valve for external consumption, hoping to present an open-minded Turkey to the world, one that is capable of dealing with the dark corners of its history. While the actions of this segment of the Turkish population are lauded, they represent the state of mind of a small fraction of the country’s population. The recent apology campaign, which only offers a vague apology for an unspecified event and laments the complicity of the signatories by way of their long silence, was signed by less than five hundredth of one percent of the country’s population. While charges have been brought against the originators of this campaign and others who have spoken out on this issue recently, these charges are mostly for internal consumption and are not aimed at quashing the opposition voice. On the flip side, a number of other apology campaigns have sprung up demanding an apology from Armenians that have garnered a larger number of signatories so far. So, despite all these efforts, a deep seated fear and hatred against the non-Turkic segment of the Turkish society, be it Armenian, Jewish, or Kurdish, is still alive and well and requires only a small stimulus to rear its head. The large-scale anti-Semitic demonstrations in Turkey and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s public meltdown in Davos, in response to the most recent Israeli incursion into Gaza, are a case in point.

It is imperative that Armenia maintains normal relations with all its neighbors; however, given the tumultuous history of the region, this is much easier said than done. Turkey committed its biggest mistake in modern Turkish-Armenian relationships by closing its border to Armenia in 1993, effectively losing its leverage on the Armenian economy and as a result on the country’s political landscape. This mistake forced Armenia to adjust to an economic reality, where Turkey was relegated to a marginal direct role. While Armenia adjusted to this reality, it lost a golden opportunity, albeit in the form of a forcible protectionism (much like Turkey of the 80’s—without the coup d’états), to establish a sound macroeconomic foundation for growth, mainly due to absence of the requisite vision and commitment to establish an economically viable state and the pervasive corruption and get-rich-now attitude of the ruling class. The privatization and usurpation of Soviet Armenia’s assets along with a host of other less than honorable behavior made overnight oligarchs out of a handful of everyday thugs, who in turn divided the control of key national commodities amongst themselves, and seated sons, uncles, cousins, and other underlings in the National Assembly and other governmental positions to control the political landscape as well. Some went on to form political parties, assume the role of king maker, further crowding the already crowded field of political parties that revolve around a person and his ambitions regardless of the presence of a cogent ideology (or any ideology for that matter) or school of thought.

Out of nowhere, the economic advantages of opening the Turkish border has become a key driver of this rapprochement effort, despite the fact that the government of Armenia has failed to commission a single in-depth study into the feasibility and benefits of the opening of the border. A handful of studies, sponsored by entities with their own axes to grind, have been aimed at this question, yet the conflicting results of these studies further beckon an in-depth and independent analysis of this issue for the sake of the Armenian nation. What has the government of Armenia done to address trade, regulatory, and logistic issues associated with the opening of the border? What steps has the government of Armenia taken to help establish industries that can compete in an open market? What products does Armenia have to offer to Turkey besides cognac, beer, juices, cigarettes, jams, and fruits, all of which are readily available in Turkey via internal production and import? At the current rate, the opening will result in the flooding in of Turkish products in Armenia, bypassing the pre-existing clandestine trade route through Georgia; Turkish ownership of the few remaining businesses and commodities that are not owned by Russia; and total foreign control of the local economy from grains to fuel and other necessities, resulting in the ultimate subjugation of Armenia to the economic and political will of foreign entities, specifically a state with Armenian blood on its hands.

Suggestions have been made that this sense of urgency was felt in Armenia after the Russo-Georgian war, when the Russian bombing of a single bridge halted the import of essential grain destined for Armenia for weeks during one of its rounds of negotiation over nuclear fuel rod prices with Armenia. If Armenia’s strategic partner can openly engage in such a blackmail campaign, what would stop Turkey from closing the border, if and when Armenia takes a step that is slightly out of step with Turkish interests? This is all the more interesting, given the deafening public silence out of Russia on this issue, and given its near-whole ownership of anything that is bolted to a wall in Armenia.

Borders should be opened and relations should be normalized, but only after the government of Armenia has done its homework to create an equitable environment where Armenian citizens can stand to gain. The current setting will only help further enrich the band of oligarchs that control the lifeline of the country’s economy and the political elite that they support, and result in the inflow of Turkish money and influence into our political system.

Furthermore, given the bloody history between the two nations, the preconditions set by Turkey for normalization of relationships (no land claim, no genocide recognition, return of Artsakh to Azerbaijan), a transparent process for normalization must be established where input by Armenian citizens and the diaspora are taken into account. The Turkish government has not publicly backed down from its three preconditions; neither has it elaborated on the proposal to form a joint historical commission to “study the events of 1915.” On the other hand, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry has done a lousy job of alleviating the fears and misconceptions in the Armenian world, despite the less than convincing comments by Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian displaying his surprise on comments from the Turkish side vis-a-vis the genocide. To top it all off, Turkey has apparently prepared a road map for the Artsakh conflict. So, one can see that given Turkey’s history and the issues facing Armenia and the diaspora, a secret deal could only smell of rat.

This brings us down to the most important factor, the Armenian people. The euphoria associated with Armenia’s independence has subsided, and the joy of the liberation of Artsakh has all but disappeared. It seems that people are frozen in a state of apathy and have yet to grasp or do not care to grasp the significance of living in or having an independent (albeit quasi) Armenia after hundreds of years of subjugation to the rule of conquerors. The audible longing to return to the old Soviet system, especially among the older Armenian population, is a longing for more stables times. Many among this segment of the populace are more interested in the stability that came with the Soviet system despite its drawbacks, especially since they gave their fair share to the system during their more productive years, and were not in the mood to establish a new country in their silver years. The intelligent youth, full of energy and promise, has only the current environment to learn from. All they are exposed to is: corruption, whether involving high-level government entities or low-level bribes and quid pro quos for people to make ends meet; a boring and outdated educational system; the absence of a work ethic and professionalism; limited prospects for a productive life; and most importantly, the absence of any value system and/or a greater aim worth fighting for and an abject dearth of vision to help build a prosperous and progressive nation for all. On the flip side, the majority of the diaspora is content with spending a few weeks hanging out in the many cafes in Yerevan or cool off around Lake Sevan and similar places. The better off ones can enjoy their few weeks in their little apartments off of Northern Avenue, which turns into a ghost town the rest of the year. They also fulfill their annual “duty” by making a donation to the Armenia Fund, or help with little projects here and there. These, while worthwhile, are but a few scattered and uncoordinated droplets aimed to fill a canyon. A number of Diasporan Armenians got burnt out trying to take a positive step, while others found ways to deal with the system in Armenia to get something going. Unfortunately, no one is really interested in doing anything more than that, nor is anyone willing to think about much more. How is the Armenian mind to wrap itself around the concept of self-governance? Who will they blame when things don’t work out? There will be no usurper or conqueror to be blamed. Armenians have not produced leaders for so long, that it seems they have forgotten how to do so, and even if they did, they would not know what to expect from them and how to act around them. They expect their leaders to be corrupt and motivated by self-interest and greed, so they get nothing more than that in their leadership. This arrangement gives them a scapegoat to blame and an excuse to sit on the periphery and complain about the system and the leadership without doing much at all.

In conclusion, it seems that Turkey is anxious to make the “normalization” announcement, regardless of Armenia’s hesitations, either before or during President Barack Obama’s visit to Turkey. Timing is of the essence here, especially given the amount of effort and resources that the Turkish government has invested in this plot. What Armenia needs is a well thought-out plan to emerge as a sustainable and sovereign nation. Given the neighborhood that Armenia is in, this will only be possible through sovereign access to open waters and reliance on its own resources. What it does not need are gimmicks, shady deals, and corrupt leadership. Everyone knows what Turkey is up to; what people do not know is where the Armenian leadership stands.

It is at times like these that one wishes that the ARF would live up to its illustrious revolutionary history. They returned to change Armenia in 1991, yet it seems it was Armenia that changed them. Now, they are resigned to worrying about when the ax will drop, instead of stopping it.


  1. Before preaching to others to live up to their “illustrious revolutionary history”, the “Indignant Armenian” should have the decency and courage not to hide his/her/their identity.

  2. Kudos to the indignant Armenian for saying what no one will. This is a call to action to the ARF and the entire Armenian world.

  3. The publication of the letter by Indignant Armenian is journalism and the fourth state at this best–the sharing of opinions, airing of criticism, and a paper not being afraid to allow a critic of its organization to air his/her opinions.

    Does it really matter if it was anonymous or not? If someone is thinking it and they back up their thesis with facts and history. Then it shouldn’t matter. Questioning the validity of an argument by pointing to his/her anonymity is a weak response.

    I would be curious to hear your take on the issue at hand Mr. Manoyan. You have a keen perspective on the matter, being the ARF’s political director.

    How will the organization handle an onerous treaty from inside the heart of a new democracy it is helping establish as part of its government?

    Will the ARF leave the coalition government it has worked from within to strengthen? What do you expect the reaction of Armenians to be to the Armenian government (and by extension the ARF) once the dubious nature of Turkey’s drive to normalize relations is revealed?

    Or will the ARF work from within government to, perhaps, present checks and balances to go along with whatever agreements are being made, such as caps on how much turkish product comes in, how many business are allowed to establish in Armenia, fair trade agreements or duty free access to ports?

    How will the ARF justify, yet again, its involvement in an oppressive and corrupt government unconcerned with the interests of the Armenian people?

    Once again, I commend the Armenian Weekly for publishing this article and providing a true forum for discussion. It is truly unprecedented in recent history to have an ARF paper allow for such professional airing of opinions. This should serve as an example to other Armenian outlets, especially in this new age of the Internet when all voices are heard equally, as they should always be.

  4. As a Turkish person who had not even heard of the Armenian deportation and massacres until my mid teens, and looking at the issue as a third person without emotional involvement, I would say that the diaspora is not going after the quickest route to the settlement of the issue. 95% of the people in Turkey do not have sympathies to the Armenian cause. No matter how harsh the international shunning, no government in Turkey would ever even come close to signing up for responsibility for the doings of the Ottoman government. The public sentiment in Turkey is already drifting away from the West – so the EU or US pressure might only mean so much. I think the only way to be able to reconcile the past will be possible when the Turkish society itself is ready for it. So, rather than alienating the Turks with a hateful face, the diaspora would better serve it’s cause by making friends with the Turkish public and then the government would naturally take the necessary steps. A major change of course is needed as this one is not working. Hate and anger only begets hate and anger. A peaceful closure and honoring the dead is only possible with love and compassion.

  5. jake you talk like a true turk. turks NEVER change they just change their masks depending who they want to decieve next.

  6. I agree with Garo,

    who do you think you are “Indignant Armenian”. unfortunately you among many others seem to think by just throwing factoids in your “opinion” piece, you make some kind of sense worse yet you know what you are talking about. I have news for you: YOU DON’T.

  7. While I would like to agree with you Vartan, anyone who has such strong views as “indignant armenian” should take full responsiiblity for them.

    It is easy to hide behind an anonymous cape… after all that is what the kkk did /does; and what so many others throughout history have done.

    Too bad “idignant armenian” is not as strong as s/he would like others to be.

  8. The only reason why an identity would matter in this case is if you are all planning on attacking the merits of his/her argument by attacking him/her. Alas, not a single person has offered a reasonable, sophisticated rebutle to anything “indignant armenian” has said. These are how arguments played out when I was in middle school.

    I have also not received answers to my questions either. I think they are valid questions.

    John, you made an argument in your post that “indignant armenian” does not know what he/she is talking about. Please provide logical premises to back your strong conclusions. Do you mean to say the “factoids” presented are wrong? if so please point out the mistakes and inaccuracies rather than just attacking his/her character.

    Too bad, clearly it has been made apparent that if someone in the Armenian community voices opinions such as those presented in this article, they would open themselves up to petty insults and attacks rather than discourse and debate. I for one understand why one would choose to stay anonymous…the Armenian community treats criticism like a cancerous tumor and nips it in the bud before it spreads. The sad reality is that this sort of criticism is necessary if we as a people are to learn from past mistakes and move forward.

    The same hatred exhibited in your reactions to Jake “the true turk” are those you all exhibit against your fellow Armenian. This is sad.

    But yet again, I commend the Armenian Weekly for providing a forum for debate and discourse, despite your attempts to lower it to the level of bickering on the playground field.

  9. I hate to point out the obvious but neither of you have revealed your identities either. Not that it matters…except that it makes the two of you look like really big hypocrites.

  10. “Indignant Armenian” starts and ends his article by accusing the ARF of being “resigned” to the fact of normalization and simply “worrying about when the ax will drop, instead of stopping it.”

    I wonder, Mr. or Ms. Indignant, if you are aware of the numerous public statements, press conferences and declarations the ARF has put out calling for transparency on the part of Armenian negotiators, warning against any forfeiting of Armenia’s national rights, and opposing any questioning of the historical facts of the Armenian Genocide (many of the same points you repeat)? If not, see the links below for references.

    Are you not aware of the letter ARF Parliament Member, Armen Rustamian, sent to the US Congress where he calls for passage of the Genocide Resolution and specifically seeks to neutralize the use of Armenian-Turkish negotiations for stifling recognition? If not, see below.

    Are you not aware that ARF Parliamentarians regularly warn of the pitfalls of opening the border and push the government to instill measures that will adequately insulate the country and economy from such dangers?

    Are you also not aware that the ANCA has been at the forefront of tirelessly pushing for US Genocide recognition and revealing the dubious intent of Turkey since the beginning of the so-called Soccer Diplomacy process? Once again, see below.

    Are you equally unaware of the fact that the AYF-YOARF has initiated an online petition campaign calling for caution in Armenian-Turkish negotiations? See below if this is the case.

    Contrary to your conclusion, it seems to me that, through such measures and others, the ARF is seeking to utilize its position within the coalition and broader Armenian society to mobilize public opinion and put pressure against any decisions which would harm the interests of the Armenian nation. I would hardly describe this as being “resigned.” The fact that you don’t mention the work it’s doing but, rather, paint a picture of it as sold-out, timid, and reserved is, in my eyes, not only misleading, it is intellectually irresponsible.

    Furthermore, you offer no concrete proposals or suggestions on how to move forward. The article is full of analysis and broad criticisms but no alternative strategies or solutions.

    Instead of contributing solutions, it simply calls on the ARF to “live up to its illustrious revolutionary history.” One is left to wonder what exactly that means. Does that mean it should leave the internal reforms and impact on decisions it is pursuing in the coalition and hand the government solely to the likes of the President, Arthur Baghdasaryan, and Gagik Tsarukyan? Does it mean it should hit the streets alongside Levon Ter Petrossian? Or maybe it means that it should take up arms and attempt to overthrow the government?

    The point here is that it is not clear what you are suggesting. All that is clear is that you are targeting and attempting to scrutinize the one actual entity in the Armenian world that is consistently working to defend the rights and welfare of our community.

    ARF Position on Negotiations:

    Armen Rustamian Letter to US Congress:

    ANCA Official Statement on “Soccer Diplomacy”:

    AYF Online Petition Campaign:

  11. There are many Armenians who have reached the conclusions articulated by “Indignant Armenian”. Some simply replace the name “ARF” with the Armenian organization of their choice, including Armenia and its government. These Armenians have fallen by the wayside as did their families on death marches into the Syrian deserts, leaving Armenia and its diaspora in the “hands” of those who haven’t earned positions of leadership, yet occupy them.

    As pointed out, Armenians survived well under hegemonic dominance. This resulted in indigenous national leadership not able to spontaneously develop, mature, and learn from its mistakes. Add to this a genocide and a culture of leadership was never allowed to be past down through the generations. Today, the average Armenian has little to emulate on a national level, with each pursuing his/her own destiny, void of a collective direction. This situation is similar to that of Jews before the advent of modern Zionism.

    To Jake the Turk, “love and compassion” may have a place in Turkish soap operas but they have nothing to do with hard reparations the Turkish genocide of the Armenians demand.

    The sad reality is that what is written on these pages will be read by at most several hundred people.

  12. From a number of the posts here, it seems that the message cannot be separated from the messenger. It will suffice to say that the reasons for anonymity of the author are not aimed at the ARF (the author has immense respect for the principles that the organization was founded upon). Also, it is noteworthy that the author contributes significantly to community affairs and is not a Monday morning quarterback.

    The point of the piece was not to point fingers at the ARF, as this organization does most of what is being done today anyway, especially in the Diaspora (the author is well aware of the efforts mentioned by Mr. Aprahamian, but thank you for the thoughtful presentation of these points here). The activities of the organization in Armenia are a completely separate issue from those of the Diaspora in the author’s opinion.

    The point was of a larger complacency amongst us all Armenians and the manner and direction in which the nation is stirred in by the government. Also, the point was not to simply complain either. The goal is to start a dialogue and work towards concrete steps to resolve some of the points brought about in the article. The author will provide concrete points towards solutions of issues brought forth here in near future from his/her point of view. But, this is a process that will require input from all concerned individuals, especially folks who cared enough to read this long opinion piece and respond to it one way or another. Both positive and negative comments are very much appreciated by the author as long as the energy associated with them can be channeled into something positive. Maintaining a healthy and open dialogue on this issue and deliberation of possible solutions is what we can only accomplish together.

    Respectfully yours,

  13. Regarding transparency, an important start would be for the ANC/ARF to more clearly and specifically communicate to constituencies it claims to represent about where it stands re: Turkish-Armenian rapprochement and how it is dealing with an irresponsible and unresponsive government in Armenia. (And if we don’t like what the ANC/ARF is doing, it is up to us to make sure these organizations represent our views if they aren’t.) The phrase “Turkish-Armenian reconciliation” has been repeated so often in media, academia and elsewhere that Armenians are using the word themselves, and dare I say, getting co-opted. I don’t believe there can be rapprochement until the well-known and outstanding issues are put to rest. I am not sure the ANC/ARF agrees with this view anymore. Regarding cultivating strong leaders, a critical start would be for our diasporan (dare I say homeland) activists and leadership to receive formal schooling in political leadership, diplomacy and negotiation. The best way to do this is to create a training institute. Patriotic sentiment is not enough. Was there not to be a General Dro Academy in Armenia?

  14. By john on April 9th, 2009 at 2:23 pm ” ….jake you talk like a true turk. turks NEVER change they just change their masks depending who they want to decieve next.”

    John, seriously? …well, I am only writing back as I believe I wasn’t articulate enough to make my point earlier. I am saying Armenians and Turks alike, we need to support the opening of the border, support good Turkish/Armenian relationships – because only then the peoples of these lands will start to interact, and get to know each other. And, when that happens, they will understand each other, and when that happens, public sentiments will change, and when that changes, real change will come, and be reflected in the actions of the government itself. Look at the heaps of change that occurred in Turkey regarding the Kurdish issue, as peoples interacted more and more during the last few decades. And please stop hating the average person that lives in Turkey (i.e. your earlier comments to me) – this hate makes no sense – and only begets a knee jerk reaction. If this generation cannot manage to turn hatred into understanding, it will only lead to aggression – and I don’t think that’s what anyone wants.

  15. Too bad we cannot/do not engage or even explore these points that IA has raised. Instead, we act like robots following what is considered the norm.

    I agree with IA, because most of the organizations (which we have been members of for decades if not more) we look to for inspiration since historically it has always been on the fronts of these battles.

    From my experience, I feel that these organizations only limits our thoughts and actions instead of advancing the cause. I think that is what has made the author indignant. Perhaps its the way our organizations operate which needs to be changed. Perhaps its the people running or planning the events that needs to be altered. One thing is certain, change is necessary but people are afraid of it and not until a few people like Indignant Armenian mange to voice what is that we are afraid to say ourselves do we begin to criticize and analyze these thoughts.

    Thank you IA!

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