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How to close the Armenian dossier with a win-win formula 6 novembre 2007

Posted by Acturca in Caucasus / Caucase, Turkey / Turquie.

Today’s Zaman (Turkey), 03.10.2007                                    Français

by Mehmet Öğütçü *

It was worth every second we spent last weekend at Oxford University’s Egrove Park meeting halls discussing the Caucasus/Caspian Commission’s findings and recommendations, which will be released in London on Nov. 11-12 to the attention of the EU and leaders of the region.

This March 29, 2007 file photo shows the historic Akhtamar Church, restored by the Turkish government, has become a modern symbol of efforts to reconcile relations between Turks and Armenians. 

The two-day deliberations were kicked off by an eloquent overview, from Britain’s Special representative to the Caucasus, of the current challenges faced in the colorful mosaic of countries in the region. We were among speakers from the EU and government, media and civil society representatives from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia to contribute our share to the final version of the commission report. Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Reha Denemeç and Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) University Chair of International Relations Professor Mustafa Aydın (who also doubles as the deputy chairman of the Caucasus Commission, assisted by the London Information Network on Conflicts and State-building’s (LINKS) Dennis Sammut) both gave an impressive performance to duly reflect the Turkish perspective in the discussions and the draft report.

Leaving aside for the time being the lengthy discussions on how to resolve the long-standing Caucasian disputes in Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, let me focus in this op-ed on a currently “hot” topic that we tackled during an informal Turkish-Armenian dialogue session with some influential Armenian counterparts. I will avoid naming them without permission due to Chatham House rules. Their views are summed up in italics and my personal responses in brackets below:

Turkey should immediately establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, open the border gates and lift the embargo imposed on Armenia. It does not help at all to establish a direct connection between these moves expected of Ankara and our efforts to win recognition of the Armenian genocide by the US Congress and other countries’ parliaments. There have been many initiatives in the past for reconciliation through media, businessmen, civil society organizations, academics, secret meetings behind closed doors and foreign mediators — yet none of them have failed to yield any fruitful results. To our mind, an unconditional government-to-government dialogue between Ankara and Yerevan is a must, and we should create such a mechanism without delay for a genuine dialogue to take place. This is the number one priority.

[I could not agree more. You are absolutely right to call for a direct dialogue mechanism; however, it is not the number one priority for Turkey as it is for Armenia. From your urgency to act on these measures, it is clear that they are working to provide Turkey with effective leverage. Once the underlying reasons that have led Turkey to take these steps are removed from the agenda, such a mechanism can be immediately established. As you are well aware, the reasons that remain are, inter alia: the continuing illegal Armenian occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the existence of Russian military bases in Armenia’s territory that target Turkey and the refusal of the Armenian state to officially recognize the current borders with Turkey. Without serious progress in the foregoing disputes to inspire Armenia’s good faith vis-à-vis Azerbaijan and Turkey, it will be too optimistic to expect that Turkey can move in the direction desired by Yerevan as if all is fine in our relationship.]

Turkey’s failure to maintain normal diplomatic relations with Armenia and persistent threats to use military force have pushed Armenia to the arms of Russia and Iran for security and support. Given our limited leverage over Turkey’s policies, we tend to put pressure on Ankara by way of our strategic connections with the US, the EU, Russia and Iran — this is done in large measure through the lobbying power of the Armenian diaspora. This is not to say that everything will be fine after proper diplomatic relations are established between our two countries, but you will agree that at least both countries could gain better insight into their respective positions and develop creative solutions than what they could achieve otherwise through indirect contacts. Moreover, direct dialogue with Armenia will likely enhance Ankara’s ability to serve as a mediator to resolve the disputes with Azerbaijan and dominate the dialogue process owing to its obvious economic, military and diplomatic might.

[It goes without saying that Ankara too is not content with the stalemate in the current situation. We do not want the Armenian question to top our national and international agenda as it impairs Turkey becoming an effective regional power and opens Turkey to the whims of international pressure from different quarters. It is also true that creating opportunities for cross-border trade, investment and other exchanges with Armenia will generate much good for Kars, Ağrı and Erzurum. However, the greatest benefits from such a rapprochement will undoubtedly flow to Armenia, a land-locked nation suffering from serious economic and social hardship.

[Also, let us not forget that an increasingly wealthy and influential Azerbaijan may decide to resort to military options — once it feels all other means are exhausted and it is sufficiently equipped to do so in the not too distant future — to resolve the disputes with Armenia and liberate its occupied territories. Its vast oil and natural gas resources could make this financially possible. Then, Armenia may find itself in a situation much worse than today. Of course, for this to happen, Georgia should be able to prevent Russia from directly supporting Armenia. Iran should also be neutralized by using the influence of the 25 to 30 million Iranians of Azeri origin. Under such a scenario, Turkey’s policy will be decisive.

[Hence, we all share a common interest in promoting stability, security and prosperity in the Caucasus, avoiding any resort to military means which will plunge the region into deeper chaos. The prerequisite is for Yerevan to take the initial steps in good faith. No doubt, these steps should be discussed and negotiated first and transformed into a concrete formula to achieve a “win-win” formula for all sides so that our respective publics can stomach, without loss of face, what will be agreed upon at the governmental level.]

This time it seems that the Armenian genocide resolution is set to be adopted by the US Congress. And you are aware that the implications of such a resolution for Turkey will be more wide-ranging and serious than the earlier resolutions adopted by the Brazilian, Polish and other parliaments. If the adoption of this bill is not prevented and Turkey continues with its current intransigence, you should expect Armenia and our diaspora to come up with new demands. In a nutshell, Ankara’s early move to diplomatically recognize Armenia, open the borders and lift the embargo could well contribute to the shelving of this US resolution and the creation of a conducive environment for dialogue on other issues.

[I am afraid that such tactics will only backfire. Ankara cannot act naively on the assumption of what you state. The Armenian “genocide” bill has long been deployed as a means of pressure on Turkey. Even though the adoption of such a resolution was somehow able to be prevented this year, we know that it will re-emerge on the agenda next year and beyond to extract further concessions. Therefore, the goal should not be to save the day; it should be to achieve true historical reconciliation and peace for both the current and future generations in our region. The only thing that keeps the diaspora bonded is its tireless efforts to get international recognition of the Armenian “genocide” and push forward the next steps associated with such recognition. For this reason, I personally do not believe the diaspora will abandon its current approach. The Armenian diaspora does not have any intention of leaving Chicago, Marseilles or Beirut to return to their homeland. They often pursue comfortable lives in their countries of residence. The new generation diaspora does not have any organic links with today’s Armenia, which suffers severe conditions and has to deal with the repercussions of their policies.

[True, Turkey has failed in its policies to distinguish between Armenia and the Armenian diaspora. Our geography makes us dependent on each other. The degree of dependency is much higher for Armenia than vice versa. Turks have serious concerns on what will follow the recognition of the “genocide” claims, as most diaspora representatives give ample evidence of a “salami tactic” ploy pursued against Turkey. Any move on your part to make future intentions crystal-clear will no doubt contribute to the enhancement of mutual trust and make us believe in your good faith. This will certainly be reciprocated. One thing which our Armenian friends should have learned by now is that Turkey will never shy away from defending its national interests and pride under any international pressure. To the contrary, such pressure will only solidify its determination.]

Genocide is a reality. We will not allow this reality to be diluted by Turks who ask for the convening of another independent commission of historians. We agree that both sides should empathize with each other. You should understand the trauma of the generations of Armenians. In turn, if I put myself in the shoes of a new generation Turk, I would not, of course, have wanted to be labeled as a descendant of a nation that committed genocide against another people. We recognize the gravity of accepting this fact. In fact, you should know that there is no consensus in Armenia on this matter. Hence, bilateral negotiations could be held following an official apology from Ankara for what happened during the Ottoman era to determine the next steps. For instance, these steps could include, for example, the mutual recognition of the existing borders under international law, halting the campaign for international recognition of the genocide, guaranteeing a transport corridor that will provide Armenia with access to the sea through Trabzon and the like.

[Both sides have their own version of the “reality.” The priority must be to approximate these different “realities” so that we speak more or less the same language. In this context, scientific findings by an independent commission, not the politically motivated parliamentary decisions, should guide us into this new era. The “facts” you are referring to are the “facts” established mostly unilaterally without much reference to the body of vast documentation in Ottoman, Russian and German archives. Furthermore, the Armenian accusations go beyond the realm of the Ottoman leaders; they also implicate the founding fathers of the Republic of Turkey. Turkey is party to the UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. If one of the parties holds that another party misinterprets the convention and fails to comply with its provisions, it has the right to take the case to the International Court of Justice under Article IX of the convention The crime of genocide could therefore be ascertained by the decision of a competent court. I doubt that the diaspora will heed any advice given by Yerevan. It so often happens that the diaspora dictates the policies of Yerevan, particularly on this matter.

[If a true reconciliation is sought, we should also be respectful of the memories of the hundreds of thousands of Turks and Muslims massacred during these unfortunate events in Anatolia. I will not forget the tens of Turkish diplomats gunned down by Armenian terrorists since the 1970s just because they were Turks. Added to this are the most recent indiscriminate Hodjali massacres of Azeris by Armenian groups. My humble suggestion is to erect a gigantic monument on Mt. Ağrı, visible on both sides of the border, in memory of all people massacred ruthlessly. It should be designed by a group of Turkish and Armenian architects. Also, equally important as engaging in give-and-take diplomacy on the governmental level is an effective, realistic and balanced communication strategy targeting our peoples for increasing the chances of any reconciliation accepted by them for the purposes of learning from bitter historical lessons and looking with confidence to the future of our new generations.]

The Armenian “question” is at a critical crossroad today. The opportunity has presented itself to close this dossier and re-launch our relations with new vigor. Or, alternatively, we will continue enveloping ourselves in the darkness of controversial history and plant further seeds of hatred and animosity for long years to come. The choice is ours: Both parties should minimize the impact of third parties — Azerbaijan for Turkey, and Russia, Iran and the diaspora for Armenia — and agree on a solid, mutually agreed upon roadmap to achieve real progress. Otherwise, this process of flaming hostility will unfortunately become irreversible and cause both sides to suffer serious losses.

Working for a political rather than a military solution (on which Azerbaijan may so decide) is a choice that Ankara prefers. The unwarranted intervention by outside powers will turn the already turbulent region into a powder keg. For this reason, we must carefully and with a forward-looking approach brainstorm how we can bridge the vast gap that exists between our positions and perceptions of “reality” and put a stop to the mutual accusations and inflammatory discourse. While doing so, we should continue building informal cultural, commercial and transport links as well as civil society activities already under way to inspire confidence and trust between these two great nations for the eventual goal of achieving historic and lasting reconciliation.

* Mehmet Öğütçü, a former Turkish diplomat, is an OECD executive currently living in London and can be reached at ogutcudunya@yahoo.co.uk 


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