An Obama hand in Turkish-Armenian talks?

April 29, 2009
Hürriyet is reporting that it was a threat from Barack Obama to use the word 'genocide' in his April 24 speech which prompted Turkey to close the deal in agreeing to a 'roadmap' for normalizing relations with Armenia.  
According to Hürriyet, during Barack Obama's visit to Turkey in early April of this year, Obama threatened to make good on his campaign pledge to recognize as a 'genocide' the events of 1915, in which at least several hundred thousand (and possibly more than one million) Ottoman Armenians perished. Every year, the president of the United States makes an address on April 24, the day in which these events are commemorated, and every year there is speculation over whether or not the word 'genocide' will be used in the address. In not using the word 'genocide' in his address, Obama was sharply criticized by Armenian groups and others for having 'turned his back' on the pledge. 


As a quid pro quo for Obama's using the term, apparently, the Turkish government had agreed to speed up the pace of talks with Armenia--with Turkey offering the initial concession of agreeing (it seemed) to soon open the border with Armenia. As I discussed in an earlier post on this site, Turkey's apparent willingness to open the border with Turkey without first realizing progress on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan infuriated both government and opposition figures in Baku. Following Baku's protests over the perceived direction of the Turkish-Armenian talks, the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border has been delayed

The prospect of an American role in the talks and a possible agreement between Obama and the Turkish government of the sort described by Hürriyet would also explain the Turkish government's anger over Obama's use of the term "Meds Yeghern" in his April 24 speech, which Ankara described as "unacceptable." "Meds Yeghern" is the term which Armenians themselves use to describe the events of 1915, and at least some voices in Turkey have suggested that this term could perhaps become an acceptable compromise term in place of 'genocide.' Nevertheless, Ankara's strong reaction to Obama's use of this term, which included the Foreign Ministry's demand to see US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey for consulation, perhaps makes a little more sense if seen in the context of a deal in which Ankara thought Obama had agreed to avoid using terminology that would upset the Turkish government.

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