Turk-Arm I: Quiet Steps forward in Turkish-Armenian Relations

April 18, 2009
Turkish members of parliament from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP in Turkish) and Nationalist Action Party (MHP) have recently visited Azerbaijan to attend a meeting called  "Azerbaijan-Turkey: Common Interests and Problems." At the meeting, the opposition MPs made a point of criticizing the recent efforts of Turkey's AK Party government to take some steps towards the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. 
Referring to Armenia's occupation of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, CHP representative Sukru Elekdag was quoted as saying "Turkey wants peace, tranquility and security to prevail in the Southern Caucasus. However, peace and security cannot be ensured in the region because of the ongoing Armenian occupation." 

In particular, Elekdag and the other Turkish representatives were concerned with rumors that Turkey might soon agree to opening its border with Armenia, which has been closed since 1993. Says Elekdag: "If Turkey opens its border crossings with Armenia, it will have awarded the occupier. It is unacceptable. Public surveys reveal that 95 percent of Turkish people agree that the border crossings should not be opened before a satisfactory solution is found."
The prospect of opening the border without the quid-pro-quo of Armenian concession on Nagorno-Karabakh, has elicited major concerns in Baku. According to the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat (in Azeri), the Azeri government has obtained tapes (provided by Russian intelligence services) of talks held in Geneva between the Turkish and Armenian governments. Azerbaijan has been hinting at the possibility of broad changes in its foreign policy alignments in the event of a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement which does not require major changes in Armenian policies towards Nagorno-Karabakh.

Indeed, there have certainly been some indications that the Turkish government is more concerned with using the prospect of opening the border as an enticement for Armenia quietly dropping its campaign for international recognition of the 1915 events as a genocide, regardless of what happens with Nagorno-Karabakh. The Turkish government--a recent visit to Yerevan by Turkish president Abdullah Gul notwithstanding--continues to insist the border will not be opened unless there is progress on Nagorno-Karabakh, but is pointedly no longer insisting on the resolution of a lasting settlement as a condition for fully normalizing relations. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan visited the Armenian capital Yerevan just two days ago to attend a meeting for the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation, during which time Babacan met not only with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, but also held separate talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mamadguliyev.

It does seem to me that the AK Party government is genuinely interested in normalizing relations, at least to some degree, with Armenia. Certainly, the American government would love to see the removal of a major obstacle to the formation of closer relations between Armenia--which enjoys close relations with Russia--and the United States. The United States government would never initiate closer relations with Armenia on its own for fear of offending oil-rich Azerbaijan, but if Turkey does the dirty work of normalizing relations with Armenia, it becomes much easier for the United States to pursue relations with Armenia without receiving heat from Azerbaijan. 

Meanwhile, Armenian organizations are concerned that Turkey and Armenia may strike a deal whereby the Armenian government would halt its efforts for international recognition of the the events of 1915 as a genocide. In my opinion, such fears are misguided. As I have written elsewhere, it has become increasingly acceptable in Turkey for academics, intellectuals, and others to, at the very least, recognize the incredible human suffering that occured among Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. My sense is that closer relations between Turkey and Armenia and an increase in cross-border traffic and human connections would only contribute to this trend. For as long as Armenia is viewed as a regional rival of sorts, it's easier to demonize their efforts to have the events of 1915 recognized as a genocide. If, however, it is somehow possible for Turks and Armenians to get beyond the intense politicization that surrounds the genocide issue right now--perhaps by at first simply recognizing the enormous historical pain that this era represents to individuals in both countries--then I think there's a real chance for genuine dialogue to develop regarding the genocide issue. This chance, I believe, only increases through increased contact between the two states, regardless of whatever deal the two governments may conclude.

No comments:

Post a Comment