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2015: what political solutions between Armenia and Turkey?


Standpoint of Armenia


2015: what political solutions between Armenia and Turkey?

Vahram Ter-Matevosyan


Vahram Ter-Matevosyan

Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Oriental Studies, National Academy of Sciences

According to Vahram Ter Matevosyan, the stalled interstate relations between Turkey and Armenia does not prevent civil societies of both countries to interact and build relationships with economic and cultural levels. Two issues remain relevant today: “How to go forward?” and “What to do with the signed, however, unratified protocols?”  Part of the answer is to be found in a change of rhetoric in speeches in Turkey and Armenia. A necessary evolution, required by public opinion in both countries, but also by the international community.

Two levels of relations

Much has been said about the normalization of official relations between Armenia and Turkey, numerous recommendations have been made, and in-depth and comprehensive analyses of the situation have been made. It seems like there's nothing left to say, but, in reality, it is an evasive and passive approach. As long as the relations are not regulated and the Armenian-Turkish official border has not been opened yet, one should constantly think and analyze current obstacles and accumulate new solutions in the arsenal. It is due of mention that though nothing changes in the Armenian-Turkish official relations, the region changes every day. This circumstance dictates to constantly follow the processes that take place and have ready formulas of the relevant new realities. The Armenian-Turkish relations are rather important, hence, we should do our best for them not to be a part of the processes and circumstances of secondary importance.  

When speaking about Armenian-Turkish relations we should differentiate between intergovernmental and inter-social layers. This differentiation is also perceived differently. Though there is no progress in the Armenian-Turkish official relations, and official communication is almost null, the societies of both countries continue to communicate: they implement a number of joint and business projects, are engaged in trade, pay mutual visits, hold co-presentations and demonstrations. In other words, everything is in progress, except for the regulation process of the official relations.             

Within the recent months certain actions were taken at the level of the official relations, which seemed to have prepared fertile soil to record a certain progress in the relations. First, the prime Minister of Turkey came out with a condolence message on April 23, which set a new benchmark of approaches on the Genocide in the Turkish society. A month later, on May 27, by making a verbal statement the President of Armenia invited the future president of Turkey to Armenia on 24 April 2015 to “face the eloquent testimonies of the Armenian Genocide history.” On 13 August the President of Armenia congratulated Erdoğan on the occasion of having been elected as the President of Turkey, saying he was hopeful that Erdoğan would contribute to the “fulfillment of bilateral agreements without any preconditions.” Turkey sent an official invitation to Armenia to take part in the Erdoğan’s inauguration ceremony, which was attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. When in Ankara, Nalbandyan had a brief meeting with Erdoğan and officially invited him to visit Armenia on 24 April 2015, and the newly-elected president of Turkey took the invitation into consideration. Judging from the photos published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Erdoğan reacted positively on the presence of the RA Minister of Foreign Affairs at his inauguration ceremony.      

However, a few days after a visit to Ankara, RA Minister of Foreign Affairs had its critical article against Turkish authorities and their adopted policy on Genocide published in “Le Figaro” daily. This article was actually a reply to the article published by Ahmet Davutoğlu.   A few weeks later, on 24 September, from the high rostrum of the UN the President of Republic of Armenia criticized the Turkish authorities and sent them “to the hell”. Of course, many people focused their attention on the expression "To hell with you ratification", tried to either overestimate or abuse it. In fact, if we try to compare Serzh Sargsyan’s recent speech with the previous two speeches at the UN, it will become clear that we deal with changeable assessments and in many senses, first and foremost, in the purely human sense, the reason for such an emotional outburst of the Armenian President was clear. The speech made by Serzh Sargsyan at the UN in 2008 was optimistic, as a few days had passed since the visit of the President of Turkey Abdullah Gül to Yerevan and the speech made in 2011 was pending, since Sargsyan still hoped that the doors of opportunity hadn’t closed yet. But the recent speech contained an overt criticism, which was not something new but was voiced by the president form the very rostrum for the first time.

Two crucial issues

In fact, the end of the active phase of the regulation of the relations between two countries was heralded four and a half years ago on 22 April 2010, when the President of the Republic of Armenia declared that “the current phase of normalization of relations is exhausted”.     Turkey did not follow the agreement to move forward without preconditions and within a reasonable time period and Armenia had to act that way. Therefore, all statements and speeches made by the Yerevan authorities after April 2010 reflected the logic of the statements made in April 2010. In the eyes of the Armenian authorities and the society the Turkish authorities “managed” to create a big trust deficit, which gradually deepened and got large volumes within the past 4-5 years. The logic of the statements made by Turkey continues to base on the logic of the statement made by Erdoğan in Baku in May 2009.           

Currently two pressing issues are being considered: “How to go forward?” and “What to do with the signed, however, unratified protocols?” Let’s start with the second issue. President Sargsyan declared at the UN that the official Yerevan is thinking about recalling the protocols. This appeal should be viewed as a repetition of an intention that was voiced years long and as a termless ultimatum, first of all addressed to the Turkish authorities. Of course, all intermediaries must be included among the addressees, first of all including US authorities. Five years passed a few days ago since the protocols had been signed and the Armenian authorities feel obliged to take an action. If Turkey takes no essential action, Armenia must take a few consecutive actions guided by the provisions of Parts 3 and 4 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Firstly, Armenia should invite to Yerevan the representatives of those countries and organizations who had been present at the signing ceremony of the protocols in Zurich on 10 October 2009 and adopt a joint statement on recalling those protocols, which should be followed by the launch of an appropriate legal process against the Turkish authorities in the international tribunal. Such a step will be “face saving” for Armenia and a means of coming out of the process with dignity, but this will not be the solution of the main problem, official relations will not be established, and the border will still remain closed.

The answer to the question “What to do?” seems to be obvious. In the current situation hardly any ready recipe can be found, which will help Armenia and Turkey to find a way out of a deadlock situation. I think both parties have already realized that the Armenian-Turkish issue is multifaceted. It has both bilateral and multilateral formats. Hence, searching for easy and crucial solutions may rather result in much more problems than ensure progress. An experience of 2008-2009 to trust each other implicitly did not have a good ending.   Moreover, unfortunately it recorded the start of estrangement and mutual accusations.

In 2008-2009 the authorities of both countries demonstrated a will to move forward: one of them expressed more and the other less willingness for the idea to move forward. The authorities of Armenia realized that they came out against a huge wave and opposing winds, but they expressed willingness to move forward despite the criticism and uncertainty of Diaspora. Moreover, being against the approaches of Turkey, they kept on remaining in the process and not losing a hope that mediators would be able to bring Turkey back to the constructive field. Turkey, however, stepped back from difficulties soon enough and, still remaining on the playground, actually refused to continue the game.

Taking into acount the above-stated, it is appropriate for Turkey to come out with a statement on the eve of 2015, acknowledging that in 2008-2009 it was not the time and paying a tribute to another party, declare the end of Zurich process and leave the resumption of the process of normalization of relations to much more convenient times and favourable circumstances. At the same time the parties should take lessons from the past and realize that Armenia-Turkey complex relations are and solved trough comprehensive and complex protocols, they need to look for a different atmosphere to solve them.

Changing of rhetoric

In the run-up to the Genocide both Armenia and Turkey must change their rhetoric, which should be done not because the logic of the 100th anniversary assumes, but because the societies of both countries and the international society have such a demand. Along with the process of international condemnation of the Genocide, Armenia must much more intensify the works with the Turkish society. Armenia and the Diaspora should apply the components of "soft power" in Turkey. Over the past years it was carried out spontaneously, but it is desired to have certain coordination in the future. There is such a demand in the Turkish heterogeneous society; therefore, such actions in future will only be of assistance. In the recent years the President of Armenia has repeatedly said that the Armenian people do not feel hostile towards Turkish people. This thesis cannot remain without consequences, it is slow, but works effectively.

Since May when the President of Armenia verbally invited the future president of Turkey to Armenia to take part in the centennial of paying tribute to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, one of the most discussed questions was the following: “Will Erdoğan pay a visit to Yerevan or not?” At the end of summer when Nalbandyan made an official invitation to Erdogan, those discussions became more intense and faded at the same speed. The reason was clear: commencement of such discussions seven months prior was too early. Both domestic political and regional profound developments may take place during those months, which can change both Armenia’s and Turkey’s intentions. It's hard to imagine that the Turkish authorities will be able to assume such responsibility a few months prior and promise to visit Tsitsernakaberd Memorial. And if Erdoğan anyway decides to take such a step, then it should not be merely а symbolic visit. It needs to reap the maximum.    

And during this period Armenia's authorities need to develop alternative scenarios, which will enable them to present themselves both to their nation and international society. Besides planning the events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Genocide, more efforts should be made to develop alternative scenarios of official relations with Turkey. Having been wasted unsparingly within the past years for many different reasons, time, possibilities and resources are too valuable to waste. Armenia treated the responsibilities stipulated in the protocols and assumed by the mediators too seriously. It is high time for Armenia to be much more agile and to have an ability to maneuver quickly. During the past years Armenia's authorities sincerely believed that at some point Turkey would stop to use the language of preconditions and would take real actions to fulfill the obligations assumed under the protocols. Of course, the idea of recalling protocols was also actively discussed in Armenia within the past five years. However, two concerns have been always raised: a) with this step Armenia will close the window of a small opportunity, which will be difficult to reopen and b) promises given to the mediators should not be broken. In fact, those two concerns should be attributed to the lack of experience and practice of trusting others unconditionally. One more negative phenomenon which became much more evident in the development, implementation and evaluation processes of Armenia’s foreign policy is also important. Cases when solutions were reached through searches and innovative approaches have reduced. There were a few such cases during the first three years of Sargsyan’s presidency, but they have dropped significantly in the recent years, reaffirming the fact that there is an institutional and structural problem in the foreign policy decision-making process.   

Genocide-related systemic changes in Turkey started many years ago, and Hrant Dink's death accelerated the process even more. We are the contemporaries of all this and do not completely realize to what changes was Turkey subjected in terms of manner and content. It is already a serious development and the positive effects are already irreversible. In terms of the Armenian Genocide Turkey is changing, and the question is, to what extent and depth it will affect the real policy. At this point, we can report that the influence of the Turkish society and intellectuals on the authorities in favor of the Genocide issue and normalization of the relations between Armenia and Turkey is not enough, but it has grown as compared to past years. The leaders of both countries and societies should rather become a part of the change, than encounter the consequences thereof. They must quit the cave mentality and refuse to repeat earlier errors and omissions.


Armenian genocide : recognition and reparations


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