Relations with Turkey might hinder Armenia-NATO cooperation – agency

Relations with Turkey might hinder Armenia-NATO cooperation – agency

Mediamax news agency, Yerevan
24 May 04

Relations with Turkey might hinder Armenia-NATO cooperation, Armenian
news agency Mediamax has reported. Armenian President Robert Kocharyan
has refused to attend a NATO summit in Istanbul in order to once again
draw the alliance’s attention to problems in relations between Yerevan
and Ankara. The USA promised to mediate Armenian-Turkish dialogue
back in 1999, but with no results so far, the news agency said. But
“how far-sighted is the Yerevan government when it puts its relations
with Turkey and NATO on the same scale”, the agency questioned. The
following is an excerpt from the report in English by Armenian news
agency Mediamax headlined “Will the Armenian-Turkish border become
a separation line between Armenia and NATO?”; subheadings inserted

On 10 May, the Armenian president’s press secretary Ashot Kocharyan
announced that [President] Robert Kocharyan would not take part in
the NATO summit in Istanbul in June. The reason for Robert Kocharyan’s
decision is the “current state of Armenian-Turkish relations”.

The Armenian president took part in the two latest summits of NATO and
the Council of Euro-Atlantic Partnership in Washington and Prague, so
the reasons making him refuse to participate in the Istanbul summit
must be really serious. At the same time, if viewed from different
aspects this decision seems quite controversial.

USA promised to mediate Armenian-Turkish dialogue

Robert Kocharyan’s critics recall that not only did the Armenian
president take part in the OSCE summit in Istanbul in the autumn of
1999, but he also met Turkish President Suleyman Demirel within the
framework of the summit. The Armenian president’s opponents note that
the state of Armenian-Turkish relations at that time left much to be
desired as well. However, few people remember that Armenia decided to
take part in the Istanbul summit of the OSCE after the international
community, and the United States in the first place, had convinced
Yerevan to give up the intention to impose veto on the decision to
hold the summit in Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Yerevan government seriously considered using the
right of veto in order to draw attention to the fact that Turkey
is the only OSCE member-state that refuses to establish diplomatic
relations with Armenia. The Americans managed to persuade Yerevan
promising to influence Turkey thus making it change its position as
regards the normalizing of relations with Armenia. US President Bill
Clinton discussed this issue during his talks with the Armenian and
Turkish presidents on the sidelines of the Istanbul summit of the
OSCE in 1999. Asked by Mediamax then whether the USA could become a
mediator between Armenia and Turkey, Robert Kocharyan said: “I think,
yes. The United States has been trying to play this positive role
for already several months.” As to the plans to veto the decision
on holding the OSCE summit in Istanbul, Robert Kocharyan noted that
such a step could throw back the development of bilateral relations
for at least several years.

Nearly five years have passed since that. During this time,
the United States has really made and is continuing to make many
efforts in order to achieve the normalization of relations between
Yerevan and Ankara. But no tangible results have been achieved –
there are no diplomatic relations, the border is closed, and the
improvement of relations is linked to the settlement of the Nagornyy
Karabakh conflict. Against this background, Armenian President Robert
Kocharyan’s decision to refuse to attend the NATO summit in Istanbul
seems righteous, and most likely pursues the aim to remind the USA
of the promises made five years ago. On the other hand, a question
emerges – how far-sighted is the Yerevan government when it puts its
relations with Turkey and NATO on the same scale?

Armenia does not ignore NATO summit

It is no secret that NATO’s policy in the South Caucasus will be one
of the central themes at the alliance’s summit in Istanbul.

[Passage omitted: Armenia signed several accords with NATO recently]

There is no doubt that certain forces both inside Armenia and outside
it are trying to present Robert Kocharyan’s non-participation in the
NATO summit in Istanbul as “Moscow’s private order”. However, such
hints have already been voiced – one of Yerevan’s opposition newspapers
wrote that Robert Kocharyan made the decision not to go to Istanbul
after the recent meeting with Vladimir Putin, though the statement by
the president’s press secretary about not taking part in the summit
was made three days before Kocharyan’s working trip to Moscow.

On the other hand, Yerevan is not going to ignore the NATO summit –
the Armenian delegation in Istanbul will be headed by Foreign Minister
Vardan Oskanyan. The only problem is that the Armenian president’s
absence and the Georgian and Azerbaijani leaders’ presence at the
summit may create a certain political background, which is not
desirable for Armenia at all today when it has taken a number of
steps which ought to prove that Armenia presents its own interests
in the region and not those of Russia.

There is another aspect too, which casts doubts upon the efficiency
of the Armenian leader’s decision, the main aim of which is to draw
NATO’s attention to the problem of Armenian-Turkish relations. The
alliance’s leaders have repeatedly stated during the last few years
that they do not intend to act as mediators between Yerevan and Ankara.

[Passage omitted: quotes NATO chief George Robertson’s 2001 interview]

Thus, the Armenian president’s absence at the summit in Istanbul might
not only fail to contribute to the normalization of Armenian-Turkish
relations, but it will also deprive Yerevan of an opportunity to make
another step to get close to NATO.

New tactics

Three or four years ago, Armenian diplomats said in private talks that
they were intentionally using the “Turkish factor” as a lever at talks
with NATO, making emphasis on the fact that the absence of diplomatic
relations with Turkey negatively affected the alliance’s image in
Armenia. It is difficult to say what results could be achieved by such
policy but it is obvious that Yerevan has recently adhered to different
tactics the essence of which is to demonstrate its readiness to take
part in all NATO-led events which are in one way or another connected
with Turkey or Azerbaijan, thus pushing forward the idea about the
necessity to start regional cooperation in the South Caucasus.

[Passage omitted: on Armenian army chief’s visit to Brussels in
May 2004]

It is unlikely that the Armenian president’s refusal to take part in
NATO’s Istanbul summit can be considered as the rejection of this new
tactics, during the realization of which Yerevan, unlike the policy of
the past years, uses NATO as a “bridge” for establishing at least some
kind of contacts between Armenia and Turkey. But, on the other hand,
Armenia’s adversaries can interpret Robert Kocharyan’s refusal to
arrive in Istanbul as the refusal to adhere to regional partnership,
including within the PfP [NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme]

Armenian-Turkish ties might hinder cooperation with NATO

Finally, we would like to directly touch upon Armenian-Turkish
relations. While in 2003, both sides made optimistic statements about
the possibility to achieve some progress, the first five months of
2004 buried all the hopes.

Last year, the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers, Vardan Oskanyan
and Abdullah Gul, held three meetings. Commenting on the results of
his latest meeting with Gul in Brussels on 5 December 2003, Vardan
Oskanyan said it “differed qualitatively from the two previous
ones. We are about to make the first step. Although it is still
early to make definite statements, I should say that this meeting
has become an important stage, and I think that within the next few
months we will get the first positive result concerning the issue of
the Turkish-Armenian border,” the Armenian foreign minister said.

Late in April 2004, Vardan Oskanyan said in an interview with German
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “The start of our relations with the
new Turkish government was good. Since last year, I have had three
meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. The first meeting
was good, the second less good, and the third one was bad. First,
we concentrated on bilateral issues. During the second meeting,
we discussed the Nagornyy Karabakh issue as well, and during the
third one the Karabakh issue became a precondition for normalizing
relations. Thus, we remained on the same positions we were during
the former Turkish government.”

One thing remains quite unintelligible – why did the Armenian minister
give a different assessment of his latest meeting with Abdullah Gul
only half a year later? No matter what the problem is the situation
will not change – Armenia deprives itself of an opportunity to be
represented at a high level at an extremely important NATO summit
in Istanbul because of the absence of relations with Turkey. If
in the next years events develop according to the same scenario,
the Armenian-Turkish border will become that very separation line
between Armenia and NATO, which is so feared by Yerevan.