ANKARA: No Major Shift Expected In Armenia’s Policy After Polls

EmÝne Kart Ankara

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
May 15 2007

Analysts and observers have held little hope for a dramatic shift in
foreign policy of Turkey’s estranged neighbor Armenia following the
weekend’s parliamentary elections in which pro-presidential parties
won a large majority — and with Yerevan being expected to continue
to put worldwide recognition of an alleged Armenian genocide at heart
of its foreign policy decision-making mechanism.

The winner of the election — viewed as a dress rehearsal for
the presidential vote due to be held at the beginning of 2008 —
was Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan, who heads the Republican Party,
which will control around 40 percent of the 131 seats in parliament.

Sarksyan, a 52-year-old former welder, is from Nagorno-Karabakh,
as is current President Robert Kocharian, a notorious hard-liner.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a territory inside Azerbaijan that has been
controlled by Armenian and local ethnic Armenian forces since a
six-year war that ended in 1994. Tensions remain high between Armenia
and Azerbaijan, ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus. Sarksyan was at
Kocharian’s side in the separatist administration during the war. For
nearly 15 years he has held senior posts in Armenia’s government
including defense minister and national security minister.

Back in December 2006, in an article that appeared in The Wall Street
Journal, then-Defense Minister Sarksyan called on the European Union
to become "increasingly involved in finding a way to a breakthrough
for relations between Turkey and Armenia."

Armenia, for its part, considers remembering the Armenian "genocide"
important, Sarksyan wrote then. But Armenia does not tie "the
establishment of diplomatic relations to recognition of the genocide,"
he suggested at the time.

This very last sentence hinting that Armenia might not be insistent
on recognition of an alleged genocide of Anatolian Armenians at the
hands of the Ottoman Empire during the World War I for reestablishing
diplomatic relations with Ankara could be considered as the sole light
of hope regarding the new Armenian government’s policy toward Turkey,
Utku Kundakcý of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation’s
(TESEV) Foreign Policy Program, told Today’s Zaman.

Noting that this hope could only be related to the tone and wording
of Sarksyan’s remarks, Kundakcý, however, cautioned that one should
not hold high expectations.

Ankara has recognized Yerevan since the former Soviet republic gained
independence in 1991, but nevertheless refuses to set up diplomatic
ties because of Armenian efforts to secure international condemnation
of the controversial World War I era killings of Anatolian Armenians
as genocide. Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their kin were
slaughtered in orchestrated killings during the last years of the
Ottoman Empire. Turkey categorically rejects the claims, saying that
300,000 Armenians along with at least as many Turks died in civil
strife which emerged when the Armenians took up arms for independence
in eastern Anatolia and sided with the Russian troops which were
invading Ottoman lands.

In 1993 Turkey also shut its border with Armenia in a show of
solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, which was at war with
Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, dealing a heavy economic
blow to the impoverished nation. Ankara wants Armenia to abandon its
campaign for the recognition of the killings as genocide and make
progress in its dispute with Baku before formal diplomatic relations
can be established.

For his part, Kaan Soyak, the co-chairman of the Turkish-Armenian
Business Council, noted that participation in the elections stood at
55-57 percent, thus low participation in elections have been widely
interpreted as a confirmation of the ongoing status quo.

Nevertheless, he still argued that Turkey should take the initiative
of unilaterally opening the border with Armenia in order to invalidate
hard-liner policies in the neighboring country.

Yet, Sedat Laciner, head of the Ankara-based International Strategic
Research Organization (ISRO/USAK), drew attention to the fact that
now those who favor hard-liner policies have been in power and any
concession given by Turkey would be used as a tool by those again
against Turkey.

"If Turkey makes any concessions such as unilaterally opening
borders, then it will be giving a wrong message to both the ruling
anti-Turkey camp and those in opposition who favor a more rationalist
and softer relationship with Turkey. Then you would be encouraging
those hard-liners to keep up with their unacceptable policies, while
you’ll be harming the moderate camp. Its costs would be heavy."

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