BABACAN: HISTORIAN’S DISMISSAL NOT GESTURE TO ARMENIA
July 26 2008
The removal from office of a controversial historian known as a
hard-liner in debates on Armenian allegations of "genocide" was not
connected to recent efforts to normalize relations between Turkey
and Armenia, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has said.
Professor Yusuf Halacoglu, who had served as the president of the
Turkish Historical Society (TTK) since 1993, was removed from office
by a Cabinet decision that went into effect earlier this week. The
Gazi University professor is a strong denier of allegations that
Armenians were subjected to genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks
during World War I.
In conferences and panel discussions organized by the TTK, Halacoglu
had asserted that claims of genocide were entirely false and that the
TTK was in possession of thousands of pages of archived documents that
could refute allegations that Armenians faced genocide in 1915. "I
believe it is completely wrong to think there is a link between
Halacoglu and this situation," Babacan said at a press conference
for Turkish journalists in New York on Thursday, referring to the
recent thaw in ties between Turkey and Armenia. "We are trying to
create an atmosphere of dialogue with Armenia and looking forward
to the normalization of ties. There are many factors that affect
decisions to appoint officials in institutions. Linking these two
things together is wrong," he added.
Turkey recognized Armenia after it gained independence from the
now-defunct Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but soon closed its border
and severed diplomatic ties with the landlocked country in protest
against the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. The
two countries are also at odds over the Armenian genocide claims and
Armenia’s refusal to formally recognize its border with Turkey. Ankara
says normalization of relations with Armenia depends on achieving
some resolution on all three issues.
The atmosphere thawed after the election of Serzh Sarksyan as president
of Armenia. President Abdullah Gul sent a message to congratulate
Sarksyan, who later responded by calling for dialogue with Turkey. He
also invited Gul to a World Cup qualifying match between the soccer
teams of the two countries in September. Turkish officials have yet
to reply, saying the president is considering the invitation. Babacan
confirmed last week that there had been talks between Turkish and
Armenian diplomats in Switzerland, although Turkish officials stressed
that this did not indicate a change in policy.
On Thursday Babacan said Turkey had made clear its intentions to "open
a new door of dialogue with the new Armenian administration," adding:
"Our objective is to have zero problems with our neighbors. I can’t
say we have zero problems with Armenia, but this is our target."
The foreign minister noted that Turkey has allowed flights between
Turkish and Armenian cities and that tens of thousands of Armenians
are working at jobs in Turkey, but added that Armenia should also
reciprocate. "The other side should also act," he said, suggesting that
Armenia should take steps to solve its problems with Azerbaijan. "We
cannot ignore problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan," he stressed.
Turkey has proposed the establishment of a joint commission of
historians to establish whether the events of the World War I era
amounted to genocide as Armenians claim. But Yerevan has so far been
cool to the offer. Babacan, who is in New York to drum up support
for Turkey’s bid for a two-year seat on the UN Security Council, said
Armenia’s representative at the UN was invited to a reception hosted by
the Turkish UN representative earlier this week for representatives of
all countries at the UN. "The Armenian envoy came because we invited
him. Armenia is recognized by Turkey," Babacan added.