ANKARA: The Shadow Of Hrant Dink On Turkish-Armenian Debate


Turkish Daily News July 25 2008

Turkish policy on Armenia and Armenian claims of genocide will depend
on which of the groups in the ministry will be successful in convincing
the government

Turkish ambassadors who met in Ankara last week had their most heated
debate on the issue of Armenian claims of genocide and relations
with Armenia.

The envoys posted in the West raised the alarm bells that in the time
leading to the 100th anniversary of the 1915 events, the decisions to
recognize the World War I-era killings of the Armenians at the hands
of the Ottomans as genocide will come in the form of a gaining snow
ball. Naturally discussions focused on how to deal with the powerful
Armenian lobby.

Hawks reigned until now:

One group maintained that by now it has become impossible to deal with
the issue with a handful of brochures trying to prove that Turks never
committed genocide. The key to the problem is in Armenia according
to this group. In order to crack the unity between the diaspora
and Armenia, Turkey has to quickly normalize its relations with
Yerevan. The "let’s talk to Armenia" group reinforced its argument
by pointing to the irrationality of keeping the borders closed while
Turkish goods are entering the Armenian market via Iran and charter
flights between Yerevan and Istanbul multiply each month. Furthermore,
it is becoming harder and harder to explain to the international
community the Turkish position of putting preconditions to normalize
relations while Armenia asks for unconditional establishment of
diplomatic relations.

According to the opponents of these views, there is not an Armenian
genocide problem. This is just a tool used against Turkey by some
countries. The initiatives for recognition should be dealt on a
bilateral basis. Just as Turkey succeeded to postpone the resolution
in the U.S. Congress it should do the same with other governments
by using its weight and strategic importance. Turkey underestimates
its importance according to the second group. Moreover, recognition
issue is the raison d’etre of the diaspora; improving relations with
Yerevan will not stop them.

In the discussions that included Turkish Armenians the second group
did not even refrain from criticizing Hrant Dink, whom it portrayed
as someone working for the recognition of Armenian genocide by the
Turkish nation while however opposing foreign intervention. I must
add that those telling me about this anecdote emphasized that none
of the ambassadors would obviously be of the view that his murder
is justified.

Change in Yerevan:

The difference of opinion within the Foreign Ministry is actually not
new. The first group has always been in the minority ever since this
divergence emerged as Armenia officially became Turkey’s neighbor
after the demise of the Soviet Union. The strategy of political and
economic isolation of Armenia has so far been the main policy of
successive governments.

The railway project between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan launched
yesterday at a ceremony attended by the leaders of the three countries
is an important element of that strategy. Armenia is excluded from
the project just as it is from the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and
the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline linking the three
countries. But interestingly the ground breaking ceremony comes
at a time when secret negotiations are taking place between the two
countries’ top diplomats and the signs for reconciliation are stronger
than ever.

Obviously this raises the question of whether the group in favor of
reconciliation is gaining ground. Right now it is too early to say
that. Not that the first group gained prevalence, actually it is
the prevalence gained by the Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter
Petrosyan that triggered the dialogue between Yerevan and Ankara
following the elections. Prior to the elections, Turkish diplomats
were not very optimist about Serzh Sargsyan. Most expected that when
elected, he would continue his predecessor’s line, which was not
promising enough to start a genuine dialogue.

What motivated Sargasyan to be more flexible on starting the
secret talks seems to be the fact that he sits on a government whose
legitimacy is seriously challenged. He probably read well the message
of the people who gave strong backing to Ter Petrosyan, known to be
more flexible when it comes to relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Window of opportunity:

Hence if today there is talk about the possibility of the Turkish
president’s visit to Armenia, we owe that to the change in Yerevan. It
remains to be seen whether the Turkish side will use this window of
opportunity properly.

Turkish policy on Armenia and Armenian claims of genocide will depend
on which of the groups in the ministry will be successful in convincing
the government. The ruling Justice and Development Party would rather
opt for the group in favor of reconciliation. But in the absence of
a government, this group does not stand a chance.