ANKARA: Will Gul’s Visit To Yerevan Have A Long-Term Impact?

By Ilter Turkmen

Turkish Press
Sept 9 2008

HURRIYET- Anything which ends well is good. President Abdullah Gul’s
visit to Yerevan last week also went well. Nothing unpleasant
or excessive happened, and the protests against him weren’t
widespread. The Armenians who watched the World Cup qualifying
match between Turkey and Armenia were very dignified and mature as
well. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian will probably accept Gul’s
invitation to attend the return match a year from now. But presidential
visits to watch soccer matches aren’t enough.

I wrote on Saturday that if Gul’s visit didn’t produce concrete
results, it wouldn’t be surprising if this provoked domestic political
debate. In addition, as Radikal daily’s Cengiz Candar wrote, unless
the rapprochement represented by the visit is followed by opening
diplomatic relations and borders between the two countries, this
will result in deep frustration. Candar added that resolving this
frustration would be harder than addressing the current problems.

Apparently Gul’s visit wasn’t just symbolic or pro forma. Armenian
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told reporters in Yerevan that
after Gul left, he had met with his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan
and that they reached a consensus to work on opening the borders and
diplomatic relations between the two countries. This development
signals very genuine change in Turkey’s stance, because up to now
these two steps have been contingent on solving the Karabakh conflict
between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Will these two processes be conducted together, or will
Turkish-Armenian relations be discussed in a completely different
framework? We don’t know exactly, but the Karabakh issue can’t be
solved so quickly. Linking these two processes would drag out the
normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. Some argue against
opening the border and establishing diplomatic relations, saying,
for instance, that Armenia hasn’t forsaken its territorial claims on
Turkey, and that Armenia’s declaration of independence and Constitution
refer to southern Anatolia as ‘Western Armenia.’

If they really include this concrete territorial claim, one might ask
why we were one of the first states to recognize Armenia. Another
argument cites Armenia’s reluctance to ratify the 1921 Treaty of
Kars. But here, it would be inexplicable why we didn’t insist on
recognition of the border before recognizing Armenia.

A few years ago I was a member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation
Commission. Before the commission disbanded, the Turkish and Armenian
coordinators wrote a letter to the Turkish and Armenian foreign
ministers expressing their views on opening the border on the basis
of Kars. At that time, the Armenian members didn’t think Yerevan
would oppose ratifying Kars.

I don’t know what happened next, but I guess the main reason for our
reluctance to open the border and establishing diplomatic relations
comes from not wanting to offend Azerbaijan. Perhaps for the same
reason, priority was given to bringing together historians from both
sides to improve relations, because such a meeting seemed unlikely to
provoke Azerbaijan’s direct opposition. It was nearly impossible for
historians to agree on a historical interpretation of the events of
1915. Our president’s initiative for normal friendly relations between
Turkey and Armenia could finally prove that we’ve started to cast off
the restraints which have so far kept us from solving our own problems.

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