ANKARA: A New Paradigm Required in Turkish-Armenian Relations

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Nov 27 2008

A New Paradigm Required in Turkish-Armenian Relations

by Lale Sariibrahimoglu

There are numerous benefits to be achieved as a result of the ongoing
dialogue between Turkey and neighbouring Armenia, whose enmity dates
back to World War I over Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of
the Ottoman Turks.

In addition to that historical dispute, another Caucasus state,
Azerbaijan, remains a stumbling block to furthering ties between
Turkey and Armenia.

Therefore, Turkey has been pursuing double-track diplomacy to help the
resolution of disputes over Nagorno-Karabakh between the two Caucasus
neighbours and to remove obstacles in its own path.

Turkey’s rapprochement with Armenia in early September, when Turkish
President Abdullah Gul paid a visit to Yerevan in a show of soccer
diplomacy, has made it possible for Ankara to be perceived as a
reliable mediator in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute,
which the Minsk Group within the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has long been attempting to solve.

As part of this rapprochement, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan
said after a meeting with his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian,
in Istanbul on Nov. 25 that the second round of three-way talks
between him and the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan may
take place in Helsinki during December on the sidelines of the OSCE
meeting, scheduled for Dec. 4-5 in the Finnish capital.

"The signals that we have been receiving have been positive for the
tri-party talks, and [they indicate] that Turkish-Armenian
rapprochement will have a positive reflection on relations between
Armenian and Azerbaijan," he added.

Tactically, improvement in relations between Baku and Yerevan will
make it easy for Turkey – whose foreign policy options have been
restricted by Azerbaijan for many years – to open, for example,
borders between Ankara and Yerevan as a first step.

Strategically, however, putting Turkey’s relations on track in the
long term with Armenia requires courageous steps and a new way of
creative thinking if Ankara wants to no longer be a nation that is
blamed for what its Ottoman ancestors did during World War I.

Ankara strongly denies genocide allegations and describes the 1915
events as a deportation of Armenians. But it keeps quiet when US
presidents describe the events as a massacre of Armenians rather than
as genocide.

Professor Taner Akcam, a scholar at US-based Clark University, who has
been one of the few Turkish academics who describe the 1915 events as
a massacre or a genocide, has joined in the current debate over
Turkish-Armenian rapprochement with two articles published in the
Taraf daily on Nov. 16 and 17.

In his first article, titled "Looking at Turkish-Armenian relations in
the shadow of 1915 events," Akcam argues that Turkish-Armenian
rapprochement has been possible due to the case against the Ergenekon
terror organization, under which 86 defendants including former
generals are being tried.

He indicated that if an investigation was not opened culminating in
the ongoing trial of those accused of, among other things, inciting
armed uprising to overthrow the current government, opening a new page
in the relations between Ankara and Yerevan would not have been
possible.

"If arrests had not taken place as part of the Ergenekon
investigation, a very serious campaign against Gul’s visit to Yerevan
would have had been launched," he asserts.

In his second article, published in Taraf on Nov. 17 and titled "What
would it mean if genocide were recognized?" Akcam suggested that the
adoption of a new paradigm in Turkish-Armenian relations is necessary.

"In general terms, the Turkish-Armenian conflict has been seen as a
problem that occurred among various ethnic or national groups during
the process of the dissolution of the [Ottoman] empire. It is known
that over time those problems turned into a conflict on territorial
claims and over borders among the ethnic groups and that massacres
took place during that process. The current Turkish-Armenian relations
are viewed within this perspective, and in this sense it is seen as a
problem inherited from the past," Akcam stated.

He, however, suggested that Turkish and Armenian societies should not
approach this matter simply as a problem inherited from the past, but
should also see it as part of the democratization process of today.

"The problem [genocide allegations and what happened during World War
I] is not one inherited from the past, but a problem of how a new
relationship can be built over it for tomorrow."

According to Akcam, this means that the two neighbours, Turkey and
Armenia, both of whom are in a transition period of democracy, should
approach the problem not only as part of their own democratization but
also as the democratization of relations in the region.

The main target should be to return human dignity to the victims of
the past, seeing them as human beings again and respecting their
memory, while creating conditions for living together in peace and
stability.

Thirdly, Akcam suggests setting up a network of relationships that
will result in the creation of a cultural basis that will stop the
repetition of the grievances of the past.

By shedding light on this historical event, Akcam has been working to
overcome prejudice and biases in order to initiate dialogue between
Turks and Armenians.

In this regard, his suggestions will serve to remove obstacles before
the development of a sound relationship between Turkey and Armenia.

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