Turkey Relations w/ Armenia and the Impact of the Armenian Diaspora

Journal of Turkish Weekly, Turkey
March 7 2009

Turkey’s Relations with Armenia and the Impact of the Armenian Diaspora

Kamer Kasim
Assoc. Prof. Dr., Columnist

Turkey’s relations with Armenia started in the unstable atmosphere of
the Caucasus. As a landlocked country, Armenia needed to establish
good relations with its neighbors, particularly with its western
neighbor Turkey. However, developments in Turkish-Armenian relations
have stalled over the years. There are three main reasons for this
situation. One reason is that Armenia has not openly recognized
Turkey’s territorial integrity and refuses to sign an agreement about
good neighborly relations and the inviolability of borders. Another
reason is the Armenian genocide allegations and the Armenian
government’s policy towards it. The last reason, which was
particularly responsible for the border closure, is the
Nagorno-Karabakh problem. The Armenian Diaspora is an actor to be
reckoned with in Turkish-Armenian relations.

Despite the obstacles mentioned above, there have been attempts for
rapprochement between the two countries, although they have not yet
produced meaningful results. It might be argued that Armenian Diaspora
and particularly the Diaspora organizations in the US are the main
reason for this.

The Armenian Diaspora has influenced Armenian politics through
Diaspora parties and organizations. It is particularly active in the
campaign about genocide allegations, which is an element of identity
that functions to keep the Diaspora together. The Diaspora spends a
great deal of its time, money, and energy on this issue, and an
industry composed of research institutes has developed that produces
materials such as shirts and mugs with symbols of genocide allegations
printed on them and even movies supporting these allegations. Armenian
Diaspora organizations in the US are particularly important in this
aspect. The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) and the Armenian
National Committee of America (ANCA) are the two important Diaspora
organizations in the US. Although there are differences and
competition between them, they usually act together regarding the
genocide allegations. As the Diaspora has focused its efforts on a
single issue it has developed a professional ability to pressure the
political machinery. After Armenia became independent, the Diaspora
imposed its own political agenda on Armenia, which radicalized
Armenian politics. The Diaspora has negative effects on the
rapprochement efforts in Turkish-Armenian relations. The Diaspora and
Diaspora parties even interrupted the Armenian administration’s
opinion about the civilian initiative between the Turks and the
Armenians. For example, the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission
was established on 9 July 2001 with four Armenian and six Turkish
members. The Armenian Foreign Ministry welcomed the establishment of
the Commission. However, some Diaspora organizations, like the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian National Committee
of America, were against the Commission. After the Diaspora’s reaction
against the Commission, the Armenian Foreign Ministry changed its
opinion about the Commission and distanced itself from the work of the
Commission.

Turkey offered to establish a commission to research the
allegations. The idea to set up a scientific commission and study the
matter is an idea that the Diaspora strongly rejects, and it argued
that it would discuss the matter ` for instance, with regard to
matters such as compensation – after Turkey recognized the
`genocide.’ Why does the Diaspora push that approach? Because the
Diaspora accepts the genocide as a given fact. Re-evaluating
something accepted as a fact would also mean discussing an important
aspect of its identity, as well as questioning all the activities
undertaken by the Diaspora. As a result of these activities, a
genocide industry has developed around the allegations. Regarding
Turkey’s proposal, the Armenian Foreign Minister made an interesting
statement. He said that historians have already made their point,
meaning that now it is Turkey’s turn to recognize the `genocide,’
then we can talk. After that, former President Kocharian changed his
tone and said they could discuss the matter. He said historians may
get together as well but that actual talk should be made at a
governmental level. At that point the Armenian government departed
from the stand point of the Diaspora. After Turkey’s insistence, the
current Armenian government has reached a point that some kind of
commission might be established. However, this issue will probably
continue to be an obstacle in Turkish-Armenian relations for a long
time.

Armenia’s borders with Turkey are closed due to the Nagorno-Karabakh
problem and the genocide allegations. Armenia’s dependency on Russia
should be reconsidered after the Russian-Georgian crisis, and Armenia
should also consider its relations with Turkey in this atmosphere. The
US also reassessed its policy towards Armenia after the Russia-Georgia
war. Some policy makers in the US thought that Armenia should be tied
to the West and `rescued’ from Russian domination as soon as
possible. The key country in this strategy is Turkey. For this reason
Turkey faced pressure to open the land border with Armenia. The US and
Europe wanted Turkey and Armenia to start a dialogue. In this
atmosphere, the Armenian President’s invitation to the Turkish
President to attend a football match between the two national teams
was seen as reminiscent of the ping-pong diplomacy during the thaw in
US-Chinese relations in 1971. After long discussions, Turkish
President Abdullah Gül went to Armenia for the football match
on 6 September 2008. There were great expectations from this visit;
however, Armenia was reluctant to make the necessary effort to
normalize its relations with Turkey.

The normalization of Turkey’s relations with Armenia and the opening
of the Turkish-Armenian land border requires Armenia to take some
steps to fulfill Turkey’s conditions. Both former Armenian President
Kocharian and current President Sarkisian have from time to time
stated that Armenia is ready to establish relations with Turkey
without pre-conditions. These kinds of statements might be considered
a public relations activity and to give a message to the international
community, rather than a sign of genuine commitment. Turkey perceives
these statements as that Armenia will not take any steps regarding
Turkey’s conditions related to the normalization of relations between
the two countries. These statements also do not explain why Turkey
requires conditions to normalize relations and to open the land border
with Armenia. There are three reasons for this. First, as mentioned
above, Armenia has made the recognition of the genocide allegations a
major objective of its foreign policy and has included it their
documents. Second, the Declaration of Independence mentions `Western
Armenia,’ which indicates that Armenia claims rights to a part of
Turkey’s territory; Armenia also rejected the opportunity to make a
declaration involving the inviolability of borders and good neighborly
relations, thus it is unrealistic to expect that a country would
establish normal diplomatic relations with a country which does not
recognize its territorial integrity. And third, the Nagorno-Karabakh
problem has not been solved, and 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory is
under Armenian occupation. In this situation, saying `we are ready to
talk with Turkey without preconditions’ actually means setting forth a
condition. It means Armenia will take no action whatsoever on those
issues. It is an approach that tells Turkey to recognize the genocide
allegations, establish normal diplomatic relations, and open the land
border. Imagine, for instance, if France did not recognize the
territorial integrity of Spain and claimed that a certain part of the
territory of Spain is Western France, or if forces supported by France
occupied a part of another regional country which has good relations
with Spain. In such a situation, the relations between France and
Spain would not be so peaceful, and Europe would be like the Caucasus.

The normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations will reduce Armenia’s
dependence on Russia and help Armenia’s integration with the West. In
fact, the US Armenian Diaspora is also not happy with Armenia’s
dependence on Russia. However, the Diaspora’s stance regarding the
issues which are obstacles to Turkish-Armenian relations is not
helpful for bilateral relations. The US might be able to put pressure
on Armenia using the economic aid card to take the necessary steps to
improve its relations with Turkey. However, the influence of Armenian
Diaspora means that the US finds it difficult to implement policy
which suits the US national interest. If the US manages to reduce the
Diaspora’s influence on Armenia, that will be helpful in improving
Turkish-Armenian relations. This became even more important after the
Russian-Georgian conflict in the Caucasus. Cooperation between Turkey
and the US is important for the security of energy transit in the
region and also the security of energy producer and transit
countries. The Armenian administration’s strong cooperation with
Russia and its policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict increases
Russian influence in the Caucasus. Despite the mutual benefits of
regional cooperation, the circumstances do not allow the normalization
of relations between Turkey and Armenia. Only domestic policy change
in Armenia through outside pressure or other ways might lead to the
adjustment of Armenian policy regarding the three issues which prevent
the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kamer KASIM*

———————————————— ————

*Abant Izzet Baysal University, Department of International
Relations/Turkey/ISRO (USAK) advisor. E-Mail:[email protected]
Saturday, 7 March 2009

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