Hurriyet Daily News
April 29, 2009
Implicit ‘genocide’ threat lies behind Turkey-Armenia breakthrough
ISTANBUL – The threat of a word is behind the breakthrough after
years of diplomatic strife between Turkey and Armenia. President
Obamaâ’s insistence about the alleged genocide convinced Turkey to
sign on to the road map declared just before the annual April 24
address, sources say
Implicit ‘genocide’ threat lies behind Turkey-Armenia breakthrough An
implicit threat by U.S. President Barack Obama to use the word
"genocide" in an annual April 24 address to Armenians, followed by
increasing frankness from diplomats, was pivotal to strong-arming
Turkey and Armenia out of their deadlock.
The muscle behind the highly emotional word was the main diplomatic
stick, the HÃ¼rriyet Daily News & Economic Review has learned from
sources familiar with the marathon negotiations that led up to the
declaration of a road map for opening the Turkish-Armenian border. It
was first used by Obama implicitly in an April 7 meeting with Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄ?an and later U.S. negotiators were
increasingly straightforward as they pushed their clout, sources
said. The word "genocide" is just one divide between the two
societies. Armenians use it to describe mass deaths of their kinsmen
in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. Many Turks take deep
offense to this and cite conditions in 1915 and civil strife as
reason for the deaths of many members of many ethnic groups and that
it exacted a toll from Muslims as well as Christians.
In the run-up to the April 24 commemoration of the tragedy, which in
recent years has included a presidential address, lobbying efforts by
all sides converged on the White House to seek use of the word or
oppose it. To date, Turks have largely been successful in the annual
ritual. But the dynamics changed with the new Obama presidency
because he had pledged to use the sensitive word during his campaign.
It is now clear that his pledge, and ultimately his nuanced breaking
of it by using the Armenian term for the events, "Meds
Yerghern" (Great Catastrophe), was the key to the tentative
Just when and how the border will reopen has not been disclosed.
Neither have other details of the accord, made in part with Swiss
mediation, which all sides are now keeping secret.
While the bilateral politics of language are one dimension, another
is the Armeniaâ’s seizure and occupation in 1992 of the Nagorno-
Karabakh region in neighboring Azerbaijan.
Turkey closed its land border to Armenia in 1993 in support of
Azerbaijan, with whom cultural ties include a common language.
The first use of the symbolic word as a pressure point came directly
from President Obama during his April 7 visit. In his talks with
ErdoÄ?an, according to sources, he said Turkey should reach an
understanding with Armenia prior to April 24. The message was not
lost on ErdoÄ?an after Obama departed and talks accelerated.
In subsequent days, serious progress was made but a setback emerged
following Azerbaijanâ’s reaction to a possible deal without progress
on the Nagorno-Karabakh front. Prime Minister ErdoÄ?anâ’s moved to
assuage Azerbaijan with a statement that no deal would be concluded
with Armenia unless it included prospects for resolution of Nagorno-
Karabakh. The specter of a rupture in Turkish-Armenian talks brought
the U.S. administration back into active negotiating.
The deal was concluded on April 22 after lengthy negotiations in both
Yerevan and Ankara, under the mediation of U.S. officials. Matt
Bryza, U.S. assistant secretary of state, conducted 14 hours of
marathon talks with the Armenians in Yerevan while talks in Ankara
were conducted between the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey
and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary ErtuÄ?rul Apakan.
In those talks the Turkish side insisted on a reference to Nagorno-
Karabakh. Ankara specifically sought a pledge to withdraw from at
least five of seven regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenia
had occupied in addition to the enclave, to use as a bargain chip.
Armenians refused to bow to U.S. pressure, however, the Turkish side
was asked to accept the deal without reference to the Nagorno-
Karabakh problem. Turkey only swallowed the package after it was made
clear that in the absence of a brokered deal Obama would use the word
Obama did not and that has angered many Armenians, including one
political party that abandoned the coalition government in response.
In Turkey, the alternative phrase, and his further words "one of the
great atrocities of the 20th century," has not gone down well either,
leading some to accuse the president of disingenuousness.
Meanwhile a new set of talks is underway to solve Nagorno-Karabakh.
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet next week, and
possibly again in June, to discuss the disputed enclave, mediators
said Monday. Diplomatic sources told the Daily News that Armenia
refuses to withdraw from five regions surrounding the enclave unless
there is a complete deal.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Serge Sarkisian will
meet in Prague on May 7, envoys of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe said, according to Reuters. They said they also
hoped to organize a meeting in early June in the Russian city of St.
Talks in Prague will concentrate on the vote for the final status of
Karabakh as well as the interim status, sources told the Daily News.
Armenians and Azerbaijanis disagree over the methods for the
referendum that will take place on the status of the enclave. Armenia
wants one referendum, whereas Azerbaijan insists on separate
referendums conducted in the two communities.
Ethnic Armenian separatists, backed by Armenia, fought a war in the
1990s to throw off Azerbaijan’s control of the mountain enclave of
Nagorno-Karabakh. An estimated 30,000 people were killed. Azerbaijan
claims nearly 800,000 fled the enclave. A fragile cease-fire is in
force but a peace accord has never been signed.
There has been an increase in diplomatic activity since last year’s
war in neighboring Georgia, when Russia repelled a Georgian assault
on the rebel pro-Russian region of South Ossetia. However, there is
uncertainty over how a thaw in relations between Armenia and
Azerbaijanâ’s ally Turkey might affect efforts to resolve the
conflict, reported Reuters.
U.S. envoy Bryza said he expected developments between Turkey and
Armenia to help the mediation efforts. "We believe that these two
processes will develop separately, in parallel with one another,
perhaps at different paces," he said, according to a report by Reuters.