ANKARA: Turkey-Armenia ‘Blame Game’ Risks Shaky Normalization Proces

Fulya Ozerkan

Hurriyet Daily News
Sunday, January 24, 2010

As the current crisis in normalization efforts turns into a ‘blame
game’ between Turkey and Armenia, one Caucasus researcher says it is
important to ask not what is going to happen in the next five weeks
or five months, but what is going to happen in the next five years. ‘I
am quite optimistic for the next five years,’ he tells the Daily News

With the current deadlock triggered by an Armenian court ruling
clouding the fate of the protocols on diplomatic relations between
Turkey and Armenia, leaders of the two sides are pointing their
fingers at each other.

Faced with a backlash from regional ally Azerbaijan and the opposition
at home, Turkey has accused Armenia’s constitutional court of
delivering a ruling that contradicts the already agreed-upon accords.

Yerevan, in return, has warned of a breakdown in reconciliation
efforts, casting doubt over the protocols that were the result of
two years’ negotiations between the countries’ diplomats.

"Making predictions is very difficult in such cases because there
is incredible pressure both in Armenia and Turkey," said Dr. Hans
Gutbrod, regional director of the Caucasus Research and Resource
Center in Tbilisi.

"In many similar situations, one tends to ask what is going to
happen in the next five weeks or in the next five months, but the
important thing is what is going to happen in the next five years,"
Gutbrod told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "I am sure in
the next five weeks or months we will see a lot of challenges and a
‘blame game,’ but I am quite optimistic for the next five years."

Role of external actors

Frustrated by the court ruling, Ankara is currently working on a legal
text to prove its "non-conformity" with the protocols. The document
will later be dispatched to Switzerland, which brokered the talks
between Turkey and Armenia, and to the co-chairs of the Minsk Group
leading Karabakh talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The text has
not yet been finalized, diplomatic sources told the Daily News.

"To look at a process like that, you have to get back together at
the table over and over again, and at some point reach a breakthrough.

External actors can also play a constructive role," Gutbrod added.

In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu relayed
his country’s concerns about the way the court ruling refers to the
1915 killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and how it cites
a document referring to eastern Turkey as "western Armenia."

Clinton, who was praised for her role in saving the Turkey-Armenia
accord in Zurich in October, pledged to take a hand in the current
deadlock, according to the diplomatic sources.

‘Turkish reaction unfair’

"I don’t find anything unusual or inappropriate in the court’s
decision. Unlike the claims of ‘preconditions’ made by the Turkish
side, neither the court’s ruling nor its lengthy opinion make any
direct reference to the ‘genocide’ whatsoever and are not reflected
in the wording of the ruling," Richard Giragosian, director of the
Armenian Center for National and International Studies, told the
Daily News.

"I find the Turkish reaction not only disingenuous, but unfair as
there was never any doubt over the Armenian side’s commitment to
ensure a speedy passage of the protocols," he added.

The Armenian court’s Jan. 12 decision established that the protocols
with Turkey conformed to the country’s constitution, but Article 5
of its reasoned decision stipulated that the deal must not contradict
Paragraph 11 of the Declaration of Independence. This section angered
Ankara as it states, "The Republic of Armenia stands in support of
the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 genocide
in Ottoman Turkey and western Armenia."

It is not yet clear if the Armenian government will submit to its
parliament the court’s reasoned decision annexed to the protocols.

‘Give credit to diplomacy’

"It must be the diplomacy that should be given credit and the ground
for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia should not be shaken,"
said Burcu Gultekin Punsmann, a Caucasus expert at the Turkish think
tank TEPAV. She said attempts to interpret diplomatic texts and read
between the lines were being carried from academic circles to the
official level.

"That approach, threatening reconciliation reached by the two states,
risks collapsing the two-year diplomatic efforts," Punsmann added,
advising the two sides to remain loyal to the protocols, in which
every wording was delicately selected.

According to Giragosian, withdrawing the protocols would be a serious
setback. "The repudiation of all obligations and expectations that are
now squarely on the Turkish side is surely not any kind of graceful
exit strategy," he said.

"The crisis seems to be getting worse, as Turkey has so far only
sought to enlarge this into an issue much more divisive than it should
be. As this process has already stalled and slowed down significantly,
I am increasingly worried that Turkey may have derailed the entire
effort on its accord," Giragosian added. "Hopefully, both sides can
recover and find a new way beyond this rather exaggerated crisis,
but it remains a test of Turkish political will much more than a
challenge for the Armenian side."

Restoring neighborly ties

For Gutbrod, Armenia is the country faced with tremendous challenges –
including corruption, its relationship with neighboring Turkey and
Azerbaijan, unemployment and migration. The latter threatens the
future of Armenia because people are leaving the country, he added.

"We know from our surveys that 48 percent of Armenians say they would
like to leave their country to work abroad. Twenty percent of Armenians
say they would like to leave forever and never return.

That’s not a recipe for long-term success of a country," the researcher

"Unemployment is very difficult to address. Corruption is the same,"
Gutbrod added. "But the relationship with neighboring countries can
really be addressed."

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