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Without genocide issue, the unity of Armenia could be in danger


Standpoint of Turkey

 Without genocide issue, the unity of Armenia could be in danger

Mensur Akgün


Mensur Akgün

Director of the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT), research institution of Istanbul Kültür University.

For Mensur Akgun, the major obstacle to the convergence of Turkey to Armenia is the nature of Ankara-Azerbaijan relations. While Armenia is getting closer to Russia, Azerbaijan is getting closer to the West. While Yerevan is getting poorer, Baku becomes richer. For Akgun, a progress about regions in Karabakh could help to overcome these obstacles.

REPAIR : How can we define the current state of relations between Turkey and Armenia ? Did the last visit of Davutoğlu to Armenia change something?

Mensur Akgün : They are literally in a refrigerator. You know, two protocols were signed. This process was initiated by the election of Obama and declarations of him and Pelosi. There was pressure on Turkey. After seeing the disaster in Georgia in 2008, Armenia also realized that things could get worse. Then, two protocols were signed in 2009. But since 2009, relations are in the refrigerator for four years. Several things could be discussed about reasons. The official discourse in Turkey blames the reference to genocide made by the verdict of the Armenian Constitutional Court. But in reality, the problem is exactly the nature of Turkey-Azerbaijan relations. Presumably, Turkey has underestimated the reaction of Azerbaijan.

During all those negotiations on protocols, guarantor countries have promised to put pressure on Azerbaijan and Armenia to get a progress in the direction of a resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and especially on two rayons, according the Madrid principles. But these promises were not kept. Armenia does not want to touch this topic. For Russia, the continuation of the conflict serves its strategic interests. The Agreement on the Customs Union and rapprochement of Armenia with Russia has been possible in this way. If a step was taken forward for the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia would not need Russia. The United States does not want to intervene, because , on the one hand, there is a strong Armenian lobby and on the other hand they have oil interests in Azerbaijan, their oil companies carry on business in Azerbaijan. I also expressed to the officials of the Departement of State of USA : " Why don't you put aside your interests in Azerbaijan ? You have the power to do it.  Even if Azerbaijan boycotts all your businesses, it doesn't affect your economy. Yet we are more vulnerable to such a boycott". When you say this, nobody answers. It is the same for English and Swiss officials. Azerbaijan is a country that generates a lot of money with its large reserves of oil and gas . And of course, from Turkey's point of view, Azerbaijan is defined as a brother country.

The genocide issue was the driving force of protocols, but the main prolem is those who were regional. It seems the situation would be same. In December 2013, I observed in the Erivan visit which I participated by the invitation of Davutoğlu who is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. When a hope arises towards the normalization of Azerbaijan - Armenia relations, Turkey also makes an effort for developing and normalizing its relations with Armenia.

Is it truly Azerbaijan who shackles Turkey?

It is essentially Azerbaijan. Sometimes, it is mentioned that the genocide question in Armenia or Armenian Diaspora or the reference to it in the preamble of the Constitution of Armenia is important, but this is totally wrong.

Is this an excuse?

No, these topics were already discussed before. As far as I’m concerned, the key point is the speech which Davutoglu couldn't do in Zurich. All regional issues are already indexed to the relationship between Armenia and Turkey. If any progress made in this issue, if there is a withdrawal of troops somewhere and if Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents shake hands and smile, as you know, they both laugh difficultly; Turkey-Armenia relations will substantially change. But it becomes more difficult by time. Civil society tries to play a role in developing these relations both in Turkey and Armenia, but Armenia inclines away from Turkey while it becomes closer to Russia. We have such a problem. When Armenia is getting closer to Russia, Azerbaijan gets closer to the West. Baku gets richer while Yerevan becomes poorer. In all points of view, the gap is getting worse. It seems to me that only the progress about rayon in Nagorno-Karabakh could help to overcome these obstacles.

Why Turkey is so dependent to Azerbaijan? Is the only reason is energy dependency?

The reason is primarily economic, but also political. Turkey defines itself with an ethnic and national identity. She sees Azerbaijan as a part of this ethnic identity. In addition, she considers it as the entrance door to Central Asia. While considering all these, Armenia could not offer many things. Economically, it is a poor country. According to researches, the opening of borders could not afford a trade capacity exceeding 150 million dollars. So, regarding all these issues, the cost of angering Azerbaijan is very high. There is only the genocide question. As Turkey begins discussing this matter in itself and making progress on a path of reconciliation with her past, she moves away from Armenia. Because, the only leverage in the hands of Armenia, suddenly disappears. If Turkey will ask for forgiveness officially or build a memorial monument, this leverage will no longer exist. From the perspective of Turkey, the fear that had paved the way towards protocols, shall be disappeared in 2009.

Won’t it help Turkey for rapprochement with Amernia if she will face with 1915?

Armenia , from its point of view, may be approach Turkey. But the issue has never been 1915 for Turkey.

So, what is the effect of 1915 on Turkey-Armenia relations ?

The reason of the protocols signed in 2009 is the events happened in 1915 which is called “tragedy” by Turkey and “genocide” by Armenia.  But the process of protocols was not launched because of sadness expressed on these events, but to find a way out after the election of Obama and Nancy Pelosi statements on possible recognition of the genocide by the United States. Relations with Armenia have been developed and Turkey said that it shall recognize the result of an international sub-committee of historians which is mentioned to be established in the protocols. By this way, Turkey has eased the burden on his shoulders and announced to itself and the world that a progress on the issue of genocide would be carried out. But an unexplained pre-condition of development of the bilateral relations is ensuring the moderation in tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This was also included in the speech of Davutoğlu which he could not make during signing protocols.

Turkey has begun to face with its past and begun to know and see that his past is perhaps not so bright as they say and in that there were crimes that can be qualified as genocide. If there will be no reaction coming from outside, in my opinion, the natural result of this process would be asking for forgiveness made by the Prime Minister, the President of the Republic or any other government official, as we have seen about Dersim.  A monument can be built.

Such a development shall lessen the pressure of genocide on Turkey. But in a paradoxial way, this new situation shall not cause any normalization of Armenia - Turkey relations. It shall only cause an increase in the pressıre on Armenia. Armenia shall be in a harder condition for not to leave territories which it occupies. And another thing to note that the gap between Armenia and Azerbaijan is gradually getting bigger.  Once one of them becomes richer, the other one becomes poorer relatively. One of them getting closer to Russia, while the other one getting closer to U.S.A and EU countries. Armenia is in the lowest steps of the stair of Turkey-U.S.A relations. The Genocide is important byr if Turkey recognizes 1915 Tragedy in a clearer way, this shall not be the issue of the agenda anymore. Relations shall be left to the initiative of Azerbaijan entirely.

Armenia must be aware of this reality to do something and normalize relations. The rapprochement of Armenia with Russia gets Armenia far away from Turkey. This means there will be less democracy and the country will be positioned elsewhere. Of course Armenia shall not break off its relations with Russia, but the country must also return to the Council of Europe, get closer to European Union and develop relationships with the United States and NATO. Armenia can make some effort to be part of the OSCE to avoid my friends in Armenia suffer the same things, nobody will beat them since they criticize the government in Armenia for rapprochement and getting closer to Russia.

May the situation change in 2015? Could it become on the agenda of the World?

It depends on the situation of Turkey. If Turkey can face with his past and say " Yes, perhaps there was a genocide. Our ancestors were not so innocent as they said", then nothing will be happened, as Turkey is also going and progressing in this direction. I do not know if there will be an expression of sadness, or asking forgiveness, but Turkey moves towards to the recognition of the tragedy and the fact those individual crimes -that can be qualified as genocide under Article 2 of the 1948 Convention- could be committed.

Do we have a long way to achieve this?

In 2015, these debates can be so accelerated that there can be a turning point. A Prime Minister, who is elected with 50 % of votes, may also assert this, as he did about Dersim.

On the other hand, the influence of Azerbaijan, which you mentioned a while ago, increases in Turkey. Baku organizes demonstrations in the center of Istanbul.

It is said that Azerbaijani companies have investment of $17 million in Turkey, which is only the visible one. Turkish companies also have many investments or receivables in Azerbaijan. There is a mutual dependency created.

Can you predict some progress for a resolution ?

I do not predict. A former minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia said "Whenever we approach a solution, Iran or Russia intervenes". If Iran reconciles with the West, an important factor will be solved and disappeared. But there is Russia, and Russia is very strong today. It also would not want to sacrifice its interests in the Caspian region. There are Russian soldiers waiting in the Armenian-Turkish border. Indeed, we are neighbors with Russia virtually. NATO is encircling Russia. And on the other hand, she would not want to lose Caucasus. If she loses, no one knows what can happen in Dagestan or in Chechnya. If there will be very strong political will occurs in Armenia, all these balances could be changed.

As we supported Annan’s Plan and we saw that the deadlock/lack of solution is not a solution in Cyprus in the early 2000s, if a similar epistemological rupture occurs; there will be a great change in the knowledge of people living in Armenia and Diaspora .

In countries that have just obtained their independence, nationalism can be very strong. Like in Turkey during 1930s, it is also the same case in Armenia. They could not see the realities, they live in the nostalgia. If there is no genocide issue, the unity of Armenia could be in danger. There are oligarchs, inequities in income distribution, the industry is non-existent, and there are a lot of problems in Armenia. But there is a blanket that hides them all; this is exactly the blanket of the genocide. If Turkey recognizes the genocide, this cover will disappear and everything becomes more difficult for them. In my opinion, it will be very beneficial for Armenia if those obstacles to democratization are removed. At that time, Armenia will no longer be a country that is only indexed to Turkey, what Turkey says and even to Turkey-Azerbaijan Relations; it will be a culturally richer country. The only key to this solution lies under real-politics now.  There must be a political authority who can say no and put a lid on these current course of things.