In 2014 both Yerevan and Ankara showed signs of “rapprochement” after a four-year break again. However, it is still unclear where it will lead – either to a new conflict of accumulated hostility or to laying the foundations for reconciliation.
The previous rapprochement experience – the football diplomacy started in June 2008, which resulted in the signing of two negotiated protocols in Zurich on 10 October 2009 with difficulty, reached a complete deadlock already in early 2010. In its parliament Turkey connected the ratification of those protocols with the resolution of the Karabakh conflict and accepted with anger the comment issued under the decision of the Constitutional Court within the framework of the ratification procedure in Armenia. If in Armenia the protocols entered the small agenda of the National Assembly assumingimmediate consideration, as a result of such a stance of Ankara, by the decree of President they were moved onto the big agenda with uncertain outlook of consideration and ratification thereof.
Ankara and Yerevan ready for dialogue, yet with opposing plans
After a four-year break Yerevan and Ankara exchanged new messages. On 24 April 2014 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was the Prime Minister of Turkey then, made a statement, which received both approval and criticism due to its content.
In his statement the Prime Minister of Turkey demanded from the world and Armenia a "religiously and ethnically just, non-discriminatory and equal approach" when assessing, mentioning and commemorating the happenings in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, as, according to him, nondiscriminatory as much were the nature and consequences thereof. “Using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning it into a matter of political conflict”, “deriving enmity from history and creating new antagonism” were described by him as neither acceptable nor “useful for building a common future”.
The key point in the message is that he considered the evaluation of the “shared pain” of the First World War through a perspective of “just memory” as a matter of “humane and scholarly responsibility.” Therefore, with reference to the opening of archives in Turkey and the previously made proposal on “the establishment of a joint historical commission in order to research the events of 1915 in a scholarly manner”, he considered it valid, mentioning that “Turkish, Armenian and international historians would play a significant role in shedding light on the events”. Based on all this, Erdoğan declared that the spirit of age necessitates “dialogue despite differences, understanding by listening to and heeding others, evaluating means for compromise, denouncing hatred, and praising respect and tolerance.”
Official invitation of the Armenian President on May 27 “to the Turkish President, whoever might be elected in the upcoming eletions, to visit Armenia on 24 April 2015 and face the eloquent testimonies of the Armenian Genocide history” was a reply to Erdoğan’s approach to research the historical events through the commission “fairly, scholarly and comprehensively”. Serzh Sargsyan “clearly called on all states and international community to recognize and condemn the unprecedented crime on the eve of the Genocide centenary”, informing that he had sent invitations to the officials of a number of states to visit Armenia in 2015 and especially on April 24 to commemorate one and a half million innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide together with the Armenian nation.
Underlining the interest in “trying to lay grounds for Armenians and Turks to communicate to find the way to reconciliation” and calling to witness and welcoming “thousands of Turks of young generation demanding from their own government truth and justice”, the RA President reconfirmed remaining committed to normalization of relations with Turkey without preconditions and opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, even though Turkey’s desire is only limited to such statements. “If the desire is indeed sincere, Turkey knows well enough the road to the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation” and “there is only one possible step Turkish authorities can take to free themselves from the heavy burden of the past and that is the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Half a step is not enough to achieve a tangible result”.
International recognition of the Genocide against the searches for "just memory"
Of course, Turkey should have been concerned about three statements made by Serzh Sargsyan:
1) “Let no one hope that the Armenian Genocide Centenary is the endpoint of our cause. It is a particular destination to mourn our sorrow, to become morally stronger and to achieve justice.”
2) At the Armenian Genocide Centenary, Armenia and the Armenian nation will come out with “renewed objectives, a new Pan-Armenian agenda and plans to build a more powerful statehood and more consolidated Diaspora.” With the Centenary we will sum up a historical period and will herald “a new phase of struggle for the restoration of justice.”
3) “we will continue our fight for the recognition and condemnation of the crime against humanity – the Armenian Genocide- with new vigor, enthusiasm and determination,” as an important message to the entire world.
Perhaps, the article by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, 4 May 2014, was a reply to these undesirable statements. The article heading summed up the main target of R. T. Erdoğan’s message of April 24 – reaching “A Just Memory For All”. In the heading Davutoğlu disclosed the points of the message and some forthcoming actions of Ankara in this direction.
Touching upon the Turkish proposal on the establishment of a joint historical commission to heal the “common pain” inherited from our grandparents through a perspective of “just memory”, he created lure for international historians, “While much of Western historiography tells us of the suffering of the dispossessed and dead Ottoman Christians, the colossal sufferings of Ottoman Muslims remain largely unknown today outside of Turkey”, speaking that during the period of disintegration in the Ottoman Empire approximately 5 million Ottoman citizens were driven away from their ancestral homes in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Anatolia. Obviously, involvement of “unaware” Western historians in creating a “complete and just Osmanology” will be one of the priority directions of the Turkish government in the future.
The second direction and target is the Armenian Diaspora. As stated by Davutoğlu, Ankara adopted a "new concept of diaspora" according to which “All of the Diasporas having roots in Turkey - including the Armenian Diaspora - is our Diaspora too, and should be treated as such with open arms.” According to him Turkish “diplomats welcomed the instruction of the Minister of Foreign affairs with enthusiasm and without any wish for revenge”, though many of them “still mourn their friends and colleagues taken by ASALA terrorists,” however, they realize that “we would better cherish the memories of the dead if we could bury hatred altogether.”
This direction proves Ankara’s long-term goal to split the Armenian Diaspora. Perhaps in the light of this it can be explained why previously official Ankara approved the establishment of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, where political figures and Armenian historians both from Armenia and Diaspora were involved.
It also comes to disclose Ankara’s expectations from a number of actions taken within the past years: a permission to renovate the Church of the Holy Cross and offer the liturgy once a year therein, promote tourism of native Armenians on the territory of historical Armenia, renovate Diyarbakir’s St. Giragos Church, convene conferences on the Armenian Genocide in Turkey and invite Armenian participants, ensure openness on the particular still controllable topic in Turkey, and now the intention to include the historical city of Ani in the list of the UNESCO cultural heritage sites and recently appointing Etienne Mahchupyan, Armenian by origin, to the position of Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey.
With such actions Turkey is trying to captivate and seduce not only the international community that the process of restoring trust between the Armenian and Turkish peoples is taking place, which should not be interferred with the recognition of Genocide, but also to dualize the opinion about itself both in Armenia and beyond its borders. The dualized international community and the Armenians become a wonderful pool for conducting dialogue about 1915 within the “human and scholarly competency framework” and finding partners in shaping a “just memory”.
“Considering everyone as a potential partner in this interest” of Ankara, A. Davutoğlu appealed to “all stakeholders, policy shapers and creative thinkers to seize this moment, and to join us to reconstruct a better future for Turkish-Armenian relations. The statement by Prime Minister Erdogan is anunprecedented and courageous step taken in this direction. I believe now is the time to invest in this relationship. But we can only succeed if this endeavor is embraced by a wider constituency intent on leaving their mark on a historical process of reconciliation. Turkey stands ready”.
However, the policy of Ankara towards the Diaspora, in addition to the alleged political actions, threatens to have other military manifestations, the signs of which could be observed during the year. The first one was on 20 March 2014 when the Islamist extremist groups (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and others), enjoying Ankara’s explicit military-political and territorial-material support, freely accessed Armenian-populated Kessab settlement of Syria through a militarized Turkish border post and it took them more than a week to occupy the settlement, forcing the whole population, including Armenians, out. Though international mass media covered/videotaped this fact, the Turkish foreign ministry has issued a statement that Ankara had nothing to do with this action, and on the other hand providing a shelter to some Armenian refugees from Kessab as a policy of “welcoming its own Diaspora with open arms” was widely propagandized.
The second dangerous incident was reported on the 23rd anniversary of independence of the Republic of Armenia – 21 September 2014, when the same terrorist fighters bombed the Holy Martyrs Armenian Church and the adjacent Genocide memorial in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, which were symbolizing the Armenian Genocide, recapitulating numerous martyrs' relics and serving as a pilgrimage for thousands of Armenians on April 24 every year. Ankara, having deep intelligence agents’ ties with terrorist groups, could absolutely influence the choice of the target, with the information on the "mutually beneficial deal" between them after the incident being again covered by the international mass media.
It is due of mention that one day prior to this vandalism Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia Aram I made a statement in the 5th Armenia-Diaspora Conference that the Holy See would soon initiate legal claims against Turkey in the Constitutional Court of Turkey to regain ownership of the historic headquarters of the Catholicosate of Sis and if Ankara rejects their claims, the case will be immediately presented to the European Court of Human Rights. The President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan spoke at the same event about his intention to recall Armenian-Turkish both protocols from the big agenda of the National Assembly, qualifying the policy conducted by the current authorities of Turkey as an improved denial.
Perhaps, Ankara’s implicit and indirect strategy to influence the will of Armenia and Armenian Diaspora also with such methods will firstly increase the risks of attack target, secondly those of the Turkish authorities’ “care” and lastly those of becoming a subject of advertisement even more especially for the Armenians living in the Middle East or even in the territory of Turkey and for Armenian historical-cultural values in future.
Karabakh conflict as an excuse for not reopening the border and short transition to a preconditioned policy
Perhaps no suspicion or prejudice would have arised when analizing the abovelisted actions and approaches of the Turkish government towards increasing trust, its willingness to start a new and open dialogue with Armenia, if there weren’t one significant factor.
Ankara is surely well aware that the closing of Armenian-Turkish border and blockading thereof jointly with Azerbaijan is the most irrefutable evidence of its apparent hostile and unfriendly policy towards Armenia. Accordingly, the Turkish authorities realize quite well that the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border (even without establishing diplomatic relations) is the shortest and the most efficient way to create the necessary atmosphere of trust for restoring dialogue, which will be perceived by Yerevan as a final sign of refusing from a punitive policy towards itself.
It is noteworthy that in the period of exchanging messages between Ankara and Yerevan mentioned above, to be more precise, on the very days when the Minister of Foreign Affairs Davutoğlu was making comments on the Armenian policy of Erdoğan and his willingness to resume the process of reconciliation, a number of quite significant events was reported on the Armenian-Azerbaijani axis of resistance.
The Turkish trace and involvement passing through those events like a red thread seemed to creat “solid” bases for not opening the closed border with Armenia and increase the parallel axis pressures on Yerevan. As evidenced in the past, unfreezing of Karabakh conflict is the shortest way thereof.
Particularly, on 5 May Azerbaijan violated the ceasefire regime with Nakhijevan blatantly and unprecedentedly, causing human losses. During a 20-year history of the ceasefire agreement between three parties of Karabakh conflict (Armenia, NKR and Azerbaijan) in May 1994, it was extremely unusual for this segment of the border. Not only Armenian military experts but also the RA Minister of Defense openly hinted Turkey’s involvement therein.
The experts reminded that a separate combined army, created on the basis of Nakichevan’s fifth army corps under the decree signed by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on 3 December 2013, “has always been under Turkey’s spotlight, can be considered a marching corps of the Turkish army to a certain degree. ”
Armenian Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanyan made a similar hint with reference to the military intelligence data, “The Nakichevan section is of unique importance for the Azerbaijani armed forces, as it has a separate combined army. And while it was being formed, we repeatedly had reports on the Turkish assistance, and the presence of mercenaries and small subdivisions there. ”
In our analysis regarding this incident, besides analizing the interests of Baku in the matter of unfreezing the conflict or the connection with the membership process of Armenia (“With or without Karabakh?”) to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), we have also touched upon a number of objectives of Turkey involvement.
1) Escalation of Nakhichevan border meant irritating major powers Iran and first of all Turkey, which in its turn means inderecrly involving the latter in the Caucasian affairs, where the increased involvement of Russia is a reality.
2) It was related to the Fourth Summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States held in Bodrum with the participation of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which, in contrast to the Eurasian integration project put forward by Russia, also pursues the aim of creating a free tarde zone with the Kreml-targeted countries and especially in the Caucasus.
3) Besides raising the economic and political integration issue of the Turkic speaking countries at the meeting in Bodrum, the President of Azerbaijan had included in the agenda also the resolution of the Karabakh conflict within its territorial integrity and the issue of calling to life the four resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.
If in July-August Turkey was immersed in the presidential campaign to be held on August 10 on the one hand, on the other hand it repositioned itself smoothly and quickly as a party which pursues and protects the interests of Azerbaijan during a large-scale instigation carried out by Baku at the same period. Irrespective of the lack of evidences of the military direct involvement yet, there are numerous evidences showing Turkey’s political and moral support to Azerbaijan.
Such was organizing the treatment of Azeri wounded soldiers in the Turkish hospitals by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) (there are still doubts that they were not the citizens of Turkey and their number did not exceed 3, as announced). Having visited those soldiers, the Speaker of Turkish Grand National Assembly (parliament) Cemil Cicek and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu took the opportunity of making not only moral but also political statements supporting Azerbaijan and the risky venture thereof.
A few other subsequent events have also made explicit at least the political involvement or interest of Turkey in the issue of unfreezing the conflict. On August 19 after a trilateral meeting of Azerbaijani, Turkish and Georgian ministers of defense in Nakhijevan it was declared that in future “the three countries will jointly conduct military drills, the aim of which is to increase the fighting efficiency of the armed forces”, as well as “joint defense of the region's energy transmission infrastructure” and the objective of Nakijevan meeting was “the consideration and signing of the action plan on bolstering the security of all strategic facilities”.
It was also decided to convene similar meetings in Tbilisi and Istanbul in future. Azeri and Turkish military experts consider Turkey’s such undertaking in the field of defense and security as a process leading to the creation of new military alliance.
And Ankara and Baku were/are in urgent need for the presumptive “threat of oil and gaspiplines” coming form Armenia, which will/would allow Turkey to be directly involved therein as an ally and interested party, in case the conflict resumes, including for bombing attack at Yerevan from Nakhijevan. Large-scale unprecedented military drills of Azerbaijani army with the armed forces’ units of Turkey between 12 and 20 October (almost 35.000 staff and with the participation of all types of troops and ammunition testing) probably were the continuation of all this.
Thereafter, on 2 September the newly elected President of Turkey R. T. Erdoğan having paid the first official visit to Baku, announced, “Any resolution of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh should take into account Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity”, and Turkey, whose “Peace and stability in the South Caucasus must be a cornerstone of Turkish foreign policy” will “evaluate the possible contributions of Turkey within that scope”.
In the press conference, held on 3 September and with the participation of Ilham Aliyev, the President of Turkey made a statement that Armenia must make peace with Azerbaijan before it can fix its relations with Turkey and it should be task number one for Yerevan. Pointing out that the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a priority issue for Turkey and the indicator of the level of relations between both countries, Erdoğan added, "In case of a solution between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the problems between Turkey and Armenia will also be solved, otherwise, the problems between Turkey and Armenia will continue to stay as they are. We have always said this previously and I reiterate it now. We will continue our solidarity in the coming period with the same decisiveness. "
When leaving for the NATO Wales Summit, R. T. Erdoğan promised right in Baku that he would have the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh included in the agenda of NATO summit and would remind the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of the importance of promises given to Azerbaijan, like it promised to other countries and kept it. On 5 September at the session of NATO-Ukraine, Erdoğan announced, “NATO should keep the promises it has given to Azerbaijan. Resolution of the existing Nagorno-Karabakh issue within the framework of territorial intergrity is of great importance and this conflict should be solved. ”
Official Yerevan viewed all this merely as a “show organized by Erdoğan to save Aliyev’s face” , while Ankara needed not only to please its younger and wounded brother or save its face, but also again to stand on the same positions it used to have regarding Nagorno-Karbakh issue, which previously (1990-94 and 2008) helped him in the issue of international pressure and not opening the border with Armenia without preconditions.
Ankara knows quite well that it sparked interest of the international community with its messages made in May-June, therefore, large pressures by the latter are expected in that direction. Hence, it once again needed the Karabakh conflict first and foremost as a tactical tool. Especially when, having been elected as a Chairman of Justice and Developmet Party on 21 August, in one of the clauses of Manifesto composed of 9 clauses and when having considered the plan of a new government at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey between 1 and 6 September, the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared, “The Cyprus problem and the Armenian issue are the most significant items of the agenda of the Turkish foreign policy.”
Though it was once more convinced that the Armenian-Turkish relations could be resumed and possible international pressures were expected, Ankara also realizes the risk of recognition of the Genocide by some EU countries, which along with the issues of internal democracy of Cyprus, Kurds and Turks sometimes used it with the aim to slow down and prevent its entry to the European family. This year Genocide Centenary and statements made by official Yerevan have been added to the above mentioned.
Consequently, though the Turkish authorities had announced that hereinafter EU will continue to remain as a strategic objective for Ankara, nevertheless, it is obvious that the Turkish-European and Turkish-Armenian axes are implicitly linked. Therefore, the action directed towards activation of the latter requires the activation of the former as a tactical trick and the other way round.
Only the ambitious concept of “New Turkey” and the ways to achieve it, all descriptive criteria of which had been presented by R. Erdoğan and A. Davutoğlu both at the congress of their partyand at the Turkish Parliament, (with “Sacred procession” saturated with Islamic elements towards becoming one of the 10 countries with strong economy) rather evidenced the intentions of Turkey to become a regional power than EU member with religious colouring added to everything else, Therefore, the Armenian issue-related dangers coming from EU, other countries and Armenia should be only managed on that way.
Returning to own circuit?
Armenia and Turkey are entering the Centenary of the Great Genocide with an unhealed page of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, lack of diplomatic relations, closed borders and burden of old and new hostility. Both rivals are getting prepared for the mythicized date, each with larger arrangements, decisiveness, reedited strategies than usual, though future uncertainties for both are more than certainties.
It’s a little more than two decades since the Armenian issue with its Turkish and Artsakh (Karabakh) elements linked thereto from 90s has made the prevailing content of relations of Armenia and those of its neighbour Turkey and Azerbaijan. The main motivating force of parties remains the longstanding hostility tailored with new conflicts or risks thereof, unfriendly and each-other accusing policy, which just open and refresh the old and still unscarred wound.
After a four-year break, a new attempt of the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation resumed in 2014 has hardly begun when by Ankara’s efforts it was deliberately linked to Karabakh issue as a precondition. The situation generates the feelings of déjà vu, however, with one difference: in 90s the Karabakh conflict was too tense, now still at the risk of unfreezing, if, of course, no interests in making it tenser emerge.
Only from this it becomes clear that this time also Turkey is exceptionally interested firstly in overcoming the border line of the Genocide Centenary via imitation process and half pace, secondly in prolonging or weakening the process of international recognition of Genocide by a few years.
The impact of the Karabakh conflict on the Armenian-Turkish relations has always been under consideration, whereas the fact, that very often Ankara itself has impacted/impacts the conflict through the Armenian-Turkish relations, has remained in the shadow. Both the Armenian issue and Karabakh conflict in the regional policy conducted by the current Turkish authorities are “multifunctional”. According to Ahmet Davutoğlu’s concept “Strategic Depth”, they are also strategically active, each of which can be turned into a tactical tool in order to influence another and on the other way round.
The process of Armenian-Turkish reconciliation will report progress, if we succeed to minimize not only the correlation and interrelation of those two issues, but also deprive Turkey of all possibilities to use them with tactical aim. Turning the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation into a strategic goal first of all requires from Ankara almost a perfect management of Karabakh conflict, excluding the risks of destabilization, especially when, as experience shows, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey become interested therein, of course, pursuing different interests.
However much the drift of interests of major powers or tectonic tremors in the Caucasus region cause Turkey to take interest in flinging there when pursuing mega goals of its regional policy, also showing interest in the more tributary issue –Armenian-Turkish agenda within that context, anyway such tremors rapidly exacerbate security issues, which are working against the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.
Traditional approach, stating that the progress of the Armenian-Turkish process is possible in case of parallel refraction in the Karabakh conflict, perhaps is as much failed as the preconditional stance of Turkey regarding this issue: as the previous experience showed, the attempts to agree small items of the Big treaty of conflict resolution had their unique role in the expansion of the Armenian-Turkish deadlock.
European and Armenian agendas have also an integrated, as well as strategic and tactical importance for Turkey, which Ankara raffles right in the same way as it uses the Karabakh issue in its Armenian policy. However, this is the crux of the matter. Perhaps, recognition of the Genocide by EU, USA and other countries and on the other hand its in-depth reform through Turkey's European integration are able to deprive Turkey of using the Armenian agenda as a tactical tool in other axes, turning it into an inevitable strategic perspective.
Yerevan and Ankara are yet moving in different directions, which bring closer the burden of new and old accumulated hostility. The aim of Ankara is to take an ideal control over all items of the Armenian-Turkish agenda and stakeholders, ranging from the Genocide recognition, Karabakh issue, foreign and Armenian historians, policymakers to the Diaspora, and alone manage the process for a few years. Yerevan, which openly declared about its aim to have the Genocide internationally recognized, will try to bring the issue of Genocide out of monopoly control of Ankara through Diaspora and lobbying organizations and shift it to the international and Turkish free communities, which is too harmonious with the international/European approach.
The risks for reconciliation are high especially in the 100th anniversary of Genocide. In the past and passing year the Turkish punitive political and semi-military actions make such manifestations anticipated also in the forthcoming period, promising to create new centres of hostility. Armenia and the international community must control all risks, otherwise rather approaching hostility than reconciliation and normalization of relations will be realistic.