ARF calls on government to discontinue talks with Turkey and reassess the last year of Armenian diplomacy
Published: Thursday July 16, 2009
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh - A resolution adopted by a pan-Armenian conference organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and held July 10-11 in Stepanakert acknowledged that Armenia and Turkey must eventually establish normal relations. But, finding that the process of public interactions with Turkey initiated by President Serge Sargsian a year ago was generating "negative results," the resolution called on Mr. Sargsian to "reassess" and "discontinue" the process.
The conference brought together over 100 participants from 25 countries. Over the course of two days, the participants heard eight reports on Armenia-Turkey relations and the Karabakh issue. The focus of the second day of the conference was questions and answers and discussion.
On Armenia-Turkey relations, the conference heard from Giro Manoyan, who heads the ARF Bureau's Hai Tahd and Political Affairs Office; former ARF Bureau member Garo Armenian - whose health did not allow him to make the journey to Karabakh in person; Henry Theriault, a philosophy professor at Worcester State; and ARF Bureau member (and former agriculture minister) Davit Lokian.
Because the issue of Karabakh and Armenia-Turkey relations are linked, the speakers who addressed the Karabakh issue also touched on Armenia-Turkey relations. They were Karabakh's Foreign Minister Georgi Petrossian; University of Massachusetts Lowell sociology professor Levon Chorbajian; former foreign minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian; and ARF Supreme Body of Armenia member Armen Rustamian, who heads the foreign relations committee of Armenia's parliament.
Shavarsh Kocharian, deputy foreign minister of Armenia, gave a major address and participated in the question-and-answer and debate.
Benefits of normal relations
Mr. Manoyan, in his speech, said that diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey and open borders are necessary.
"The issue is what price must be paid for those relations and those routes. What will Armenia gain and what will it not gain from establishing relations and open roads? They will give Armenia new opportunities for political self-reliance in the region; we will be able to speak to Georgia in a different way; likewise with Iran, and even Russia. They will give Armenia some economic possibilities - which may or may not translate into profit. And, most importantly, they will give us political advantages in the Karabakh issue because Turkey's blockade of Armenia remains the last form of leverage Azerbaijan maintains on Armenia," Mr. Manoyan said.
But, he warned, open roads and diplomatic relations will not provide Armenia with security guarantees.
"The process of recognizing the Genocide is one of the basic weapons that we have in our hands to force Turkey to change its antagonistic position toward Armenians and Armenia. That weapon cannot be negotiated. To lay down arms is to surrender. The weapon must remain aimed at its target, and the target must be achieved. When the weapon itself becomes a subject of negotiations, we lose the weapon and the means of reaching our target. The April 22-23 statement was an effort to make recognition a matter for negotiation," Mr. Manoyan said, referring to the joint statement of the foreign ministries of Armenia and Turkey announcing that they had agreed on a framework for an "on-going process" toward normalization. He said the official stance must be changed, the "politics of concessions" must end, and the position maintained from 1998 to 2008 must be restored.
Mr. Oskanian said in his address that Armenia-Turkey relations and the Karabakh issue have never been as closely linked as they are today, and this linkage has negative consequences. He said the April 22 statement "drove a stake between Armenia and the diaspora." Turkey has taken on a new role in the Karabakh issue, he said.
"We are the reason for this. Everyone wants the Armenia-Turkey border to open. Obama has put his prestige on the line. Armenia wants it; our president's credibility is at stake. Turkey wants it too. The European Union wants it. Russia also wants it. Everyone want the Armenia-Turkey border to be opened. It is a matter of credibility for them. But they understand that Turkey will not open the border until there is some movement in the Karabakh issue. So the pressure has been shifted from Armenia-Turkey to Karabakh. And because progress in Karabakh is useful to Turkey - so that Azerbaijan gets satisfaction and so Turkey can open the border - Turkey is naturally going to take on a big role," Mr. Oskanian added.
Referring to the Karabakh issue on the one hand and Armenia-Turkey relations on the other, Mr. Rustamian said parallel lines don't cross, "but Turkish diplomacy can make them cross in the chronological sense."
"If Armenia-Turkey relations and the Karabakh issue can be settled at the same point, the parallels will cross," he explained.
How to change course
Several participants at the conference, especially participants from the diaspora, raised the possibility of calling for the resignation of Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. Other participants suggested that such a course of action would be unrealistic. What matters, they argued, is the foreign-policy priorities set by the president.
If President Serge Sargsian is convinced that Turkey is deliberately misleading the international community - as he said recently - and if he now wishes to change course, then changing his foreign minister may allow him to gain time. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did the same thing when he was ready to stall Armenia-Turkey talks, replacing the optimistic Ali Babacan with the realistic Ahmet Davutloglu.