Nigar Goksel: “Armenian issue is at core of Turkish identity”
Istanbul researcher discusses Armenia and Turkey
Published: Thursday June 25, 2009
Going from words to deeds
AR: Do you think Turkey will ever come to a point when it would be ready to offer some sort of compensation – financial or even physical – for the Armenian Genocide?
NG: There has been very positive progress in recent years in terms of allowing for a more open debate in Turkey about Ottoman Armenians, giving more space to challenging views. And considerable progress on minority issues in Turkey. On culture, too, there have been important strides forward: restoration of a church in Diyarbakir is now underway, for example, due partly to changes in foundations law recently.
In terms of compensation [pauses]. I don't think there is a way to hold Turkey legally liable in the foreseeable future. Turkey might be interested in making some gestures toward the Armenians who are descendants of Anatolia families. There is a discussion among intellectuals in Turkey as to what kind of gestures these could be. From benefits in acquiring lands to inviting members of the diaspora to help them find their roots, it is a wide range of possibilities.
Would Turkey actually be sitting down to try to determine financial compensation? We have not found legal ground for that. In foreseeable future, I think gestures will be of different nature.
There is, I think, genuine desire in Ankara to right some wrongs of the past, but there is also a risk of moving too fast and generating a political backlash.
Considering the defensive tone that has dominated in Turkey – you just can't go from that [to paying compensation]. More time is needed.
AR: From an Armenian perspective, of course, plenty of time has elapsed – more than 90 years.
NG: Definitely. But if you look at how much Turkey changed on this issue in the last nine years – it is much more than any change that had occurred from 1915 to 2000. Since 2000 there has been dramatic change. So don't look at the last 90 years, look at the last nine years.
Karabakh linkage and purpose of the "road map"
AR: What about the conflict in Karabakh? Do you see Turkey continuing to side with Azerbaijan on that to the degree it has until now, or do you see a debate and possible evolution there?
NG: The Karabakh issue is difficult. Most people in Turkey see a grave injustice committed to detriment of Azeris and that also no one in the world acknowledges that.
For Turks that is seen as "classical" example of Turkish people being wronged by the international community. Believe it or not, there is a complex of victimization psychology in Turkey as well and in that sense [Azerbaijan] is seen as an extension of Turkey.
But the perception of Turkey and Azerbaijan being "ethnic" brethren is stronger than the reality of it.
Secondly, there is also a feeling for many in Ankara that a Karabakh resolution is not that difficult and can even be done this year, and that is where there is a lack of realism.
But if you ask, who in this region has taken land and given it back, it is hard to find example of that. So, there is not a simplified view of Karabakh [in Turkey]; there is not a very good understanding of it.
There is also a fear of "losing" Azerbaijan to Russia, grounded or not. And the sentiment is that there is more vested economic interest of Turkey in Azerbaijan than there could be in Armenia.
Those in the Turkish press who argued that Turkey should take the Azerbaijani side – who are a minority right now – [tend to] engage in very simple economic calculations, comparing populations and energy resources.
AR: So where do you see Turkey going on this issue?
NG: The Turkish prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] has said over and over again in April and in May that there would be no normalization with Armenia until there is resolution in Karabakh. He said that so many times in so many different environments that it is difficult to conceive that he could do something that would be totally detached.
What he could do is spin some kind of development on Karabakh – that may not necessarily be a major development – as one more important than it really is and say, OK, this justifies a step toward Armenia. And there could be more steps like that, starting with establishment of diplomatic relations.
But it would be politically very difficult to disconnect [Armenia-Turkey relations] from Karabakh.
AR: What was then the purpose of the April 22 declaration by Armenia, Switzerland, and Turkey? Was it just a kind of "cease-fire" agreement to try to preempt "bad" resolutions in foreign parliaments?
NG: Turkey might hope that the "road map" would serve as a disincentive for some countries to pass genocide resolutions. Some people in Turkey might think that that might serve that purpose.
But whoever signs that paper on behalf of Armenia, be it president or foreign minister, does not have the authority to prevent the diaspora in the rest of the world from acting.
So, if that is the intention, then it is not realistic. But I don't think that is the only intention either. I would like to think that there is more to it than that.