Yerevan – There had been much honest anticipation in Yerevan and beyond that once parliamentary elections in Turkey are successfully won by the ruling AK Party, the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement would be back on track. However, the high hopes still remain unfulfilled, while new misunderstandings emerge on both sides.
Of course, one may argue that the domestic agenda in Turkey, i.e. the bleeding Kurdish issue and housing Syrian refugees, make a troubled climate in post-election Turkey. Adding to this, emerging authority of Turkey in the wider region after quarrelling with Israel over the flotilla incident, obvious breakup with Syria, internationally visible benign neglect of Turkey’s “willingness to help” with Libya and, finally, stalemate with Armenia – have effectively damaged the “zero problems with neighbors” policy. Sometimes I even mistype it as “zero sum” policy recently.
While other major issues are of political nature, the standoff with the Armenians has a difficult history, which has come to a new phase after Armenia reestablished the Republic 20 years ago. While Turkey was prompt to recognize Armenia’s independence in 1991, it failed to establish diplomatic relations despite behind-the-scene high-level talks. This phase of “opportunity” wavered away after Turkey fully sealed the border in April 1993 in support of its “stepbrother” Azerbaijan.
When Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan publicized the rapprochement process and shook hands with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, it was sincerely backed by many world leaders, who commended their vision, even stood behind the table when signing the historical Zurich protocols in October 2009.
Though being supported by President Gul, the whole process bore totally different vision by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who went on the record in Chatham House early April 2009 almost rejecting any deal with Armenia and putting down knowingly impossible preconditions. Some critics even argued then that Mr Erdogan was not on the same page with President Gul and didn’t share the positive vision about “Armenian opening”, favoring Azerbaijan more.
When US State Secretary Hillary Clinton paid a visit to Turkey recently on Libyan Contact Group meeting, her extra agenda included items on Caucasus politics – both Nagorno-Karabakh issue and the future of “publicly frozen” rapprochement process with Armenia, in which she invested much time and effort. This was a good opportunity to show that this issue hasn’t been swept out from international agenda.
Shortly after after, several Armenian NGO representatives were received by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davudoglu in Ankara, which gave an impression Turkey may be returning to rapprochement track soon.
However, what has been evolving recently in the public domain brings to an objective conclusion that the standstill in the rapprochement process should be blamed on the lack of empathy on both sides.
The words of President Serge Sargsyan to Armenian youths at the holiday resort of Tsakhkadzor created a real hurricane in Turkey. As the Foreign Ministry, AK Party and Mr Erdogan (while visiting Baku) came down on Armenia harshly, I doubted that Turkish authorities have in fact examined what it is the Armenian president said.
In reality, of course if Turkish officials care about the reality, President Sargsyan answered a schoolkid that the future of homeland depends on coming generations (as for any other nation), and elaborated: “…if your peers would put best effort and energy… we will have one of the best countries in the world. Believe me, in most cases not the size of the territory determines the weight of the country.”
President Sargsyan said that each generation had to meet its own duties and challenges and while his generation was forced to save the people of Karabakh, the others would meet their responsibilities with dignity in the future. He argued that a successful state should be “modern, secure and prospering” to be on par with other developed nations.
This was his ultimate call to the new generation in the room, and nothing more or less.
I will be surprised if the newly reelected leaders in Turkey would not sign on to such a statement in relation to their own country, if they are true leaders. However, this time again they acted like politicians…
*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article was published by Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News on July 30, 2019.