Has Armenia set preconditions for normalization?

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Yerevan, where he participated in a meeting of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) on Dec. 12, provided some insights into the current state of Turkish-Armenian relations.

The negative statements and publications from both political and civilian sources in Armenia during the visit showed Armenia’s persistent suspicion and distrust of Turkey. The Armenian authorities, who announced two days before the visit that a meeting between Davutoğlu and President Serzh Sarksyan would not be possible, added that a meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan might occur. In addition, as reported in the Armenian media, Nalbandyan was not pleased about the meeting and did not adopt a welcoming approach before Davutoğlu’s visit to Yerevan.

The ministers’ meeting was covered differently by media outlets in Turkey and Armenia. Unlike Turkish reports, which suggested that this was a constructive meeting, the Armenian media took a negative view and argued that Turkey was just making a show of diplomacy.

A new political approach from the Armenians appears to have influenced the negative stance towards Turkey in this period. After Davutoğlu’s remark, “We do not endorse deportation and find it inhuman,” it is obvious that the reason for the Armenians’ indifference and coldness is that they have already suspended the normalization process with Turkey.  

The most important aspect of the Yerevan visit, which became a source of disappointment for Ankara despite its potential as a new start in relations with Armenia, is that the Armenian authorities have seriously criticized Turkey for the first time since President Abdullah Gül’s visit to Armenia during a World Cup pre-qualifier match that pitted Turkey against Armenia in October, 2009. Ankara, which focuses on the opening of the Armenian border and the improvement of bilateral relations, was urged to recognize the so-called Armenian genocide and open the border. In other words, Armenia cites Turkish recognition of the alleged genocide as a precondition for the normalization of relations. Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan stressed that Davutoğlu should visit the genocide memorial and recognize the so-called genocide in order to normalize the relations. As part of this new discourse, Yerevan is calling on Ankara to recognize the alleged genocide committed by the Ottoman state against Armenians in Turkey. The Armenian authorities argue that once this has been admitted, Turkey will have proven that it is a state with humanitarian values, while they ask it to stay away from the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and avoid an aggressive stance on that matter.  

Similar views were expressed in both the opposition and the ruling party in Armenia, while members of the Armenian diaspora strongly criticized Turkey. The diaspora, arguing that Turkey would force Yerevan to enter a process of normalization, said that Turkey should recognize the Armenian genocide. But the diaspora’s negative attitude worsened the overall situation between Turkey and Armenia. Turkey’s greatest mistake in this matter is the impression that it has linked normalization and the 2015 anniversary of the alleged genocide. Describing Armenia as a potential ally and referring to the Ottoman-era deportations of Armenians as a failing of the past administration will not lead to positive results, given that Armenia seems to have begun an all-out war on normalization. There are now systematic and organized attempts from the Armenian side to demonstrate that the Turkish Republic was responsible for these events. Therefore, the Armenians aim to ensure that Turkey cannot distance itself from the events of 1915. It is also notable that, compared to Turkey, the Armenians have a greater ability to influence and convince the world. Therefore, Turkey, which has not been heard on a number of issues including the Treaties of Kars and Moscow, Operation Nemesis, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia’s (ASALA) terrorism and the massacres in Nagorno-Karabakh, cannot counter Armenia’s organized attempts.  

It is clear that the Armenian side is in a better position than Turkey in this dispute. It is unfortunate that Turkey fails to understand Armenia or the diaspora while expressing itself to the international community. However, despite these facts, Turkey is still attempting to create new political initiatives due to its overconfidence. For instance, recent foreign studies related to the issue of Islamized Armenians have led to a very different interpretation of the Armenian issue. The problem became more intricate, and new issues emerged as a result. But Turkey has kept its focus on a single dimension of the issue, as through this it hopes to escape the issue of deportations. However, this is unlikely to generate the result it desires. In this new era, Turkey will have to face a number of new conditions for normalization with the Armenians in association with the deportations. 

Mehmet Fatih ÖZTARSU

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