Turkish student travels the Caucasus, lands in Armenia

Turkish student Mehmet Fatih Öztarsu, who calls himself an idealist, set out directly for the Caucasus. His first stop was the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. Having characterized Azerbaijan as a “kindred country,” he studied international relations at Baku’s Caucasus University. After his education, while pursuing his research in Georgia, he decided to cross over to the other side of the border, passing into Armenia.

A few months ago, after moving to Yerevan, Öztarsu, while taking private courses in “East Armenian” from a teacher at Yerevan’s State University, started writing articles for a newspaper called “Aravod” (Armenian for morning). East Armenian is a term used for the dialect of Armenian spoken in Armenia and Iran today. It differs from the dialect of Armenian used primarily by Armenians in Istanbul and diaspora members in France, the United States and around the world. It is generally referred to as “West Armenian.”

On of the events of 1915 and the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Öztarsu’s opinions differ from the general consensus in Armenia; still, he thinks nobody will benefit from the closed Turkish-Armenia border.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of its close ally Azerbaijan in a conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. A flashpoint of Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh is a constituent part of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia since the end of 1994, after a war between the two countries.

Learning East Armenian

Öztarsu recently commented on his experiences living abroad in Azerbaijan and Armenia in an e-mail exchange with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Asked how a Turkish international relations student arrived at the decision to go to Armenia after studying in Baku, Öztarsu said it is important for Turks to learn about Armenia and its language.

“The Armenian language is an important issue for Turkey. Without diplomats, journalists or researchers who know this language, it is not possible for Turkey to understand Armenia or its political genesis,” Öztarsu told the Daily News. “With regards to my approach, I received support from both my acquaintances in Ankara and Baku. In addition, Armenian youths are also learning Turkish.”

When Öztarsu first went to Armenia he was worried that he might encounter problems as a Turk on his first visit to Armenia, but he said he was very well greeted.

Asked why he would learn the East Armenian dialect that is spoken in Armenia and Iran, rather than the West Armenian dialect spoken in Istanbul and among the diaspora, Öztarsu noted that, as a Caucasus scholar, it is important for him to connect directly with Armenians living in Armenia.“If I had learned West Armenian in France or the U.S., I would have had trouble establishing a dialogue with Armenian people. Experts on diaspora Armenians who moved to Yerevan could only speak West Armenian and therefore they had to write in English. I, as a Caucasus expert, primarily want to understand Armenia,” said Öztarsu.West Armenian is the name given to Modern Armenian spoken in Istanbul in the 20th century. Today, the language is taught at schools and spoken by all Turkish Armenians. East Armenian, on the other hand, is spoken in Armenia and by Iranian Armenians. Despite differences between the two Armenian dialects, many consider the two to be mutually intelligible. Provided that someone knows about the differences between these two dialects, one would not be impeded in establishing dialogue.

“Turkey cannot remain indifferent”

“Nationalists in Armenia believe that Turkey woke up one morning and destroyed all the Armenians. Actually there are few people who know what happened in 1915. There is no one who knows what happened prior and what happened after,” said Öztarsu. “We are trying to overcome this; we say that this issue is not an every day issue. The fundamental reasons are Russia and Britain.”

Asked who has so far benefited from Armenia’s foreign policy to pressure Turkey and build up the Karabakh issue, Öztarsu suggested that no country, with the exception of Iran, was benefiting from the status quo.

“Iran is benefiting from the borders remaining closed. They have set up a powerful trade network in the region. They have even laid claim to the Turkish mosque in Yerevan.”Öztarsu also offered his opinions on the Karabakh issue.“Karabakh was occupied by Armenia. We must not interpret the revolt of an autonomous region and Armenia’s maneuver to turn it to its advantage, as a simple ‘fight for territory.’ There are other regions occupied in Azerbaijan. Almost 1 million Azeris are in exile. While these people have to endure these heavy conditions, Turkey can’t remain indifferent.”

Criticism for OSCE

To solve the OSCE’s Minsk Group’s problem, Öztarsu suggested bringing the sides together.

“The Minsk Group, at a number of unknown gatherings are preventing Turkey’s affairs from being included,” Öztarsu said.

The Minsk Group was set up in 1992 to find a political solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan. The group, co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation and the United States, has frequently come under attack as being overly biased regarding the dispute.

“Armenia must adopt a realistic approach on the Karabakh issue. However, solving the Karabakh problem is not only in Armenia’s hands.”

In 2008, Turkish President Abdullah Gül went to the Armenian capital of Yerevan to watch the Turkish and Armenian national football teams play each other. The move, nicknamed “football diplomacy,” intended to put the past to rest in bilateral relations and accelerate a dialogue process.

Following that, protocols aimed at normalization of relations were signed but could not be carried out.

“We have to solve our problems without anyone else intervening. Using the 1915 lobbying process as a tool is not useful; it is necessary to set up a dialogue between Ankara and Yerevan,” said Öztarsu.

Vercihan Ziflioğlu / Hurriyet Daily News


You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress | Designed by: Free Web Space | Thanks to Best CD Rates, Boat Insurance and software download