The French impasse in Turkish-Armenian relations

The most important thing that French President Nicolas Sarkozy emphasized during a visit to Yerevan in October 2011 was that France will introduce sanctions against Turkey if it fails to recognize the Armenian genocide by the end of the year.

The Russian media published a number of comments on this move, which was entirely unexpected for many, including the Armenians, because the French’s eagerness to play an ambitious role in the problem between Turkey and Armenia meant they ignored Russia. Advancing France’s investments in Armenia, contributing to the construction of a nuclear plant and attracting the support of the Armenians in France for the upcoming presidential election were the reasons for this bold move.

Unlike American presidents, Sarkozy has been successful at giving the impression that he is a leader who has honored his promises, and despite possible tension with Turkey, he made the move to make the genocide legislation that is seeking to criminalize denying that the forceful deportation of Armenians by Ottoman rulers in 1915 was genocide. Even though Turkey’s reaction was directed at France, this reaction also concerns the normalization process of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan noted during a visit to Marseille that Turkey considered itself a European state, and argued that just as Germany bowed to Poland, Turkey, as a European state, could also kneel before the genocide memorial in Yerevan and that this depended on the willingness of the Turkish people, adding that France was a country that best understood their sufferings and that they were grateful to this nation.

The attitudes of the parties during this process give some hints as to the content of the probable solution to this problem and for this reason, they should be carefully analyzed. Sargsyan’s remarks, during his Marseille visit, unlike regular discourse about the genocide, are more inspired by the ongoing change in Armenian foreign policy and the increased role and influence of European states in the region. As the US appears to be more influential in the Caucasus, we have also witnessed that the EU is playing a more aggressive role in the region through intergovernmental negotiations and concrete projects. This means closer contact for Armenia with the EU member states and improvement of bilateral relations. The steps taken towards this end confirm the rapprochement between Armenia and the EU. In November, Armenia opened embassies in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Latvia and made contact with countries that it was to establish bilateral relations with for the first time. In visits by Armenian diplomats to European states, the need to improve relations has been stressed. Sargsyan has also paid a visit to the Pope, underlining that relations between the Vatican and Echmiadzin should be established.

Turkey’s Attitude

Armenia’s economic cooperation in different fields with European countries aims to address the concerns held by Armenia with respect to Turkey and Iran. Armenia, which has declared it will remain neutral in case of an operation against Iran, has also made additional moves in light of the possibility that its southern border as well may be closed. Former Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan has also underlined that measures should be taken against this danger and that the relevant actors should be called upon. In addition, relations with Georgia are being improved through joint initiatives to make progress in economic cooperation. Recent developments have made Europe focus on the region; and now many experts frequently note that despite it being a former Soviet Union state, Armenia is being influenced by Western lobbyism. Turkey was a popular matter of discussion on the eve of the Armenian parliamentary elections, and the discussions visibly influenced the preference of the voters. Reflections of the criticisms in Armenia and France directed at Turkey are entirely different in the Turkish media because the current Armenian administration is viewed in Armenia as a responsible actor that has done everything it can to make peace with Turkey. However, Turkey’s reactions are presented as Turkish stubbornness and that it does not want peace, which gives the impression that Turkey is the aggressive side. The reaction by Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış to Sargsyan’s speech in Marseille was portrayed as aggressive in the Armenian media, and Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek’s criticisms were condemned by the Republican Party of Armenia, which stated that this was the cliché Turkish discourse that has remained unchanged.

Turkey now needs to change its attitude and produce alternative arguments that will confirm it is not the aggressive party. The first thing to do is to understand and know Armenia better. For Turkey, Armenia should not be a country that is associated with April 24 and the French political moves anymore. The internal and external dynamics of this country should be carefully assessed and a new style should be developed. It is also essential to be aware of the domestic balance of this country as well. Mutual unconstructive statements should also be abandoned for the establishment of a process of dialogue between the parties. Following this, Turkey should also take bold steps to ensure that it is not perceived as the aggressive state. This is the only way to make sure that other states are not involved in the process.

Mehmet Fatih ÖZTARSU

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