Armenia-Turkey Relations: is there anything to be done?

While the lingering bitterness of the 1915 Armenian Genocide underlies much of the tension between the modern states of Armenia and Turkey, several key factors have served to exacerbate relations between the nations over the course of the ensuing century[1]. Throughout the Cold War the Armenia – Turkey border has been the meeting point of Soviet and NATO forces and the fact that it must be closed forever has become a fact of life for both societies throughout the past century. The fact that it was open for a short while only to close again in 1993[2] as part of Turkish sanctions[3] against Armenia and its continuous support of Turkish ally Azerbaijan, with which Armenia is engaged in what seems like an endless conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh independence, has further strengthened the perception that the border will never be opened again among Armenians. In fact, not only Armenian observers, but also official Baku, Heydar Aliyev in particular have claimed more then once, that Baku holds the key to Turkish-Armenia relations[4].

From the Turkish perception on the other hand, it must be noted, that in the 1970s, a guerrilla organization, calling itself the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia[5], took to assassinating Turkish diplomats in several European countries. These killings contributed to stoking resentment of ethnic Armenians among Turks, while inciting nationalistic sentiment in Turkey, a feature of the state reflected today in its persistent campaign to deny or rationalize the 1915 massacres of Armenians. The 2007 assassination of Armenian intellectual Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist, and the ensuing scandal in which his killer was exalted as a hero by some government officials while in police custody[6], served as a stark reminder of just how egregious the historical-political tensions remain even today.

Generations after generations have grown with the mentality that the two nations are the deadliest of enemies, and nothing has been undertaken to update the mindsets of the two nations and bring them in sync with the current realities, which are: Armenia and Turkey are neighbor states, and will remain so for the centuries to come. In the Globalized world, where international efforts to face the Millennium Challenges are atop political agenda of most powerful states; where human value and democracy have been declared as the leading principles not only by the international community, but also and especially by the Modern Turkish and Modern Armenian states; the only way forward for all the states in the South Caucasus, the gateway to the island of peace, democracy and prosperity – the European Union, is cooperation, dialog and mutual understanding. Recent EU accession talks with Turkey[7] have highlighted the need for improved relations between Turkey and Armenia and a variety of recent geopolitical developments have put pressure on the two countries to resolve their differences[8]. Official efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey have not resulted in any significant progress towards a border re-opening[9].

It is mostly businessmen on both sides of the border, especially in the regions of Kars in Turkey and Shirak in Armenia, who speak about the importance of border opening, plus some NGOs, who are inspired by a recent round of grants from the Eurasia Foundation(which is naturally pushing for US interests in the region). On the whole however, we have been seeing the negative attitudes grow in both societies especially since the assassination of Hrant Dink. Today more and more often we are seeing publications about the dangers Turkey represents for Armenia, like the one about Dr Khachik Ter-Ghukassian, where in an interview with the PanARMENIAN.Net the Professor of International relations and politics of the Universidad de San Andrés in Buenos Aires is looking at the military-strategic partnerships Turkey is developing with Georgia and Azerbaijan and shifting the focus in its foreign policy to Northern Iraq.

If Turkey’s succeeds in realizing its plans Armenia will be isolated from the world, according to him. “Curiously enough, such state of things is not convenient for the U.S. which insists on opening of the Armenian-Turkish border. However, normalization of relations without preconditions is a dangerous tendency. Turkey doesn’t open the border proceeding from political reasons: the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the Armenian Genocide and absence of fixed border with Armenia. The only legal basis for demarcation of borders is the Sevr Treaty. No agreement signed after Sevr, namely the Kars and Moscow treaties, do not have juridical effect, since the signatory powers stopped their existence as elements of international law. The Sevr Treaty was signed August 10, 1920. Borders with independent Armenia had to be marked by a neutral mediator, namely the United States, according to it,” he said.

“At that we should not forget that Turkey has always been the biggest danger for the Armenian people. This opinion should be shared by the whole nation, both in Armenia and Diaspora. On the other hand, opening of borders can tell on Armenia’s economy. Georgia, where the local industry was destroyed because of the abundant flow of cheap Turkish goods, can serve as an example. Certainly, Armenian economy can’t compete with the Turkish, but we will have an outlet to the world, at least. Although, we are not ready to make a reality of the scenario we will be offered,” he said.

Casting a sober view on the latest developments, I have to acknowledge, that all the beautiful talk about neighborhood, EU integration, possibility to coexist peacefully together and to mutually benefit from bilateral trade seem to fly out of the window once you consider all the latest developments in the region and growing tension not only between the main Caucasian states: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, but also big boys like US, Russia, EU, NATO, Turkey and Iran. So is there anything to be done? Or do we really need to do anything? Today, as I’m writing these lines, I am becoming more and more pessimistic. Turkey indeed represents the greatest danger for Armenia, and even my open-mindedness and unbreakable belief in the importance of Western vector of development in Armenian foreign policy and support for growing EU/NATO integration don’t seem to help here.

 

Bibliography


[1]Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 302-303

[2] http://www.globalheritagefund.org/news/GHF_in_the_news/economist_ties_that_divide_june_17_06.asp

[3] “Central Asia and the Caucasus: transnationalism and diaspora” By Touraj. Atabaki, Published 2005 Routledge, ISBN 0415332605, Page 89

[4] “Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 304

[5] Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression, By Mordechai Nisan, Published 2002, McFarland & Company, ISBN 0786413751, Page 177

[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6335633.stm

[7] “Turkey and the Eu: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership?”, By Harun Arikan, Published 2003, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., ISBN 0754634337, Page 122

[8] “Turkish Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty”, By F. Stephen Larrabee, Ian O. Lesser, Published 2003, Rand Corporation, ISBN 083303281X, Page 106

[9] “Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 304

2 thoughts on “Armenia-Turkey Relations: is there anything to be done?

  1. Reply

    […] While the lingering bitterness of the 1915 Armenian Genocide underlies much of the tension between the modern states of Armenia and Turkey, several key factors have served to exacerbate relations between the nations over the course of … …more […]

  2. Reply
    Independent Observer - 02.10.2007

    Was Sevr Treaty signed by Turkey and Armenia? It was not. And it was signed before the Treaty of Kars and Moscow. Then how can it be the only legal basis for demarcation of borders.

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