On February 14, 2002 the Armenian tricolor was hoisted at Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) headquarters in Istanbul and the Armenian anthem was performed. A similar ceremony had taken place in 1919, when the first Armenian Republic, led by Armenian Revolutionary Federation/Dashnaktsutyun party, opened its embassy in Istanbul.
Arsen Avakian, Armenia’s permanent representative at the BSEC said the 2002 ceremony was on the front pages of all leading Turkish newspapers, describing it as the first step on the way of establishment diplomatic relations between the two nations. “There were also opposite views, which argued that Armenia puts forth territorial claims, that it has problems with Turkey and that opening of an Armenian representation under such conditions was a clear demonstration of the weakness of Turkish diplomacy,” he said.
Arsen Avakian is an expert in Turkish affairs; he defended his doctoral thesis on the Role of Circassian Element in the Ottoman Empire and Kemalist Turkey. In an interview with the daily Azg that took place in Istanbul Mr. Avakian said that Armenian representation is not in Turkey but with a regional economic organization, headquartered there. All other BSEC member countries, which have diplomatic relations with Turkey, have appointed their consuls in Istanbul or ambassadors, seated in Ankara, to represent their countries in the organization.
“The main function of the Armenian representation here is to protect Armenia’s interests and to take every opportunity to promote consolidation of its role in it,” he said. Though Armenia and Turkey have no diplomatic relations, Avakian said that as an expert in Turkish affairs (his wife is also an expert in Turkish) affairs, he does not have any psychological problems, and the job gives him a unique opportunity to look at the country from “inside.”
“The past has certainly left after-pains in every Armenian’s heart, and willy-nilly I feel it too, especially when the issue of Armenia genocide (which the Turkish society rejects) appears high on media’s agenda,” he said.
Avakian said that the absence of diplomatic relation with Azerbaijan (another BSEC member country) and Turkey affects the multi-lateral cooperation within the organization. Azerbaijan’s representative often tries to politicize the organization’s work bringing forth political claims; this naturally is opposed by Armenia. “The continued blockade of Armenia by Turkey has certainly a negative impact on BSEC activity,” he added.
Agreeing that the establishment of BSEC was a USA initiative and that the leading role in it was reserved for Washington’s regional ally Turkey to boost its expansion over the Balkans, the Caucuses and through it over to Central Asia after the fall of the former USSR, Mr. Avakian said that in the last ten years of its existence the organization has developed into a strong structure, but the unfolded developments displayed that the meant countries appeared to be against such expansion. Secondly, Turkey does not possess sufficient resources to play a weighty economic role, say in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. During a visit to Ankara Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev declared that his country had enough resources to make investments in Turkish economy.
Mr. Avakian agreed with a widely floated idea that improvement of relations with Armenia is not high on Turkish foreign policy agenda. “ The main priority is to seek membership in the EU, coming next are Iraq and Turkey’s role in this region on the whole. The US-Turkey military cooperation seems to be doubted,” he said adding that though Turkish-Armenian relations are not a priority for Ankara, it does not mean that it has not developed a relevant strategy.
“Armenian-Turkish relations are a complex unit, linked to very sensitive and key issues, which are put forth not only by Armenians. Turkey has to take into account the issue of Armenian genocide in its relationship with the EU, the issue of Armenian genocide and its blockade while relating with the USA, but question of Turkish-Armenian relations is not overestimated in Turkey. Turkish political circles cannot clearly imagine how comprehensive solutions could be found having in view the factor of Azerbaijan, the issue of Genocide, ” he said.
According to Avakian, the new one-party government of Erdogan, the first such one over the recent 15 years, has the majority in parliament and naturally more possibilities to regulate current problems. “Erdogan and his government announced that they are willing to normalize relations with Armenia, but there are no strategic changes and the same political line that was in 1991 is being pursued. Change are of tactical nature with the strategy remaining unaltered,” he said.
By Tatul Hakobian in Istanbul