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Al-Jazeere: Thaw in Turkey-Armenia relations

Al-Jazeera, Qatar

Dec 21, 2003

Turkish PM Erdogan refuses to acknowledge Armenia’s “genocide”

Despite continuing tensions between Turkey and Armenia over allegations
of a 20th century genocide, the two countries seem to be moving
closer together.

Ankara angrily condemned on 18 December a recent Swiss parliament
vote that recognised Armenian claims about the “genocide”.

Yerevan accuses the Turks of being responsible for the deaths of more
than one and a half million Armenians between 1915 and 1923.

After summoning the Swiss ambassador to the Turkish foreign ministry,
the deputy undersecretary Nabi Sensoy told him the Swiss decision was
“unjust, wrong and not in conformity with the historical facts”.

However, Armenian Ambassador to Switzerland Zograb Mnatsakanyan told
Armenian Public TV: “The Swiss parliament has once again confirmed
its adherence to human values and justice.”

Yet, despite the obvious distance between the two countries’
governments over genocide allegations, recent months have seen
something of a rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan.

Turkish troops

“Both governments want to have normal relations,” said Professor
Edmund Herzig of Manchester University, an acknowledged expert on
Turkish-Armenian affairs.

Earlier this month, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and
Turkish Foreign Minister Abd Allah Gul met for the third time this

“… when the war with Azerbaijan started over Nagorno-Karabakh,
and the Armenians scored military successes, the Turkish government
essentially backed away from them”, Prof Edmund Herzig, Manchester

This marked a “small, but nonetheless positive change”, according to
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian.

Turkey also agreed earlier this year to send troops to Armenia to
take part in joint military exercises with other Caucasian states.

“Back in 1991, Turkey was one of the first countries to recognise
Armenia as independent from the Soviet Union,” said Herzig.

“Trade then opened up between the two countries, but then when the
war with Azerbaijan started over Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Armenians
scored military successes, the Turkish government essentially backed
away from them,” he added.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave inside
Azerbaijan, ended with the Armenians conquering a large swathe of
Azeri territory.

War factor

Impact of Azerbaijan-Armenia war has declined

This was unacceptable to Turkey, which enjoys strong religious, ethnic
and cultural links with Azerbaijan. Ankara broke off diplomatic
relations with Yerevan in 1993 and joined an Azeri blockade of
Armenia’s frontiers.

This has hit trade hard, particularly in Turkey’s depressed eastern
regions along the Armenian frontier.

Now, the only way for trade to continue between the two is via
a third country – normally Georgia. However, Turkey would like to
change this situation.

Speaking back in October, Turkish foreign trade minister Kursad Tuzmen
said: “would like to improve my trade with every neighbouring country,”
when referring directly to Armenia.

“Armenia is the bridge,” said Soyak, “connecting Turkey to Central
Asia. The Kars-Yerevan railway is the only railway that connects
Turkey to Central Asia. This railway was actively working until 1993.”

Turkey is also under pressure from the European Union to normalise its
relations with its eastern neighbour, a major factor given Turkey’s
strong desire to join the EU.

International pressure

The US is also pressuring Turkey to restore diplomatic relations and
open the border.

However, “As long as the Nagorno-Karabakh issue remains unsolved,
” says Herzig, “it’s very hard to see how Turkey can abandon the
Azeri government on this and restore relations”.

Talk of opening the border is greeted with great hostility in
Azerbaijan, with the government in Baku recently saying this would
be seen as a sign of “treachery”.

However, for many of those who are descendants of the survivors of
the 1915-23 events, “the genocide is a crucial aspect of identity.”

Many of these descendants – the Armenian Diaspora – live in the US
and France, where they constitute powerful lobbies.

“The genocide is part of the Armenian Diaspora identity today,
not necessarily for political reasons”, Dr Hratch Tchilingirian,
Cambridge University

“Turkey’s line of straight denial as far as the genocide is concerned
doesn’t convince anybody,” said Herzig. “In fact, it tends to give
the impression that something must have happened.”

While acknowledging many died during forced deportations of Armenians
in 1915-18, the Turkish authorities say this was not the result of
any deliberate – and therefore genocide – policy.

At the same time, “the Armenians also committed many massacres,”
said Professor Mehmet Kulaz of Van’s Yuzuncu Yil University.

Forced deportations

Meanwhile, for many Armenians, questions of regional politics are not
as important as a simple recognition of the fate that befell many of
their ancestors.

“The genocide is part of the Armenian Diaspora identity today, not
necessarily for political reasons,” said Dr Hratch Tchilingirian of
Cambridge University’s Eurasian Programme.

“Nor is it because of anti-Turkish feelings per se. Primarily, it’s
there because its part of family history.” I would say that for the
‘silent majority’ of Armenians, the moral issue comes first.

“They want an acknowledgement that their grandparents and their
relatives were murdered, an apology for a crime committed against a
people by the very government which was supposed to protect them.”

Yerevan alleges one and a half million Armenians were killed by the
Turks during and after the Second World War.

Armenians say Turkey made a land grab for their territory in the
chaos that reigned during the global conflict.

However, Ankara has always fiercely denied the allegations.

Yorumlar kapatıldı.