POLITICS > ‘Armenian diaspora needs to see the change in Turks’ approach to 1915’

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

What happened to Armenians in Anatolia in 1915 is no longer a taboo in Turkey and there is open discussion about it, says expert Aybars Görgülü. The Armenian diaspora needs to realize this change, and Turkey should establish dialogue mechanisms with all segments of the diaspora, he adds

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Any government in Turkey that opens borders with Armenia without first convincing Azerbaijan will be committing political suicide, says Aybars Görgülü, adding that Baku has more leverage on Ankara than vice versa.  DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Any government in Turkey that opens borders with Armenia without first convincing Azerbaijan will be committing political suicide, says Aybars Görgülü, adding that Baku has more leverage on Ankara than vice versa. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Barçın Yinanç Barçın Yinanç barcin.yinanc@hurriyet.com.tr

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s recent visit to Yerevan has revived hopes for the normalization of ties between Turkey and Armenia, which currently have no diplomatic relations. However, frustrated by the failure of the 2009 reconciliation process, Armenians will approach any new initiative more cautiously, according to Aybars Görgülü, program officer at the Foreign Policy Program of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV).

The role of the Armenian diaspora is particularly important and Ankara should establish dialogue with all segments of it, Görgülü said, adding that the diaspora also needed to realize the change in the Turks’ approach to what happened in 1915.

What was the picture on Turkish–Armenian relations prior to Davutoğlu’s trip?

Relations have been deadlocked since 2009, as the protocols [to normalize relations] that were signed were not later approved. Azerbaijan was a crucial blocker. The borders between Armenia and Turkey remain closed. Davutoğlu saw an opportunity to make a goodwill gesture, but no big expectations should be anticipated from this visit.

You are convinced that the process was blocked by Baku?

This is one of the primary reasons. When both sides negotiated the texts of the protocols, Nagorno Karabakh was not on the paper. Although I’m sure the diplomats discussed the issue, it was not presented as a precondition. But after the signing, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the two issues were linked, and Nagorno Karabakh is now a strong pre condition.

Apparently the failure of the process has created a loss of confidence in Armenia.

Definitely. The signing of the protocols created a good atmosphere, but the failure of the process has created huge disappointment. When we talk to our counterparts in Armenian civil society they blame Turkey. I think both sides have made mistakes, but I think Turkey has a bigger role.

What made Davutoğlu go to Yerevan?

There are a couple of reasons. 2015 is approaching. In the past two years there has been almost no official contact, and not going there would also have been problematic. Turkey wants to open a new channel of dialogue with Armenia before 2015, to give the international community the message that Turkey is not isolating Armenia and that the two are on speaking terms. For example, Davutoğlu said the deportation [the decision that led to the death of Armenians] was “inhumane.” The message he gave was for 2015. He underlined the humanitarian dimension.

The fact that Turkey’s initiatives were triggered by the approach of 2015 probably makes Armenians more intransigent, doesn’t it?

Armenians don’t trust Turkey’s motives. They approach it with suspicion because they believe that Turkey wants to launch an initiative with 2015 in mind. So they will approach another round of initiatives coming from Turkey with caution. They don’t want to be involved in a reconciliation process that will bear no results in the end. But the important thing about 2015, apart from the diplomatic initiative, is what Turkey will actually do about 1915.

Will Turkey apologize? Will a government official make a statement creating empathy for the tragedy? Or build a statue? I think all the options are being evaluated in Ankara. Everyone is expected Turkey to do something. From the signals we receive, Turkey is doing something defensive to answer allegations, but it is also getting prepared for other types of activities. An apology is difficult, but it may be something to create empathy, which is key to reconciliation with Armenia. There needs to be a remedy, otherwise something will be missing.

What came of Davutoğlu’s visit?

Davutoğlu made an important declaration, saying the deportation was “inhumane.” Turkey should continue diplomacy with Azerbaijan to find common ground, as Davutoğlu also said there were three actors in this game. Although I don’t know exactly how much leverage Turkey has on Azerbaijan, Baku has more leverage on Ankara than vice versa.

What makes you say that?

There is increasing interdependency between the two, particularly with the Trans-Anatolian pipeline project [which will carry Azeri oil to Europe via Turkey], and a new gas deal. There is increasing foreign direct investment from Azerbaijan. In 2008 there was a problematic period; the gas deal was over and both sides started harsh negotiations on the pricing of gas and the transit fee. All the brotherhood and fraternity rhetoric was put aside and both sides prioritized national interests. At this stage, the [Armenian] protocol process came up, and Azerbaijan used the energy card very harshly against Turkey. After that point, Baku understood one thing and said: We have to invest more in Turkey, we have to get closer to Turkey in order to prevent another road accident. Baku would not let Turkey have a second round of rapprochement with Yerevan, unless it is offered something interesting, like the withdrawal of Armenian soldiers from occupied Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabakh.

Any government in Turkey that opens borders without convincing Baku will be committing political suicide. Not only will it not win votes inside, but it will be losing a neighboring country that is investing in you and is rich in natural resources. It would basically be a stupid move.

We are approaching the end of an era. Since the end of the Cold War, Azerbaijan has been at the center of Turkey’s policy in the Caucasus. This is now consolidated. The direct result of this is the exclusion of Armenia. Of course, Armenia is a problem and Turkey will try to fix it, but currently Azerbaijan and Georgia are the two axes Turkey is building its regional policy on and Armenia is out of his picture.

What is the likelihood of reviving the protocols?

Going back to the protocols is not an option; they are not in the refrigerator, but rather they are dead. Both sides need to develop new diplomatic tools, new mechanisms. And the international community should pressure Baku, Yerevan and Moscow. Armenia is excluded from the Western camp, and it will be much closer to Russia, especially if it joins the customs union with Russia.

Why does the Armenian diaspora in the West not mind Armenia coming into the Russian sphere of influence?

The diaspora does not really know Armenia. They are just beginning to get to know Armenia. The diaspora’s main task was the recognition of genocide and they spent lots of energy on that. After the Cold War they gave lots of financial aid to Armenia but they did not much care about what is going on in Armenia’s politics. Also, the diaspora does not have that much leverage on Yerevan anyway. But now the new generation of the diaspora is going to Armenia to work, to live. These kinds of people experienced open society, and will object to that [the Russian sphere of influence]. So the only chance Armenia has is the young Armenian diaspora. Otherwise, Armenia will only become more authoritarian.

There is a lot of change in the Turks’ approach to 1915, but this isn’t much known by the diaspora either.

1915 is no longer a taboo. The assassination of [Turkish Armenian journalist] Hrant Dink was a crucial turning point. People started discovering what happened in 1915, and we can openly discuss what happened to Armenians living in Anatolia and their heritage. Of course, the old mentalities do not change quickly, but the Justice and Development Party government is also open to this change of rhetoric. They are open to discussing all the dimensions of the problem. This does not mean that they will recognize or apologize, but at least they are not disturbed that 1915 is being discussed and that there are different opinions. Right now you can publicly state that it was genocide and you don’t end up in jail. The Armenian diaspora needs to realize that Turkey is not the Turkey of 10 years ago, and Turkey should explain that to the diaspora as well. Turkey should get in touch and create dialogue mechanisms with all segments of the Armenian diaspora.

Who is Aybars Görgülü?

Aybars Görgülü serves as program officer at the Foreign Policy Program of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV).

Dr. Görgülü received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Istanbul’s Sabancı University in 2013, and previously got his M.A. in diplomacy and international relations from the University of Clermont-Ferrand, France and his B.A. in Social and Political Sciences from Sabancı University.

Görgülü’s academic interest is in Turkey’s foreign policy and the Caucasus region, and he actively participates

in civil society efforts aiming to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia. Görgülü has published on Turkey-Armenia relations, Turkey’s South Caucasus policies, and Turkish foreign policy.

His publications have appeared as TESEV monographs, in edited volumes, and in academic as well as popular journals.


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Notice on comments

V Tiger

12/17/2013 7:06:32 PM

I & 99% of the Armenians & as a diaspora Armenian & a 2nd generation of Genocide survivors,I can see very clearly the changes that are happening in Turkey.If these changes are considered to be positive to Armenians then it should also be considered positive to the Turks who are at last coming into terms with their real history.However we waiting for concrete results.We were the ones who were uprooted by killings & ethnic cleansing from our 4000 years homeland & been homeless ever since.

Ninika A-va

12/17/2013 3:56:10 AM

@Tevfik Alp 12/16/2013 4:10:20 AM you are right. the "New Turkey" under the guidance of AKP now has new allies: Greeks, Armenians, the Syrian opposition and muslim brothers in Egypt...

Erik Johansson

12/16/2013 11:26:46 PM

Allowing an open discussion about 1915 may seem as a small step, but should not be underestimated. A process has started and if it is allowed to continue freely, the truth will become widely known, sooner or later.

turkic voice

12/16/2013 10:39:23 PM

this is so one sided, im interested in what Armenians have to say to the Alevis, Turks, Kurds and pro loyal Armenians that suffered murder and terror at the hands of the revolting Armenians through eastern Turkey thousands and thousands children women men and elderly were killed without provocation this all happened before the relocation was ordered (so called Genocide) this is the causes for the relocation of the Armenian community. what is sad we Turks are inert presenting our side of events

Ata Dizdar

12/16/2013 9:50:46 PM

Landos, the problem with the rest of the western world is that people there have been hearing ONE side of the issue for decades and decades, whether by political lobbying or by terrorist attacks on Turkish diplomats and historians who dissent with the Armenian side of events.

Farakan Mahmoud

12/16/2013 6:03:02 PM

Why should Turkey worry about Azerbaijan, if Turkey needs Azerbiaja, Azerbaijan needs Turkey, without Turkey Azerbiajan is an isolated country.


12/16/2013 3:20:25 PM

Turks know what happened in 1915 pretty well I think. It is Armenians that I find rather clueless about their past, they think the hate pumped into them by Armenian Church and their personal stories make up the reality. Where is their opposing views, where is their lone voice? There can be none since the same machine has washed their brains and they would not dare challenge their revolutionaries, they are pretty ruthless bunch. If only this was about facts and figures, it is not.

Alex Morua

12/16/2013 2:32:33 PM

Yeah, Turkish and Azieri government played very unprpofessional chess game, forcing Armenia to sign customs union membership MOU. In case Turkey has opened the borders , I think by now we will have another geopolitical situation benefitted by Armenian, Turks and Azeris. After Armenia became a member of customs union, it wil adapt another tactic in negotionions with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Ulviya Guliyeva

12/16/2013 1:41:32 PM

The interview oddly contains not a word regarding the genocide committed by Armenia itself in Karabakh in the 1990s. Every year, all over Armenia, people burn and outrage Turkish flags, the Armenian society is steeped in hatred for Turkey and the Turks. In fact, the word "Turk" is used as an oath in Armenia.

syncope s

12/16/2013 1:21:46 PM

It's clear that Armenia can do only things Russia allows them to do. So, Armenia doesn't decide if to develop ties with Turkey or not. Russia just uses Armenia (as it happened once in the beggining of XX) to make a pressure on Turkish government. Alas Armenia still gets it not.
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