Davutoğlu’s Yerevan visit

Davutoğlu’s Yerevan visit

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Yerevan on Thursday for a meeting of the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation has stirred quite a debate in Armenia, judging by Vercihan Ziflioğlu’s article in Monday’s Hürriyet Daily News.

Many in that country say this visit is part of Turkey’s “2015 maneuvers.” 

The reference is to the anniversary of the 1915 events, which Armenians and many in the West and elsewhere consider to be the year when Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks. Turks deny this saying they suffered as much during World War One, the difference being that they ultimately came out victorious in Anatolia.

The belief among hardline Armenians is that 2015 is going to be the watershed year when Turkey is finally put in the dock and made to atone for systematically denying the genocide. Those who believe this say that anything Turkey does today that may appear positive vis-à-vis Turkish-Armenian ties is merely a ploy to ensure that Armenian plans for 2015 fail. 

Born in the 1950s my generation has lived with the “Armenian problem” since an old Armenian gunned down the Turkish consul and his young deputy in Los Angeles in 1973. We knew nothing about what happened in 1915 before that. The killing of the Turkish diplomats in 1973, however, changed all that. 

It also marked the start of a campaign of terrorism by Armenians that left a large number of Turkish diplomats or members of their families dead. Seeing Armenians hammering their point home with bullets also killed off any chance of empathy among Turks for Armenian suffering in the past, making “the blood feud of the century,” as one Turkish historian has called it, even more intractable. 

Many Turks continue to see that campaign of terror as confirmation that whatever Armenians may have suffered in the past, this did not transpire in a vacuum. Some even see divine retribution in the fact that Turks ultimately came out victorious in Anatolia against all odds, the country having ended World War One on its knees.

Nearly a century later Turks and Armenians remain locked in a zero-sum game. For one side to win the other must lose. In the meantime, all international efforts to force Turkey into the corner on this score have also failed, notwithstanding the diplomatic headaches these have caused for Ankara. 

Turkey withstood these pressures in the 1980s and 1990s mainly due to its strategic placing during the Cold War, which it used as counter-pressure against countries that were coming down on it over the Armenian issue. The Cold War is over but Turkey’s importance for the West has not diminished. 

Landlocked and resource-poor Armenia, on the other hand, has generated little strategic and economic value since gaining independence from the Soviet Union. Armenia’s war with oil-rich Azerbaijan, whose regional clout continues to grow, has not helped. This problem is preventing the activation of the Zurich Protocols signed between Ankara and Yerevan in 2009, although this is not the only reason why these protocols remain dead letters. 

Armenians are a proud people, no less so than the Turks, and will refuse to bow to pressures that leave them looking as if they have caved into Turkey. There has to be a way to break this cycle if these two nations are to be reconciled, if indeed they want to be.

One hopes (against hope unfortunately) that Davutoğlu’s visit will produce some positive results on the bilateral level. Judging by what some in that country are saying, however, and the continuing cultural animosity among Turks towards Armenians, which has increased due to the Karabakh issue, it is hard to be optimistic. 

It seems 2015 will have to pass before anything new can even be considered between these two estranged nations, even if daily contacts between ordinary Turks and Armenians are increasing, and a growing number of Turks are coming around to realizing that genocidal events did occur in 1915.