Time for Turkey and Armenia to act

Time for Turkey and Armenia to act

The commemorations of the “Armenian centenary” will pass, leaving anger on the Turkish side at Pope Francis, the European Parliament, and the German Bundestag for affirming that the Armenian massacres in 1915 were genocide. There will also be relief on the Turkish side that that President Barack Obama did not use the “G-word” – which press reports from Washington indicate will be the case – in his commemorative message to the Armenians on April 24.

The Armenian side, on the other hand, will be pleased about the pope’s Armenian statement and the non-binding resolutions of the European Parliament and the Bundestag. It will, however, be deeply disappointed and angry once again that President Obama, like all previous U.S. presidents, refused to refer to what happened to the Armenians as “genocide.” 

After the centenary passes, this emotional seesaw for both sides will continue as the Armenian genocide debate rages one way or another. This will poison any chance there is of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, even though there are more human contacts between the two nations today than was the case before.

Until Turkey and Armenia, as two independent neighboring and sovereign states, decide to act and break down this seemingly impenetrable wall, reconciliation between Turks and Armenians will ultimately remain elusive. They must, therefore, find a way to return to the road map indicated in the “Zurich protocols” they agreed to in 2009 but failed to implement.

It seems counterproductive in term of the interests of both countries for Armenia to keep trying to force-feed Turkey with its version of history, and for Turkey to stick to its own version of what happened in 1915 while denying all other versions. 

Whether it was a cynical move aimed at influencing Obama’s Armenian message, or had some sincerity in it, the fact is that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s message of condolence to the Armenians issued this week commits Turkey to a new line on the Armenian question.

One of the most important things Davutoğlu said was that it is “both a historical and humane duty for Turkey to uphold the memory of Ottoman Armenians and Armenian cultural heritage.” Upholding the memory of the Armenians will have to include a better understanding of what happened to them in 1915. 
Upholding the memory of Armenian cultural heritage, on the other hand, will mean showing more respect for remnants of Armenian civilization in Anatolia. 

Sticking to these commitments will also help ease tensions between Ankara and Yerevan. It is therefore incumbent on Ankara to prove that Davutoğlu was sincere in this regard. Ankara will also have to stop hiding behind the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

This requires convincing Baku that Turkey values its ties with Azerbaijan, but its interests also require a rapprochement with Armenia. A Turkey that can do this will also be in a position to play a much more effective role in trying to secure peace in the Caucasus.

There are things that Yerevan has to do also if it really wants to move ahead in its ties with Turkey. While retaining its beliefs with regard to 1915, it will have to ensure that this does not act as a wall between itself and Turkey. Arman Grigoryan, who is an assistant professor of international relations at Lehigh University, argued in a piece for the Washington Post on April 17 that Armenia had to move past its hatred of Turkey. 

If Turkey and Armenia can show the courage to do what the world generally expects of them, then this will be a new dawn for both countries. If they can’t, the endless genocide debate, and all the disappointments and unfulfilled expectations tied up with it, will continue indefinitely. 

What Turkey and Armenia have to gain from this is not clear.