In defense of recent remarks made by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan that were considered by Turkish officials an encouragement for young students to fulfill the task of their generation and occupy eastern Turkey, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan rejected the interpretation, saying Sarksyan's words were “interpreted out of context.”
“I believe Turks failed to read the full text, interpreting the president's words out of context. Serzh Sarksyan's statement is serious and reasonable,” Kocharyan was quoted as saying in a news report by Armenian news web portal Panarmenian.net on Wednesday. Claiming that all the attention to the remarks, which he called “hysteria” in his statement, was created by Turkey, Kocharyan suggested that Turkey refuses to make sense of the remarks on eastern Turkey “because the country [Turkey] does not need to do so."
The argument was initiated when Sarksyan replied to a question from a student whether “Western Armenia,” including Mount Ağrı (Mount Ararat), would ever be united with the rest of Armenia, saying that the success of this task depended on future Armenian generations. “When it was necessary, in the beginning of the 1990s, to defend a part of our fatherland -- Karabakh -- from the enemy, we did it,” said the Armenian leader in a justification of the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an issue still awaiting resolution, and repeated that “each generation has its responsibilities and they have to be carried out with honor.”
Sarksyan's words sparked harsh criticism from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who responded harshly during a joint press conference with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan's capital Baku, condemning the remarks. He called them a “historic mistake” that should be corrected. Erdoğan stated that the remarks amount to an invitation to schoolchildren to occupy eastern Turkish lands which Armenia considers their historical homeland. The significance for Armenians of Mount Ağrı stems from a belief that the Armenians first adopted Christianity as an official religion in A.D. 301 in the area surrounding the mountain, which is now located on the eastern Turkish border with Armenia.
On Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a written statement strongly condemning Sarksyan's remarks, which they interpreted as an “indication that Mr. Sarksyan has no intention of working for peace,” adding that “it is the responsibility of statesmen to prepare their societies, particularly their youth, for a peaceful future instead of provoking them into adopting an ideology of hate.”
Meanwhile, Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış also stated on Wednesday that Sarksyan's remarks show that he does not comprehend the peaceful hand Turkey has extended to his country. “What Sarksyan has done was shoot himself in the foot. We hope the best response to Sarksyan's delusion is given to him by the Armenian youth,” Bağış told the Anatolia news agency.
Two years ago, Turkey and Armenia were on the verge of signing a twin protocol aimed at normalization between the two countries and establishing diplomatic ties, but the parties failed to agree on preconditions, which ended up blocking the path to normalization.
On a separate note, Armenia has held the upper hand over the thorny Nagorno-Karabakh issue since the country occupied the landlocked region inside Azerbaijani borders in 1994. The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region is still awaiting the outcome of an international project for a solution, supervised by the Minsk Group, founded in 1992 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States. The efficiency and legitimacy of the Minsk Group has been disputed as Azerbaijan has, at times, pointed to a biased attitude of the chairing countries, which host populous Armenian diasporas, and to the fact that the Minsk Group has failed, for almost two decades, to come up with an effective solution. Armenia is currently in possession of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory.