Armenians are feeling concerned over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's presidential candidacy and believe that placing centralized power in his hands is a potential threat to the safety and security of Armenians, given his divisive manner of ruling.
Turkey is slated to elect a president by popular vote for the first time on Aug. 10, and parties have been announcing their candidates for the upcoming race. After all other candidates were announced, Erdoğan finally declared that he would be the presidential candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
He is expected to win, and if he does, one result is that he could maintain the power of his 11-year rule in Turkey. It's believed he would continue his authoritarian style, based on his Islamic agenda and divisive rhetoric, although during a televised speech from Ankara on Tuesday he said he would be an “all-embracing president of Turkey.”
Political analyst and Regional Studies Center founder Richard Giragosian told Sunday's Zaman from Yerevan that Erdoğan is a dynamic and popular political figure in Turkey, but that he is also polarizing.
"He is often using extremely aggressive and bellicose language when referring to the Armenians or Armenian issue," Giragosian said.
Erdoğan, constantly using abusive and insulting language towards minorities and "the other," is well-known for his provocative style and the pejorative remarks he has made against Armenians, Jews and the Rum (ethnic Anatolian and İstanbul Greeks).
Giragosian thinks that although the prime minister's rhetoric and what he calls “aggressive” remarks are not limited to only Armenians -- such words have been directed at Israelis and the West on different platforms -- “He is perceived as a pronounced ally of Azerbaijan and a foe of the Armenians, even despite his April 24 statement."
This was an official statement in which he offered his condolences to Armenians for the events of 1915, which the Armenians view as a genocide of their people. Erdoğan referred to the period as having wrought "inhumane consequences."
Turkey enjoys good political and economic relations with Azerbaijan, its strategic partner. They share common ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for more than two decades now, as the two neighboring countries have not been able to reach an agreement over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict . The conflict erupted in the early 1990s over a mountainous enclave within Azerbaijan that has a majority Armenian population, and Armenian-backed forces seized it and seven surrounding Azerbaijani districts. Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, which lost 14 percent of its territory during the conflict.
The issue of Armenia's withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven adjacent territories is of importance to Ankara, which has frequently signaled that the opening of the border with Armenia would be possible via the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Tense relations between Turkey and Armenia are not just limited to closed borders, though. They rest on a century-long conflict due to the 1915 events, which are highly disputed for both nations. Turks accept that many Armenians died in 1915, but they deny that this number is as high as 1.5 million and instead have a death toll of about 500,000. Turks say that the events do not constitute an act of genocide, a term that is used not only by Armenians world-wide but also Western politicians, officials, and historians.
As Giragosian mentioned, on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the 1915 events, Prime Minister Erdoğan for the first time in Turkey's history offered condolences to the families of the Armenians who went through the tragic events of those years. Using conciliatory language, Erdoğan called the 1915 event “inhumane,” a statement that was not accepted by all Armenians unilaterally. Though gently welcomed by Turkish Armenians, Erdoğan's words were harshly criticized by the Armenian government, with President Serzh Sargsyan accusing Turkey of "utter denial" of what Armenia sees as genocide and with the Armenian diaspora calling Erdoğan's condolences “cold-hearted and cynical.”
However Alin Ozinian, an expert on Turkish-Armenian relations, said in an interview with Sunday's Zaman that Erdoğan's words to the Armenians' whose ancestors were killed during World War I is not enough, as it does "not reflect that Turkey [has] finally come to [its] senses."
"The issue of genocide is a big wound for the Armenians," Ozinian said, adding that Turkey's "denial politics" worries them because it will not break the deadlock.
Delivering Armenians' concerns that Erdoğan will hold too much personal and political power without due deference to the rule of law or democratic institutions in Turkey, Giragosian says that the rise of Prime Minister Erdoğan and the decline of current President Abdullah Gül is causing people in Armenia to worry about the future of Turkey.
President Gül clearly said on Monday that he will not run for a second term.
“After all, it was President Gül who made history as the first Turkish head of state to visit Armenia,” Giragosian said, adding that Armenians worry the future of Armenian-Turkish normalization might suffer because of domestic Turkish politics.
“With hopes for normalization having rested on President Gül's shoulders, his apparent political decline has meant that Armenia has lost a ‘partner for peace' and a worthy and more sincere interlocutor for building a new relationship.”
The normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties started with President Gül in September of 2008, when he paid the first-ever visit by a Turkish president to Armenia to attend an Armenia vs. Turkey soccer match in Yerevan, sparking speculations that “soccer diplomacy” might initiate reconciliation between the two hostile nations.
However, Ozinian disagrees with the assertion that all Armenians are annoyed with Erdoğan's run for presidency. She thinks that those who are pleased with the prime minister's expected move to president do not support Erdoğan because of the condolences he extended back in April.
"Erdoğan's government has yet to be successful in shedding light on the cases of Hrant Dink, Sevag Balıkçı [and the] Samatya crimes," Özinian said. She added that those Armenians who are positive about Erdoğan's expected transition to president in Turkey feel this way because there is no better option amongst the opposition parties, which she described as the "Kemalist" Republican People's Party (CHP) and the "fearsome" Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Armenians worry over Erdoğan's probable presidency
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo: Today's Zaman)
July 06, 2014, Sunday/ 02:33:43/ LAMİYA ADİLGIZI / ISTANBUL