Harsh rhetoric heralds gloomy spring for normalization

March 21, 2010, Sunday/ 11:19:00
Nobody expected that a normalization process between two nations that share a deep wound and dispute over the course of affairs regarding the fate of their ancestors during World War I would be painless.

Nonetheless, one cannot help but wonder whether adding insult to injury in this already thorny process was really unavoidable. A line in a Turkish movie from 1990 called “Camdan Kalp” (A Heart of Glass) by Fehmi Yaşar says: “The heart is made of glass, you know? Can broken glass be stuck back together? No, it can’t.” The line was said by a housekeeper to her boss.

Most likely, that’s how migrant Armenian workers in Turkey as well as Turkey’s Armenian citizens felt earlier this week when they heard Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks about the possible deportation of undocumented Armenian workers from Turkey after US and Swedish lawmakers passed resolutions branding the World War I-era killings of Anatolian Armenians as genocide.

“Look, there are 170,000 Armenians in my country -- 70,000 of them are my citizens, but we are [tolerating] 100,000 of them [illegally] in our country. So, what will we do tomorrow? If it is necessary, I will tell them, ‘Come on, back to your country.’ I will do it. Why? They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country. I mean these are [defenders of the Armenian claims of genocide]. Their attitude is negatively affecting our sincere attitude, and they are not aware of it,” Erdoğan said in an interview on Tuesday.

The number of Armenian immigrants in Turkey is unknown. But Turkish-Armenian groups say Turkish politicians inflate the numbers of illegal workers and threaten expulsions whenever tensions escalate between Ankara and Yerevan.

According to research conducted last year by the Yerevan-based Eurasia Partnership Foundation, some 94 percent of the undocumented Armenian workers in Turkey are women working in housekeeping, nursing and childcare.

Misunderstanding

On Friday, Erdoğan dismissed criticism of his remarks and reassured Turkey’s Armenian community that they are not the target.

“We never have had any problem with our Armenian citizens,” Erdoğan said. He complained that he was misquoted in the media, which he said misrepresented his remarks to mean that they were targeting Turkey’s Armenian community.

“Unfortunately, my remarks were published after the reference to illegal immigrants was taken out. There is a vast difference between ‘expelling Armenians’ and ‘expelling Armenians working here illegally’,” he said. “We have made no such remarks concerning the Armenians that are our citizens, but unfortunately the televisions or newspapers do not say that.”

Yet the damage has already been done, in addition to earlier harm caused by factors such as the US and Swedish votes, which apparently led to Erdoğan’s anger and harsh rhetoric. It is doubtful that anyone will remember from this point on that it was the same Erdoğan who resisted similar calls from opposition parties for the deportation of illegal Armenian workers in order to pressure the Yerevan government in the past.

Moreover, on Monday, while delivering a briefing at Parliament’s Foreign Relations Commission concerning his ministry’s strategy vis-à-vis the genocide resolutions of foreign legislative bodies, when main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Canan Arıtman suggested deporting Armenian workers in retaliation, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reportedly said in reply, “Turkey could not explain such move to the world,” in a bid to highlight the inappropriateness of such an action.

Spirit, hearts and politics

And yet, damage has been done here and there, and the government should make clear whether it wants to make peace with only with citizens of Armenia or the entire Armenian nation, despite the Armenian diaspora’s actions, which are hampering the normalization process -- without forgetting its own Armenian citizens, who are not guests, but people of this country.

Khatchig Mouradian is an Armenian writer who arrived in Turkey on Wednesday as part of a delegation of US commentators and analysts visiting the country at the invitation of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).

In an article posted on The Armenian Weekly Web site titled “Memleketine Hoşgeldin,” (Welcome to Your Country), Mouradian said the title was inspired by what a Turkish journalist told him when she learned of his arrival in Turkey.

Recalling Erdoğan’s recent remarks, Mouradian argues, “Turkish diplomats and commentators do not view Armenians as a single monolithic block, but as three supposedly homogeneous blocks.”

Mouradian lists those groups: “The Armenians living in Turkey [mainly in İstanbul] comprise the first group. … In Turkey, these Armenians are regarded as ‘our Armenians,’ or the ‘good Armenians,’ as long as they do not speak out about the genocide and the continued discrimination they face. … The citizens of Armenia, the second group, are, according to the dominant rhetoric in Turkey, the ‘neighbors’ (the ‘poor Armenians’), who are under difficult economic conditions and do not mind forgetting the past and moving on, if the Armenian diaspora leaves them alone. The diaspora Armenians, the third group, are the ‘bad Armenians’.”

Mouradian’s arguments are controversial, but this doesn’t change the fact that many hearts have been broken.

‘Joint destiny’ and vocabulary

If one questions whether it is possible to speak of broken hearts regarding a political process, then one also has to remember what a senior Turkish diplomat recently said about a decision by an Armenian court in January that upheld the legality of protocols signed by Ankara and Yerevan in October on the normalization of ties but underlined that they could not contradict Yerevan’s official position that the alleged Armenian genocide must be internationally recognized.

“That reasoning behind the ruling is actually a political declaration under the guise of a legal decision. We would like the trauma created by this decision to be removed. Then we can turn back to the status quo concerning the normalization process, which has been crippled since Jan. 12,” the diplomat said.

Ankara says a new ruling that assures that the protocols are valid is needed and that this may either be a written document or an assurance by a third party that is acceptable to both the Armenian and Turkish sides.

“Every word within the protocols has been placed into the text after thorough deliberation in order to create a common language that would help with the rest of the normalization process,” another Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Sunday’s Zaman last month. “What the Armenian Constitutional Court ruling’s reasoning is doing is harming this common language. Our efforts are aimed at recreating this common language to secure the healthy maintenance of the normalization process,” the diplomat said.

In January, Davutoğlu stated that the healthy continuation of the normalization process is important for Turkey.

“We don’t believe that this process will proceed with interpretations that are not in line with the spirit and wording of the protocols signed with Armenia,” Davutoğlu said at the time, echoing Ankara’s view that the Armenian court’s decision “contains preconditions and restrictive provisions which impair the letter and spirit of the protocols.”

The days ahead will probably require efforts by both Armenian and Turkish sides to salvage -- if it exists anymore -- the common language and spirit of the normalization process or add new words to the vocabulary of the process.

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