Who should be listening to the warning bells of April 24? by Mehmet Fatih Öztarsu*
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) greets Armenia’n President Serzh Sarksyan, prior to their working lunch at the Elysee Palace in Paris on March 10, 2010.(PHOTO ap, Remy De La Mauviniere)
Turkey has been able to maintain a firm stance regarding the Armenian matters that have at times occupied the global agenda in recent years.
This year it appears it will be able to brush off the whole April 24 syndrome. But another side to the issue presents us with a different reality; a process guided by different strategies has begun for the Armenians, who appear, from the outside, to be the losing side.
In recent times, the Armenian diaspora has tried every method possible to keep this issue from sliding out of the global spotlight. There appear to be no limits to what this diaspora will do in terms of increasing anti-Turkey activities in the countries where they reside, scrutinizing topics sensitive to Turkey’s national and international policies and then presenting these topics to the world. As for Turkey’s efforts to form some sort of dialogue with the said diaspora, they have so far gone unaccepted.
France, which seems unruffled by the idea of experiencing a crisis with Turkey, has even shot a bullet into its own foot in order to be able to pick up the vote of the Armenians. Its most recent acts with regards to the Armenian issue, however, did not bring about the desired effect. After the brief crisis between Turkey and France, Armenia -- pushed by increased prompting from members of its diaspora -- said that France had not done enough on this question, and noted it would be ratcheting up its own lobbying activities. In the meantime, relations between Armenia -- which says, “If not France, then the US,” -- and Turkey are in a frozen state, with no movement either forward or backward on this front. In Turkey, the subject comes up only during parliamentary or presidential election periods, or is used as a vehicle for propaganda in national politics. In Armenia, however, the topic is followed closely, and there is pride expressed in the steps being taken by others in the name of Armenia. A recent attack on Turkish stands at a book trade fair in France by an Armenian group was heralded in Armenia as an act of heroism. The same stance was displayed when Armenians in Lebanon attacked Turkish politicians. This stance is encouraged by the mentality of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), which saw Turkish diplomats murdered in the Cold War period with the belief that “everything can be justified when it comes to this issue.”
Realpolitik is winning
But realpolitik is a different matter altogether, and unfortunately both Armenia and its diaspora ignore this fact. In the end, realpolitik is winning, and with their hurried and uncalculated approaches, they are actually damaging themselves. The country where Armenians who oppose Turkey feel most at home these days is France. But any further steps France might take on this matter are sure to further damage Turkish-French relations, and thus there can be no developments therein. To wit, Turkey has already made its resolve clear on this matter. Level-headed French politicians have made it quite clear that they find these demands from Armenians -- demands which limit freedom of thought -- completely unreasonable, and that France has more important issues to deal with these days. One important question that begs research is why it is that during times when right-wing politics is on the rise, and when minorities are under so much pressure, are Armenians treated to such a different approach in France? The answer is that this is entirely the result of the effective workings of the diaspora. And in response, Turkey needs to make some serious efforts. Otherwise, this cold war will rob it of energy for many more years to come. It is not possible to enter into dialogue with the diaspora, since what actually nourishes the diaspora is conflict. But more reasonable steps taken by Armenia itself may in fact clear the path for dialogue.
Mistakes made by Armenia in its foreign political maneuvers are a frequent topic for debate in Armenia, but since the same rhetoric gets repeated over and over, no new ideas ever seem to come about. This, in turn, makes their arguments seem less and less plausible. Armenia states: “Turkey must not get involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh question. If it can refrain from doing so, we are prepared to develop our relations with it.” But what is not being talked about here is that it would actually be an economically weak Armenia which would benefit most from the development of relations with Turkey. The conflicting aspects of Armenian foreign policy and politics are largely rooted in foreign dependence. The very foundation of its foreign politics is riddled with errors this way. We see the same problems that started in 1918, when the first Armenian republic was formed. At that time, Armenia was not able to bring about its independence by its own hand, and was in a state of conflict with Azerbaijan, a state to which it later added both Turkey and Georgia. Over time, a foreign policy rooted in the rhetoric of “saving historical Armenian lands” was formed, which is when Armenia tried to take over the southern reaches of Georgia. Today, it follows the same incompatible sort of policies with all its neighbors. And it is the cornerstone of these policies that holds Turkey responsible on the question of 1915. As a result, Armenia gives off the image of being a country constantly oppressed by others, and a country which tries to solve problems through conflict. It is, in the end, Armenia which is damaged by this.
Turkey has taken the right step in trying to broach peace with Armenia in recent years. These steps on Turkey’s part have led to the erasure of the previously held image of Turkey around the world as being an oppressive, embargo-wielding nation. Turkey does believe that the correct diplomacy can bring about peace, and it follows the Nagorno-Karabakh issue closely with the hopes of seeing regional stability settled. As it stands today, Turkey affirms that peace can be brought about if an important problem like Nagorno-Karabakh is actually solved. And this is thus a critical matter which Armenia needs to urgently accept. But of course, to what extent can Armenia act out of its own will and volition? That in itself is a whole different question. Turkey, which sees its own stance maintained as April 24 rolls around this year, needs to watch the upcoming elections in Armenia closely. It is quite clear that this year’s April 24 will see the stances embraced by Armenia and all its supporters in the diaspora become clearer; it will also be a time when new strategies emerge. This is because there is very little time left until 2015. One must not forget that in 2015, the arguments will not come to any sort of conclusion, but that instead, it is the year when the real propaganda wars will start up.
*Mehmet Fatih Öztarsu is a strategic outlook expert with the
Yerevan European Regional Academy.