The zones of resistance toward Turkish-Armanian rapprochement by Emre Uslu & Önder Aytaç*

The zones of resistance toward Turkish-Armanian rapprochement  by  Emre Uslu & Önder Aytaç*

April 13, 2009, Monday/ 16:17:00
As Turkish and Armenian diplomats start carving out possible rapprochement strategies, Turkish and Azerbaijani public dissatisfaction toward the process have emerged, which may negatively affect the process. It seems the rapprochement process has three major zones of challenge: the emotional zone, the strategic zone and the economic zone.
Within each zone there is the possibility of ruining the process, but the most important area of resistance is the emotional zone and the Azerbaijani-Turkish ones are not necessarily sympathetic toward Armenia. Thus public dismay toward the Armenian issues reduces the possibility of positive discussions between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. When we look into the emotional zone we see several factors feeding and maintaining its depth that need to be addressed during the dialogue toward reconciliation.

The first factor that feeds the emotional zone is of course the historical context in which Armenian and Turkish societies became emotionally separated from each other. In addition, the historical events between the two societies were used and are still being used to define the national identities that are opposed to each other. In order to construct Turkish or Armenian national identities, the painful events of history are kept alive in both societies, maintaining the emotional issues that are a challenge to a possible rapprochement. Perhaps the following two examples show how the historical context is such an obstacle. A few years ago in a TV interview, a journalist asked a man in Erzurum what he thought about the Armenian massacre. The man started leading the reporter by the arm and said, "What massacre? Let me take you to Erzurum Castle, where you will see that the blood of Turkish women and children who were murdered by the Armenian militia is still fresh. It has not dried  -- you can touch the blood with your own hand." It is obvious from the interview that the man's emotions had hijacked his intellectual ability -- clearly it is not possible for blood to stay fresh for over a century. The interviewee was not exaggerating the events that took place a century ago, but in his mind he still held the belief about the blood and so his anger toward Armenians was undiminished. In addition, the Islamic belief that tells people not to consider martyrs as having died reinforced his belief.

Another example is that Armenians, especially those in the diaspora, have been taught to believe that if they visit Turkey they will be murdered. I personally witnessed this in one of my Armenian classmates in the US; at graduate school-level, she still believed that if she visited Turkey she would be killed just because she is Armenian.

The second fact that feeds the emotional zone is the nationalist discourse of domestic politics that creates the dichotomy that Turks were innocent and were forced to defend themselves in history; this discourse argues that Turks are still being forced by the West to defend their very existence. Similarly, the nationalist tone also exists in Armenian domestic politics, defining Turkey and Turks as the primary enemies of the nation. Because of the domestic political discourse in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, the closed border between Turkey and Armenia has turned into a symbol of "brotherhood" between Azerbaijanis and Turks and a symbol of animosity between Armenians and Turks and Azerbaijanis.

Given that neo-nationalism, which consists of anti-West, anti-minority and anti-Islamic sentiments is on the rise and the neo-nationalist network in Turkey extends into the military and Turkish academia -- all able to stir up emotions toward the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement -- the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) needs to find a way to address this problem.

Perhaps one effective way of stopping the neo-nationalist nonsense is to stop funding these people from the pockets of the state and stop wasting the taxpayers' money in the name of "projects to defend Turkish positions in America."

For instance, a professor in America who recently received a grant of close to $1 million from Turkish institutions believed to be connected to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and who received support from the ministry to fund "projects" at his university moved the Azerbaijani press to state:

"Turkey's behavior was such that tomorrow no country in the region, including the Turkic republics, will take Turkey seriously. Turkey does these things because of European and American pressure. It is a pity that Turkey is not an independent country and nothing but a puppet of either the USA or the EU. In other words, if Turkey pursues its current foreign policy it will create the problems in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Turkey is being led by the wrong people and the recent elections proved it. What should also be taken into account is that there is a very powerful Armenia lobby inside Turkey and especially within the AK Party. But I really think that public opinion in Turkey is very much against this. It will ruin Turkey's image; it's already ruined in the Turkish world."

This type of rhetoric in the Azerbaijani press of course stirs up Azerbaijanis minds against the Turkish intention of rapprochement with its neighbors and the sad part is, the rhetoric against the AK Party's policy is primarily funded by the AK Party-led government and Foreign Ministry in the name of projects to defend Turkish policies in academia. Don't you realize this, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Mr. Ali Babacan? Do you know how many "projects" are funded by your ministry and what the academics your ministry funds say about you and your government? Do you know the substance of the projects that are funded by your ministry? Most importantly, do these projects help or harm your ministry's policies toward the south Caucasus?

*Dr. Emre Uslu is an analyst working with Washington-based think tank The Jamestown Foundation. Önder Aytaç is an associate professor in Gazi University's department of communications and works with the Security Studies Institute in Ankara.

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