Via an invitation by the Kültür Üniversitesi Siyasi Eğilimler Merkezi I went to Armenia last week end. There were journalists, academics and experts among us. I joined a conference sponsored by a partnership of the American Ambassy, or USAID, and the Eurasia Foundation, or EPF.
With important experts of Armenia, NGOs and representatives of opposition and administration parties we talked about protocols for two days.
At a limited dinner at the American Ambassador’s house we met with Deputy Secretary of State Arman Kirakosyan who from the start was present during preparations of the protocols, the vice president of the assembly and officials of the general staff.
The most striking thing was a briefing given by Vigen Sargisyan who we would call deputy general secretary to the president. An extremely brilliant and outspoken person who represents Armenia’s future generation and knows what he wants. He told us everything from his point of view.
These chats were mainly conducted according to Chatham House Rules, which means, only views will be reflected but no names given. The series you’ll read starting today will reflect the atmosphere in Yerevan. It will show latest developments, why and how they interpret things the way they do and the course of our relationship.
You might ask why I gave priority to the Armenian protocols when Constitutional issues have occupied the agenda in Turkey.
The reason is simple.
I give much importance to these protocols.
I think there is no other smart way out of this genocide dead end for the two countries.
Especially with April 24 approaching we don’t know what the US Congress and President Obama will do in the genocide issue. And besides I think Turkish American relations in the short and long run and genocide issues threatening Turkey’s image in the international public and the future of these protocols are far more vital than some infertile internal issues.
The process which ended with the signing of the protocols first started in Vienna in 1999 and continued in Geneva with the arbitration of the Swiss. Since then all Turkish and Armenian governments have contributed to the finalization of the protocols. But the AKP took the final step and for the first time in 100 years political authorities of these two countries were brave, took on risk and signed the protocol that includes great solutions to unwind the genocide knot in this relationship.
Genocide will be frozen, relations developed
The genocide issue will literally be frozen and put on a shelf. Meaning Armenians will continue with their attitude in the genocide issue and Turks will continue denying the genocide.
Now that’s where the beauty of the formula steps in: while the argument over genocide continues, the relationship will develop. Meaning diplomatic relations were to be established, borders opened, trade developed and in a later stage examinations made and a solution found in the genocide issue.
But it didn’t work out.
Hell broke lose in Baku. The Azerbaijani showed reactions never seen before. Ankara was stunned about these reactions.
When Prime Minister Erdoğan all of a sudden went to Baku and made the process come to a halt by explaining, under Aliyev’s threatening looks, that the protocols can only be approved when the Karabağ issue progresses, which means a retrieval from at least 1 or 2 of the occupied 7 regions of the Armenian army. This means that Turkey linked the realization of the protocols to positive development in Armenian and Azerbaijani relations. According to one perspective he somewhat recognized a veto right for Azerbaijan in Turkish Armenian relations.
This development caused for some uproar in Armenia.
According to Armenians there was no Karabağ condition. Turkey changed the rules of the game after the game already started by taking sides with Azerbaijan ignoring its own signature.
He very much outraged President Sarkisyan. For, the president put his political life on stake by showing a more flexible attitude than former presidents (when he accepted the establishment of a Historian Commission, as Turkey had proposed) regarding the so vital genocide issue for Armenians. He was announced a traitor when he signed the protocols. Now trying to bring in the Armenians who they perceive as their archenemies, meant a breach of the treaty.
But the Turkish part kept saying that the Armenians implicitly knew that the Karabağ issue was always argued about even if it was not stated in a written form.
As you see, either someone lies to us or someone spoils the game.
To find out I first spoke to those of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Turkey, then I came to Yerevan and finally I will go to the Azerbaijanis.
I will try and find the one who spoiled the game.
“Turkey deceived us. Protocols were cancelled…”
Questions I have encountered in this country of 3 million people as I set foot in Yerevan I can summarize as follows:
- When will you approve the protocols?
- Why didn’t you keep your promise, why did you deceive us?
You may try and explain as much as you want; there is no way they’ll believe you. From the outside it really seems as if Turkey has taken a step backwards and has played tricks after signing the protocols.
The Armenian government sent those protocols to Parliament and said, “Turkey deceived us. You sign them first and we will sign after you.”
Now they are hesitating. They say this will not take long. Especially Erdoğan’s mention about a possible deportation of illegal Armenian workers went off like a bomb. Genocide and deportation revived their memories.
An upper level Armenian official warned, “Your prime minister’s attitude is very clear. He is determined in the Karabağ issue. It seems we will have to wait for a referendum and general elections thereafter.” He continued his words with, “We can’t wait that long. In a political sense we can’t afford to do so. And besides, this waiting period would stiffen the Azerbaijanis in the Karabağ negotiations.”
Obama interfered, Sarkisyan will negotiate in Washington
So what will happen now?
Yerevan expects a written explanation from Turkey.
Will he apply these protocols without any prerequisite or insist on the Karabağ condition?
President Sarkisyan will, upon an invitation by Washington, meet with President Obama mid April. He will join the Nucleer Summit which Erdoğan declined in order to protest President Obama. This meeting will influence the protocols as well as Obama’s announcement on April 24.
An official from the Armenian parliament said, “After this meeting we will decide what to do. We can’t have the protocols wait in parliament for too long. Either Turkey will take a step (approval in parliament or an announcement) or we’ll ask for cancellation of the protocols.”
Then an upper level official from the general staff said, “If Turkey announces that it puts the protocols on hold for reasons based on internal problems, we’d comply with that. Then we’d not cancel but also put them on hold. We are ready to take action whenever Turkey is ready.”
As you see, the situation is quite critical.
Tomorrow I will tell you about how Turkey’s changing image and our prime minister’s brisk reactions are perceived here. People here say “Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.”