Where is the beef?

By Dikran Abrahamian BA, MD, September 17, 2008

The Georgian mis-adventure and Russia’s decisive move unleashed a chain of events the description of which is beyond the scope of this miniscule essay. It’s hard to ignore, however, the ensuing flurry of diplomatic activity. Of relevance to Armeno-Turkish relations are His Excellency Serzh Sargsyan’s meetings with Russian officials on Russian soil and subsequent acceptance of Turkey’s president to attend the soccer match in Yerevan.

By Dikran Abrahamian BA, MD, September 17, 2008

The Georgian mis-adventure and Russia’s decisive move unleashed a chain of events the description of which is beyond the scope of this miniscule essay. It’s hard to ignore, however, the ensuing flurry of diplomatic activity. Of relevance to Armeno-Turkish relations are His Excellency Serzh Sargsyan’s meetings with Russian officials on Russian soil and subsequent acceptance of Turkey’s president to attend the soccer match in Yerevan.

A verbal diarrhea followed that visit, and there is no end to it. As if a miracle has occurred and people are in a race to relate to the rest of the world the glimpses they have captured of that momentous event. Probably it’s evident more so in Turkey than anywhere else. The propaganda machine is in high gear.

We are told that relations will get better – there is hope that the border may open, and that Turkey will pacify the Azeris, etc. etc.

 

No president of a midsize country that commands the respect of major powers visits a tiny neighbour without an agenda to expand its influence and exert its will. And Turkey is not an exception. Indeed it’s an important regional power that mediates between enemies like Syria and Israel, and rattles sabers when the US Congress contemplates adopting a resolution recognizing the veracity of the Genocide of the Armenians. It mobilizes a slew of past and present Secretaries of State, a past president and a present day commander-in-chief.

 

Contemporary Turkey, irrespective who its current representative happens to be, is the grand inheritor of almost six-hundred years of diplomatic experience. It is extensively versed in drawing and tearing up treaties – proclaiming and disavowing promises – ignoring international resolutions and not being even rebuked. How does Armenia stack against the above “credentials” of Turkey? One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the answer.

 

There is no question that a good neighbourly relation is advantageous and far superior to confrontations. Yet it all depends on how that relation is defined. The devil is always in the fine print, as they say. At present it is not transparent.

 

For years Armenians have been waiting for opening of the border between Armenia and Turkey, thus lifting the blockade. Need we remind ourselves why the blockade was imposed in the first place? The thorny issue was Karabagh. How come now, when Armenia is vulnerable more than ever, Turkey is considering – we are told – to lifting the blockade? To whose advantage? Yes, arguments have been brought forth that economically it will benefit Armenia. How so? Are Turkey and Armenia at parity in the economic field that the two partners will equally benefit?

 

Many readers of this column are originally from the Middle East, or their parents are. May I remind them that at the height of Arab nationalism, two friendly countries – Egypt and Syria – opened their “borders” and established an economic union subsequent to the political? What was the result? It brought economic disaster to Syria – despite it previously being in a better shape than Egypt. Eventually the union altogether was dissolved. Egypt’s size was too much to bear. Of course, no two different sets of couplets are identical, especially in politics; but think of  Turkey’s economic might!

 

Demographic changes do follow markets. Any student of Economics 101 will tell you that. It’s estimated that about seventy-thousand Armenian citizens have already moved to Turkey despite the blockade. How many more thousands will emigrate once the borders open, and how much will Armenia be depleted of its population? Keeping the borders indefinitely closed is not an option either. Geopolitical concerns and markets will eventually dictate the outcome. Since the Turks insist on pre-conditions before talks can begin in earnest, Armenia should lay down some of its own – such as: securing guarantees from Turkey at the highest level that it will remain at least neutral regarding Karabakh, will not arm Azerbaijan, will not seek a chair at the Minsk negotiations, and will not establish economic monopolies in Armenia. Is it too much to ask? After all, it’s not Armenia that committed crimes against humanity and Genocide.

 

Another matter that concerns most the Diasporan Armenians is the creation of the commission of historians proposed by Turkey. Will that be part of the give and take? It took generations in the Diaspora to secure recognition of the Genocide by international bodies and various jurisdictions. Turkish officials are already talking about the advantage that Turkey has and will reap much coveted gains once such a commission is in place and diplomatic relations are established. It’s a distinct possibility that the process of further recognition by new countries will be compromised. Incidentally, how can one talk about a commission of historians when Article 301 of the penal code of Tukey is still in place and it continues to claim new victims?

 

Some well-intentioned friends, Armenians and Turks alike, remind us that things have changed in Turkey. Every day new scholars, writers, journalists, NGOs are joining the ranks of those who lend a sympathetic ear to Armenian concerns. True! However, they so far have been in a minority and have not shown the ability to exert a substantial influence in expanding democracy in Turkey, let alone shaping foreign policy.

 

After all that is said and done, ultimately, it’s the authorities and people in Armenia that will decide what path will be drawn for the future. Instinctively we would like to trust their judgment, but can’t refrain from saying it out loud, “Beware!”

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