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Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation: Lots of Gloom but Not All Doom

Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation: Lots of Gloom but Not All Doom

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The March 2010 vote by the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the mass slaughter of Ottoman Armenians during WWI as "genocide" is being cast as the final blow to Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. The bill might have been quashed had the parliament in Turkey ratified a set of protocols that would have established diplomatic ties and re-opened the border between Turkey and Armenia.
The March 2010 vote by the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the mass slaughter of Ottoman Armenians during WWI as "genocide" is being cast as the final blow to Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. The bill might have been quashed had the parliament in Turkey ratified a set of protocols that would have established diplomatic ties and re-opened the border between Turkey and Armenia.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Aug 20, 2010
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Analysis
ANKARA —
This month’s vote by the Committee on Foreign Affairs inthe U.S. House of Representativescondemning the mass slaughter of theOttoman Armenians during WorldWar I as “genocide” is being cast asthe final blow to Turkish-Armenianreconciliation. The conventionalwisdom is that the 23-22 vote in favorof the bill might have been quashedhad the Turkish Parliament ratifieda set of protocols that foresaw theestablishment of diplomatic ties andthe re-opening of the long sealed landborder between Turkey and Armenia.The protocols, a landmark deal thatcame after months of excruciatingSwiss-brokered talks, were signedamid much fanfare on October 10,2009, in Zurich.There is little doubt that peacebetween Turkey and Armenia wouldarm any U.S. administration againstfuture attempts by U.S. lawmakers toapprove the non-binding resolution.But for how long? It is naive to assumethat American citizens of OttomanArmenian descent would abandontheir decades-long campaign forCongressional recognition of what agrowing number of academics declareas historical fact. Nor is it true that theCongressional committee’s razorthin “yes” vote is solely responsible forthe apparent collapse of Turkish-Armenian détente.The reason for the current deadlock ismulti-pronged and came long beforethe Congressional committee’s move.The first is Turkey’s insistence that as aprecondition for peace, Armeniawithdraw from at least some of theterritory it occupied in its war withAzerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.Another is Turkey’s demand thatArmenia relinquish its support forthe Armenian diaspora’s campaignfor international recognition of thegenocide. Neither issue was addressedin the protocols (Karabakh was notmentioned and the events of 1915were relegated to a proposed joint his-torical commission); yet they continueto dominate the increasingly harshdebate between the two countries.Turkey says that in the presentclimate it cannot approve theprotocols. Armenia is threatening toscrap them altogether.Untangling this mess will take cour-age, creativity, and a fair bit of time. It
Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation: Lots ofGloom but Not All Doom
by Amberin Zaman*
March 16, 2010
*
Amberin Zaman is the Turkey correspondent for
The Economist
and writes a weekly column for the Turkish daily
Taraf 
. The views ex-pressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).
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Offices
Summary: This month’s vote by the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representativescondemning the mass slaughterof Ottoman Armenians during WWIas “genocide” is being cast as the
nal blow to Turkish-Armenian
reconciliation. The bill might havebeen quashed had the parliament in
Turkey ratied a set of protocols that
would have established diplomatic ties and re-opened the borderbetween Turkey and Armenia.Turkey and Armenia may eventu-ally resort to retooling the protocolsin ways that make them easier toimplement. Meanwhile, Washingtonshould muster all its clout to getAzerbaijan and Armenia to shakehands. Russia’s cooperation is key.And co-opting Russia means giving ita stake in the peace.
 
will also require some hard questions about what is achiev-able given the political landscape in both countries andbeyond.The first is this: Was it realistic for Turkey to expect Azer-baijan to remain silent in the face of the protocols? Theanswer depends on what assurances if any Turkey gaveAzerbaijan. Turkish officials insist that Baku was keptinformed of the details of the deal all along. Azerbaijans volcanic reaction, including threats to sell all of its gas toRussia, suggest otherwise.Could Turkey have turned a deaf ear to Azerbaijan andimplemented the protocols? Ankara’s calculation appears tobe that between the time it initialled the protocols on Feb-ruary 7, 2009, and signed them eight months later, Armeniaand Azerbaijan would have made the kind of progress onKarabakh that would justify their eventual ratification toTurks and Azeris alike. Such thinking was egged on by over-zealous U.S. Department of State types who were desperateto get the protocols off the ground before President Barack Obamas April 24, 2009, speech to commemorate the eventsof 1915. No wonder then that Turkey and Armenia madethe deal public on April 23, in the event Obama renegedon his campaign promise to use the genocide” label. Heplumped for “Medz Yeghern” (which means “great tragedy”in Armenian) instead.This turnaround reinforced the cynics’ view that Turkey never intended to ratify the protocols in the first place.These were devised, they claim, with the sole purpose of getting Obama to drop the “G” word and to torpedo thepassage of the genocide resolution by the U.S. Congress.Either way, Ankara got it wrong. Azerbaijan and Armeniaare nowhere closer to striking a deal. If anything, the Azerisare muttering about war. Russia, whose support Ankara wascounting on, recently declared that peace between Turkey and Armenia should not be linked to the conflict betweenArmenia and Azerbaijan. And although it seems unlikely that the Congressional resolution will be brought before thefull House, it’s not about to go away.Yerevan did its share of miscalculating as well. Had it notinsisted on linking the establishment of diplomatic relationsto re-opening of the border (these steps are inseparablecomponents of the protocols) Ankara would have sent itsfirst Ambassador to Yerevan by now. Diplomatic ties wouldhave in turn created the sort of momentum that would havepropelled border opening regardless of Azerbaijans objec-tions.Yerevans other miscalculation is linked to the ArmenianConstitutional Court’s reasoning for its sanctioning inJanuary of the protocols. This included the conclusion thatthey do not amount to a rebuttal of the genocide. Armeniatouted the Court’s blessing as proof of its goodwill. Turkey says its reasoning makes nonsense of the historical commis-sion foreseen under the protocols by prejudging its findings.Ankara wants the court to either retract its words or forArmenian President Serzh Sargsyan to make a public state-ment that would have the same effect. Yerevan won’t budge.
Outlook
 Turkish-Armenian reconciliation will remain on hold untilObama delivers a G-word free message on April 24, 2010,and the threat of the Congressional bill coming before thefull House recedes. In any case, barring some miracle overKarabakh, nationwide parliamentary elections in Turkey due by July 2011 make it unlikely that the protocols willbe considered anyway. The outcome of the elections willin turn, determine the future of Turkish-Armenian ties. If Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice andDevelopment Party (AKP) is returned for a third term of single rule he might rouse the courage to move forward onArmenia. The flip side is that without the oppositions back-ing he may not risk doing so. Indeed, there are some whoargue that a coalition government would be better placed tomake peace with Armenia because responsibility for upset-ting Azerbaijan would be more evenly spread.As political dialogue hangs in the balance, the onus for pro-moting reconciliation rests on civil society more than everbefore. Happily, assorted NGOs are ploughing ahead with joint projects to foster peace. Debate of the 1915 tragedy among ordinary Turks is growing louder and franker by theday. A private Turkish news channel, Su TV, has launchedthe country’s first ever-Armenian language news program.Istanbul’s prestigious Bosphorus University now offersArmenian language courses as part of its curriculum.Business between the two countries (albeit via Georgia) is
2
Analysis
2
Amberin Zaman (2009). “Turkey’s Kurdish Gambit,”
On Turkey 
series, November 13, 2009.

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