Analysis

October 1, 2009

Summary: Public discussions of the initialed protocols between Turkey and Armenia that were released on the night of August 31 are ongoing in both countries. The protocols can be welcomed as the basis for a more informed discussion. However, aspects of the protocols which have intentionally been left open to interpretation raise suspicions on both sides. Building trust between the societies is a challenge and will require straightforward and genuine words and actions. Of course the timing to take up the most difficult of questions will be critical for the political capital of both sides; however, the timing may not be totally in the control of the politicians as the interaction between many stakeholders takes on a life of its own.

A Brave New World for Turkey and Armenia?
by Nigar Göksel*
ISTANBUL — Public discussions of the initialed protocols between Turkey and Armenia that were released on the night of August 31 are ongoing in both countries. Initially, this development was applauded by enthusiasts and hammered by critics, with overrated hopes and fears respectively. By now, a slightly more nuanced debate is taking hold. The protocols offer concrete terms toward what is commonly referred to as “normalization of relations,” and thus can be welcomed as the basis for a more informed discussion. However, aspects of the protocols which have intentionally been left open to interpretation raise suspicions on both sides, and it is premature to celebrate the protocols in and of themselves. Confusion prevails regarding the link between the Karabakh resolution process and the implementation of the steps foreseen in the protocols. Moreover, there are many open questions on the implications of the more complicated aspects of the roadmap, such as the foreseen “dialogue on the history dimension.” All eyes are now turned to whether Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan will visit Turkey on October 14, 2009 for a soccer match between the two countries. If protocols can
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ensure that the delicate process of normalization is not derailed, they will have served an important purpose. Managing expectations thereafter will still require strong leadership. The Karabakh confusion The clock for implementation of the protocols will start ticking not when the protocols are signed— which is expected to take place in October—but when they are ratified. The protocols may not express a link between the implementation of the roadmap and progress on the Nagorno-Karabakh deadlock; however, it is an increasingly open secret that the Turkish side expects progress toward withdrawal from some of the occupied territories surrounding the Karabakh enclave before the protocols are brought for a vote to the floor of the Turkish Parliament. Because Karabakh is not mentioned in the protocols, the Armenian side can claim there is no “precondition,” while the Turkish side can ensure Azerbaijani counterparts and Turkish skeptics that the two processes are “synchronized.” The difference of wording is merely a play of words. This formula of ambiguity may have been the only

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Nigar Goksel is a senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative and editor-in-chief of Turkish Policy Quarterly. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF or those of the European Stability Initiative.

Analysis

way to (appear to) agree, and supposedly allows for different interpretations to be sustained; however, it also carries risks. Whether it is called a precondition or not, and whether it is presented as a fact of Turkey’s democracy or envisioned as Turkey’s grand leverage to solve frozen conflicts, Karabakh is in the mix. The scenario envisioned appears to be that the protocols will empower President Sargsyan to take a bold, albeit small, step regarding the occupied territories surrounding Karabakh, which in turn will be responded to by Turkey with a bigger step. A virtuous cycle can be set into motion, offering gains to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, in a win-win equilibrium. If the process unravels as such, the region will finally have a perspective for stability and integration, and Turkey will celebrate the victory of its soft power—though the risk and burden will be on the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, Turkey also risks a serious blow to its credibility and regional interests if a step that can be framed as a breakthrough in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan does not take place. The gamble is multi-layered. The tactic Armenian and Turkish authorities jointly signed off on—i.e. blurring or avoiding the issues on which sensitivities and red lines seem incompatible, can aggravate the trust deficiency, particularly in Armenia toward Turkey but also among Azerbaijanis. The cards are neither open nor well-concealed. Ultimately Turkish politicians’ statements and assurances about the Karabakh link are heard by Armenians and Azerbaijani’s alike—it is not possible to sustain different rhetoric in different settings. An end to history? Arguably, the most controversial aspect of the protocols is the plan to set up a joint sub-commission on history which would work on an “impartial scientific examination of historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.” This has been perceived as a Turkish victory. The assumption is that as long as this work is ongoing, third countries will abstain from passing parliament resolutions that label the tragic events of 19151917 “genocide.”

Another objection voiced by Armenian analysts to the idea of a history commission is that it will inevitably be inconclusive, as historians on both sides—politicized as they are- will simply battle on behalf of the official line of their country. Indeed, if a verdict about history is aimed for, every step of the process is going to be fiercely debated and criticized by Armenians and Turks worldwide. It is, therefore, understandable to argue that the narratives of both nations can be brought closer more effectively by merely allowing for full freedom of expression, facilitating independent research, and supporting as many civilian initiatives to this end as possible. Ultimately, the parameters that will be set and the individuals who will take part will determine the merits of the planned sub-commission. Will third countries’ historians join? Will the Armenian and Turkish historians necessarily be representing their countries’ official perspective? How will their mandate be framed? Rather than reducing the debate to “will the United States be provided with a reason not to proceed with HR252,” we need more ideas generated about how to maximize the legitimacy of the joint history work on the basis of intellectual integrity. If more archival research can be facilitated, more critical thought can be stirred, more diverse opinions can be heard; in the long term, this can help open minds and bridge divides. Both Turks and Armenians will benefit from a deeper understanding of the dynamics leading up to 1915, the different experiences in various localities of Anatolia, the role of external actors, and the consequences. Having an ongoing joint dialogue about history will not prevent references to 1915 as “genocide” around the world and, in all likelihood, will not freeze the efforts of the Armenian diaspora to pass parliamentary resolutions. The pattern of struggle will continue in academic, political, and legal environments. As 2015 nears, there will in any case be more attention paid to the plight of Ottoman Armenians.1 Many Turks—including in official circles—are convinced that the pursuit of genocide recognition in third countries by the Armenian diaspora is a process the administration in Armenia can control. This expectation is unfounded and can lead to setbacks in the process of normalization. It is important that the “willingness to chart a new pattern and course for their relations on the basis of common interests,
Osman Bengur (2009). “Turkey’s Image and the Armenian Question.” Turkish Policy Quarterly, Spring 2009. Retreived at: www.turkishpolicy.com
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Analysis

goodwill and in pursuit of peace, mutual understanding and harmony,” which is affirmed in the protocols is not interpreted in Turkey as a promise for the campaign for genocide resolutions to end. Such parliamentary resolutions should be put into perspective, and their consequences not overestimated, by either side.2 Strong political leadership in Turkey will be crucial to manage public opinion on this issue. The reality is that the debate about history will not be “tamed” by an officially set up sub-commission. There will still be Turkish intellectuals who use the word “genocide” and press for change in Turkey’s stance, as they have intensely for the past 5-10 years. Whatever conclusions reached, if any, they are not likely to convince all parties that see themselves as legitimate stakeholders. Expectations need to be set at reasonable levels for the benefits of the work of the commission to be reaped. The border debate For years the lack of relations between the two countries has offered an environment in Armenia in which the dream of border revision could be preserved and fuelled particularly by opposition politicians and unaccountable opinion leaders. The voicing of territorial demands from Armenian counterparts consequently played into the hands of the hardliners in Turkey. The reference in the protocols to “mutual recognition of the existing border between the two countries” is being framed as a concession by the leading opposition in both countries.3 On the one hand, for the opposition in Armenia, today, to criticize the protocols on the basis of Armenia “being deprived of grounds for territorial claims from Turkey” begs the question of what, realistically, the alternative is. On the other hand, for Turkish opposition to stir Turkish sensitivities about territorial integrity by pointing out the non-mention of the Kars treaty in the protocols is at best

unhelpful.4 Building trust between the societies is a challenge and will require straightforward and genuine words and actions. Of course the timing to take up the most difficult of questions will be critical for the political capital of both sides; however, the timing may not be totally in the control of the politicians as the interaction between many stakeholders takes on a life of its own.
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The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpartisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting greater cooperation and understanding between North America and Europe. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany, on the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Bratislava, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, and Bucharest.

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For an argument about the consequences of recognition: ESI Report, Noah’s Dove Returns: Armenia, Turkey and the Debate on Genocide. April 21, 2009, p. 21. Retreived at: www.esiweb.org 3 The exception to criticism of the border issue among opposition is Levon Ter Petrossian—who leads the influential opposition bloc called the Armenian National Congress. 4 The Kars Treaty of 1921 that defines the current borders was signed between Turkey and Bolshevik Russia, as well as the Soviet Republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and is seen by many Armenians as a humiliating page in the history of Armenia.
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