By Ruben Meloyan
President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian joined world leaders on Wednesday in congratulating Abdullah Gul on his election as Turkey’s president.
Kocharian’s office did not release any details of what is a rare congratulatory message sent from Yerevan to Ankara.
Kocharian, who is currently in Greece on a private visit, received an official congratulation from Gul’s predecessor, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, after his reelection in 2003.
“There is much work to be done in this region, and I am sure you will bring your contribution to global peace and prosperity,” Oskanian said in a separate letter to Gul released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
Gul repeatedly met with Oskanian in his previous capacity as Turkey’s foreign minister to discuss ways of normalizing strained relations between their countries. No major progress was made during the talks.
Armenia and Turkey have no diplomatic relations, with successive governments in Ankara making their establishment conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and an end to the long-running Armenian campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide in the Ottoman Empire. The current Turkish government, formed by Gul’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP), has essentially stuck to those preconditions despite showing signs of a softening of Turkish policy on Armenia.
Accordingly, few politicians and analysts in Yerevan expect a rapid improvement of Turkish-Armenian as a result of Gul’s election. Giro Manoyan, a senior member of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also argued that Turkish presidents have had little say in the formulation of government policies.
“Turkey’s president is not in charge of foreign policy,” Manoyan told RFE/RL. “That is the government’s prerogative.”
Manoyan further pointed to the volatility of the political situation in Turkey where the powerful military has been at odds with the AKP-led government and openly opposed Gul’s election. “One thing is clear: Armenia needs a stable and predictable Turkey,” he said.
Another analyst, Stepan Safarian of the opposition Zharangutyun party, predicted that Turkey will now come under stronger Western pressure to establish diplomatic relations and open its land border with Armenia.
Incidentally, Zharangutyun leader Raffi Hovannisian also congratulated the new Turkish president. “It is to be hoped that, during your tenure and that of the next Armenian president to be elected in several months' time, Turkish-Armenian relations will enter a wholly new phase of reflection, exploration, discovery, and ultimate normalization,” Hovannisian wrote in a letter made public by his party’s press service.
“The deep divides between our countries, be they of contemporary character or part of the legacy of the Great Armenian Dispossession, must be overcome and resolved in truth, with integrity, and through the partnership of the two new leaders and their fellow citizens of good faith and conscience,” he said. “May God grant you the vision, commitment, and health to achieve that day.”