By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Expecting a public relations nightmare during the Armenian Genocide Centennial, Turkish officials are anxious to prevent further damage to their country’s already tarnished reputation.
Even though they have no intention to open the border with Armenia, Turkey’s leaders are pretending to do so by constantly issuing fake conciliatory statements. By falsely claiming that Turkey is in the process of patching up its differences with Armenia, Ankara’s hidden agenda is to discourage additional countries from recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
However, given Azerbaijan’s paranoid reaction to any talk of Turkey opening its border with Armenia, Turkish officials are forced to retreat by warning that the Armenia-Turkey border would remain closed, unless ‘progress’ is made on the Karabagh (Artsakh) issue.
Such contradictory Turkish statements have been issued countless times, ever since Armenia and Turkey signed Protocols in 2009 to open their mutual border and establish diplomatic relations. As recently as last week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a closed session of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee that preparations are underway to open the border with Armenia. When confronted by an opposition parliamentarian about Turkey’s true intentions, Davutoglu quickly reversed himself, stating that Armenia must first withdraw from Karabagh before the border could be opened.
The Foreign Minister made similar remarks a month ago while visiting Switzerland, when he announced that Turkey was looking for “creative ideas” to improve its relations with Armenia. Davutoglu’s creative or rather clever ploy is to avoid looking like an obstructionist, while making excuses for his country’s refusal to ratify the Protocols.
Back in 2009, the Turkish government appeared eager to ratify the Protocols which included various extraneous matters, including the formation of a committee of historians to study archival documents on the Armenian Genocide. When Azerbaijan vehemently objected to Turkish plans to open the border with Armenia, Turkey announced that it could no longer ratify the Protocols, even though it was clearly in its national interest to do so. Thus, despite its claims of being a major regional power, Turkey caved in to Azerbaijan’s veto. During his remarks in the Turkish Parliament on November 6, Davutoglu sheepishly reiterated that his country would open its border with Armenia only after obtaining Azerbaijan’s permission.
Clearly embarrassed by this leak to the press, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that Davutoglu had made such a statement. This is not a credible denial as Turkish officials have made similar statements many times before. One plausible explanation for reviving the prospect of opening the border and railway link to Armenia could be Turkey’s intent to pressure the newly-elected President of Georgia who refuses to support the long-planned Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway which was expected to circumvent Armenia.
To put an end to continuous Turkish exploitation of the Protocols, Pres. Serzh Sargsyan should carry out his promise of three years ago, when he warned that unless Turkey ‘shortly’ ratifies the Protocols, he would reconsider his position on this issue, implying that Armenia would withdraw from this agreement. Since the Protocols are still not ratified four years after they were signed, Pres. Sargsyan should declare them null and void.
Understandably, Armenian officials are reluctant to take such a drastic step, as they are concerned that the major powers would blame them for the Protocols’ failure. Armenia would prefer that the Turkish side be the first to withdraw from the Protocols, and thereby bear the blame for their collapse. Turkish officials could be playing the same blame game, by waiting for Armenia to be the first to withdraw.
In my view, Armenia can no longer afford to wait. With the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide less than 18 months away, Armenia’s President should do what he promised three years ago and withdraw his government’s signature from the ill-fated Protocols. Armenia could not be blamed for this action, as Turkish officials have repeatedly announced that they have no intention of ratifying the Protocols.
Not surprisingly, Davutoglu also declared last week that Turkish efforts to counter Armenian plans for the 100th anniversary of the genocide are moving forward ‘at full speed.’ In order not to allow Turkey to undermine worldwide Armenian commemorations for the Genocide Centennial, Armenia’s leaders must renounce the Protocols long before April 24, 2015.
Furthermore, given the Turkish government’s century-old intransigence to acknowledge its culpability for the Genocide and refusal to make appropriate amends, Armenian officials should announce that they plan to seek justice, at long last, by applying to local, regional and international courts.