Today's Zaman, Turkey
Nov 30 2008

Time to hope

It is no doubt Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian's visit to
Ä°stanbul to attend a ministerial gathering of the Organization
of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) on Nov. 24 will be
remembered in the two countries' diplomatic history as the most
concrete step toward cooperation after the match held between the
countries' national teams on Sept. 6 in Armenia.

While his visit was an ordinary working visit done in connection with
Armenia's term presidency of the BSEC, and his meeting with Turkish
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was not official, it became more obvious
during the dinner hosted by Babacan at the Four Seasons that this
visit had other meanings.

As I was waiting for the dinner to end, I asked a Turkish Foreign
Ministry official about who requested the
tête-à-tête meeting. "Does it really matter?" the
official replied. "The thing is they are talking with each other
inside, which is the important bit." At the end of the night, Babacan
said, "Both parties have the political will to normalize relations."
This implied that these acts were not just made as agenda-setting
maneuvers; the intention to normalize relations with Armenia is a
sincerely made wish.

Nov. 24 was a considerably busy day for the Armenian delegation. It
was the first time the meeting hall of the BSEC Secretariat saw so
many reporters. More than 100 Turkish and foreign reporters attended
the news conference, which was warm and free from tension. In general,
Nalbandian emphasized the importance of resuming diplomatic relations
unconditionally and called on the Turkish side to open up the border.

Responding to a question about whether Armenia will put an end to the
Armenian diaspora's activities, he said, "Armenia never did it and
will not do it," implying that Armenia does not influence the
diaspora. He provided information about the trilateral declaration
signed in Russia and emphasized that the issue will eventually be
solved in compliance with the international law. He said he is
optimistic about Turkish-Armenian relations.

When he was questioned about the possible effects of the US
presidential election on bilateral relations, Nalbandian said: "This
is an issue between two countries. Opening border gates will be
beneficial to both sides." He reiterated that Armenian President Serzh
Sarksyan will watch the match between two national teams in 2009 in

After the news conference, Nalbandian attended the reception at the
BSEC. The BSEC member countries were both surprised and happy that the
BSEC could provide an occasion for such a meeting. Another piece of
happy news was that Turkish Airlines (THY) is preparing to launch
regular flights to Yerevan.

The two ministers, who were obviously tired after a two-and-half-hour
meeting accompanied also by their undersecretaries and the dinner,
held a brief conference in which they said that talks are proceeding
in a positive atmosphere. After the conference, Nalbandian presented a
special Armenian whistle made from an apricot tree, which is a popular
instrument in Armenia and which was introduced to Turkey by Civan
Kasparyan, to Babacan as a gift symbolizing friendship.

The Turkish press attached special importance to Nalbandian and live
broadcast vehicles followed him all through his talks. Those who
closely monitor Turkish-Armenian relations will remember that during
and after Gül's visit to Armenia on Sept. 6, the Turkish press
attached great significance to the bilateral relations. The same
applied to the Nalbandian visit, the repercussions of which
continue. A number of authors examined the reasons for his visit,
stressing the change of Russia's stance toward favoring a solution or
the possible impact of the policy Obama will likely follow on the
Armenian issue.

Turkish-Armenian relations are certainly important for the welfare and
peace of the Caucasus, but the political will seen on both sides
cannot be explained only with such arguments. The Turkish and Armenian
governments openly state that they are sincere and favor resolving the
issue. One of the factors that motivate Turkey is its intention to
ensure stability in the region, which includes Georgia. This is also
what the US, which is thought to be Turkey's strategic ally, seeks.

As we appreciate the bold steps taken by both countries, we need to
understand their lack of confidence in their publics. As Sarksyan's
pro-dialogue stance was criticized by nationalist groups inside
Armenia and among the diaspora, some Turks still argue meaninglessly
that Armenia should recognize Turkey's borders. Since the day it
declared its independence, Armenia has not made any claim about
Turkish borders; it is also unacceptable under international law not
to recognize the borders of a country with which one seeks to
establish diplomatic relations.

The Armenian Indepen-dence Declaration, which defines Turkey's eastern
pro-vinces as "western Armenia" from a historical point of view --
which tends to be remembered whenever bilateral relations improve --
was in place in 1991 when Turkey recognized Armenia, and the
Turkish-Armenian border gates were open until 1993. On cannot
understand why this declaration, which had been ignored in the past,
should now serve as an obstacle to improving relations.

The Armenian community in Turkey, which recoiled and started to act
more cautiously following the planned murder of Hrant Dink, is closely
following these developments. The Armenian minority felt happy when
they saw Kirkor was remembered in the ads prepared for Ä°stanbul
as the 2010 European Capital of Culture, but they were saddened by the
Culture and Tourism Ministry's failure to mention that Ani ruins were
Armenian heritage on the Web site designed for the ruins.

If we know how to look at it, we can see that there is room for hope
for Turkish-Armenian relations. Armenian Energy Minister Armen
Movsisyan announced that the Armenian Electricity Administration and a
Turkish corporation signed a deal during Gül's historic visit
to Yerevan. Turkey plans to convene the deputy undersecretaries of
five countries in December for the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation

While it is still a ripe idea, it seems that there are plans for
convening Russian, Turkish, Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani
presidents in Ä°stanbul in 2009. The first opportunity for this
will be the meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be held in Helsinki on
Dec. 5. Nalbandian said they are ready to assess a proposal for a
trilateral meeting among Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign
ministers in Helsinki. If border gates are opened and diplomatic
relations established, we have time until the match in 2009, and we
should make good use of this time. As talks are now held openly, not
secretly as done in the past, everyone is hopeful for concrete
progress. But we must be alert against provocations.

*Aline Ã-zinian is the press coordinator of the Turkish-Armenian
Business Promotion Council.

30 November 2008, Sunday