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ANKARA: Time to Hope

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  • ANKARA: Time to Hope

    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