Al-Arabiya, UAE
Jan 4 2015

2015 - A definitive year for Turkish-Armenian relations

Sunday, 4 January 2015


The year of 2014 tested both Turkey's foreign and domestic politics.
The security threat originating from the Islamic State of Iraq and
Syria (ISIS) at its doorsteps and the domestic political turmoil
challenged Turkish politics throughout the year. The foreign and the
domestic issues that emerged during the year of 2014 are likely to
continue during 2015.

However, among several foreign policy issues, Armenia seems to be the
most significant issue that would dominate Turkish politics in the
first half of 2015. Given the importance of 2015, the centennial of
the tragic events of 1915 that led to the mass killings of Armenians
by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Turkish-Armenian relations
is expected to go through a hard test.

The tragic events of 1915 are a greatly controversial matter in Turkey
and Armenia as Armenians describe the events as "genocide" while
Turkey says the events do not amount to genocide and that both Turks
and Armenians were killed. April 2015, for this reason, will be very
significant for both Turkey and Armenia. Armenians, who will be
commemorating the centennial of the 1915 events, are engaged into
several efforts for the international recognition of this tragedy as a
"genocide". On Turkish side, in response to the Armenians' efforts for
2015, Turkish government plans to commemorate the centennial of the
Çanakkale (Dardanelles) campaign on April 24-25 in order to counter
the adverse effects of Armenian efforts.

Weathering the storm

According to Richard Giragosian, the director of the Yerevan-based
Regional Studies Center (RSC), there are both challenges and limits in
2015; however, he believes that the Turkish government would seek to
"weather the storm" of 2015, and only after the commemoration passes,
would consider returning to the process of diplomatic engagement with
Armenia.

Giragosian, in an interview last May in Yerevan, stated that Turkish
side was exaggerating the importance of the year 2015 to be greater
than it actually need be. "This is a psychological burden created by
Turkey in terms of making the year 2015 a big issue. Turkey
overreacting to the anniversary will only make the issue a bigger
one," he said. Agreeing with Giragosian, I believe that rather than
considering 2015 as a panic year, Turkey should consider it as a year
for opportunity to resume efforts at normalizing relations with
Armenia. Turkey can take some significant steps, like it did in 2014,
for the normalization of relations with its neighbor in 2015.

Armenia seems to be the most significant foreign policy issue that
would dominate Turkish politics in the first half of 2015

Sinem Cengiz

Last year witnessed unprecedented, significant and historic
developments in Turkish-Armenian relations. However, the most
important step from the Turkish side came by then- Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current president of Turkey, who issued a
historic and a timing message of condolences about killings of
Armenians in 1915. Erdogan's statement came on 23 April, a day before
of 99th anniversary of the tragic events.

For the first time in the history of Turkey, a Turkish leader offered
condolences to the descendants of Ottoman Armenians. Such a message
would have been unthinkable a decade ago. It was a very momentous
indication of how the taboos regarding the Armenian question were
breaking in Turkey although the official stance regarding the issue
remains unchanged. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)
government, with exception to many other issues, has taken important
steps regarding the lifting of the taboos on freely discussing 1915
when compared to the previous Turkish governments. As Giragosian puts:
"That statement not only offered a "safer space" within which to
discuss the genocide issue, it also broadened the constituency for
dialogue by sending a message not only to Armenians but also to
Erdogan's own base of supporters. And it established an important new
precedent, whereby every Turkish prime minister will be expected to
make a similar statement timed with each April 24th commemoration of
the Armenian genocide."

Also in 2014, Yerevan positively responded to Turkish invitation to
take part in the Erdogan's presidential inauguration ceremony. Foreign
Minister Eduard Nalbandyan, who attended the ceremony, also invited
Erdogan to visit Armenia on April, 24 2015. It is difficult to make a
prediction whether Erdogan will visit Armenia or not but there are
some steps that Turkish government can take in Armenia-Turkey
rapprochement. Firstly, acknowledging the fact that Turkish-Armenian
relations are multifaceted, Ankara can pursue a multidimensional
policy in relations with Armenia. The Turkish-Armenian border, which
has been closed since 1994, could be open as a gesture of good will.
The long-awaited opening of the border between two neighbors would
serve significantly in opening the mental borders between two
societies. Secondly, the restoration of the diplomatic relations
between two countries and the ratification of the frozen protocols
signed between two countries in 2009 is a must for the improvement of
the bilateral ties.

In the last days of 2014, Etyen Mahçupyan, the top adviser for
theTurkish prime minister, stated that a priority for the future
should be establishing relations with Armenia as well as the
millions-strong diaspora rather than expecting to resolve a
long-running dispute within this year. Mahçupyan, who considers 2015
as a "tough year" because of the anniversary, said "I don't think we
need to hurry 100 years on. What happens later on should proceed more
healthily."

The improvement of the relations between two countries is not easy to
be achieved within a year, as it requires further time for the both
sides to make their societies ready and to take confidence building
measures. The both sides should not consider 2015 as an end, rather it
should be considered as a start or the efforts to normalize the ties
between two countries in the post-2015.

For both Ankara and Yerevan, there may be hard limitations in moving
toward normalization; however, dragging out the process is not in
interest of neither side. The normalization of relations between
Turkey and Armenia will be best for the interests of the two sides as
the peace and the stability at their doorsteps and in Caucasia is of
great importance to both Yerevan and Ankara.

Allow me to conclude with a quote from former Turkish Ambassador to
UK, Ünal Çeviköz, who believes that Turkey should bring out a new
initiative to overcome the deadlock in Turkish-Armenian relations.
"When I think of Turkish-Armenian relations, I am inclined to
characterize it as "history of missed opportunities" that has done
injustice not only to the two nations, the two peoples, the two
countries, but also to the whole Caucasus region. Unless there is
normalization in Turkish-Armenian relations we will have serious
difficulty in talking about an environment of sustainable peace and
stability in the Caucasus."

_______

Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst based in Athens. Born and
lived in Kuwait, Cengiz focuses mainly on issues regarding Middle East
and Turkey's relations with the region. She was also the former
diplomatic correspondent for Today's Zaman newspaper, English daily in
Turkey. She is currently researching on Turkish-Saudi relations to
complete her MA in International Relations. She can be found on
Twitter:

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