|Analysis / Caucasus|
First Step – Capitulation: The ill-constructed protocols signaling the beginning of formal relations between Armenia and Turkey received an uncertain and inauspicious signing in Zurich. The parties themselves and the representatives of the world powers, all were present but all remained silent. When such a ‘historic’ moment goes by with none of the sides or the witnesses able to say anything acceptable to the rest, either about the long-awaited event itself or the content of the documents being signed – it becomes obvious that these documents are in fact full of the contradictions and expectations that do not engender the serious trust and respect necessary for stable and respectful relations between countries.
Those within and outside Armenia who support this process label all those against it as nationalists, extremists or those who categorically reject all relations with Turkey. But I, and others like me, who have for decades wanted and continue to believe in the importance of Armenia-Turkey rapprochement are neither extremists or nationalists.
We are not afraid to recognize the enormous challenges of creating a new relationship in the context of overwhelming political, psychological, practical challenges. It is for fundamental political and security reasons that we oppose these protocols. We want the documents that define our reciprocal relationship to be respectful, farsighted and most of all, sustainable. These protocols are not. We want the documents to define a 21st century relationship that is as honest about past grievances as it is about contemporary political realities. These protocols are not.Instead of an acknowledgement of the historic divide and mutual distrust that separates us, or at the very least circumventing that topic, the documents place one-sided conditions and receive one-sided concessions. Normalization has thus begun with the capitulation of the Armenian side.
Indeed these protocols – barely signed and not even ratified – have already damaged, possibly irrevocably, Armenia’s positions on the three most significant issues of national security and national identity.
First, they will hamper the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. The reason for this is simple. Any Armenian insistence of no-linkage between Armenia-Turkey and Armenian-Azerbaijani is not credulous. The linkage between the Turkey border opening and the resolution of the Karabakh conflict was clear from the beginning. Now, it’s inarguable. If the presence of the Minsk Group co-chair countries’ foreign ministers at the signing wasn’t enough, there were the last minute frantic attempts at the signing ceremony to prevent Turkey from speaking of that linkage at that forum. But the coup de grace was the Turkish Prime Minister’s unequivocal conditional announcement the day after, buttressed by the strength of his ruling party whose meeting had just concluded, that the Turkish Parliament won’t ratify these protocols until territories are returned.
Any acceptable resolution will require certain compromise on the Armenian side – including compromise on the territories surrounding Karabakh. Many would say that such compromise would have been necessary eventually regardless of Armenia-Turkey relations. This is true. But in this conditional environment, when Turkey at every opportunity refers to the return of territories without the resolution of Karabakh’s status, even the most reasonable compromise that Armenia would have been prepared to make will be more difficult for this or any administration to make, because it will be viewed domestically as a concession made under pressure, in exchange for open borders, not for the independence of Karabakh. Even if the Turkish parliament ratifies the protocols and opens the border with the mere expectation that Armenians will return those territories in the near future, still, in the context of the forceful and repeated admonitions by the Turkish leadership, those expectations will themselves become conditions that the border opening was in exchange for possible future concessions.
Second, the nature of the genocide debate has been deeply altered. The ink on the protocols was not even dry before major news outlets and international figures began to couch their terminology, retreating from the use of the term genocide, citing the protocol’s provisions that a commission will determine what the events of 1915 really were. In other words, we have offered the international community the formalization of official Turkey’s position. If earlier, Armenians and international experts had defined the political and historical events as genocide, while the official Turkish side insisted on denying the term and the history behind the term, today, the official Turkish “doubts” have been sanctioned and will internationalize the denial of the events, their causes and consequences, and thus strengthen the historic and demographic status quo. Armenians will now be dragged into a new cycle of denial – struggling against the machinery of a state bent on rewriting history and consolidating the consequences of genocide.
Finally, this document succeeds in touching what had heretofore been a dormant but sensitive issue – the subject of borders and territorial claims. No Armenian administration had ever made such a claim of Turkey. Today, this sensitive issue has become a front-line issue. When Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says these protocols reaffirm the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty, that means the issue of reparation and compensation is now on the table. I do not demand my ancestral home in Marash, but if that demand were really so illusive, then why is Turkey forcing me to renounce my historic links with that home?
It is important to understand that the claim on land is not merely a sentimental issue having to do with Armenian properties in Turkey 100 years ago. The issue of lands is also an important element of the Karabakh conflict. If a mere 100 years later, Turkey is able to formalize and legalize its control of lands taken forcibly, then what’s to prevent Armenians from waiting if that offers them the opportunity to formalize their control of the lands surrounding Karabakh?
On Saturday, October 10, we heard President Sargsyan’s address to the Armenian people, issued just hours ahead of the scheduled signing, the content of which was directly contradictory to the content of the protocols. It can even be said that the president’s arguments were the best reasons to reject the protocols. The address insisted that there are irrefutable realities and we have undeniable rights; the protocols on the other hand question the first and eliminate the second. Armenia, without cause and without necessity, conceded its historic rights, both regarding genocide recognition and what the address so justly called ‘hayrenazrkum’ – a denial and dispossession of our patrimony.
The administration said one thing and signed another. Normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations, as an idea even, has been discredited.
The processes – both Armenia-Turkey, and the Karabakh peace talks – are going to become more complicated and more intense, and not at all to our advantage. If Armenia does not bring this process to a halt, and return to square one, the consequences will be grave not just for the administration, but for the Armenian people.