What happened to Armenians in Anatolia in 1915 is no longer a taboo in Turkey and there is open discussion about it, says expert Aybars Görgülü. The Armenian diaspora needs to realize this change, and Turkey should establish dialogue mechanisms with all segments of the diaspora, he adds.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s recent visit to Yerevan has revived hopes for the normalization of ties between Turkey and Armenia, which currently have no diplomatic relations. However, frustrated by the failure of the 2009 reconciliation process, Armenians will approach any new initiative more cautiously, according to Aybars Görgülü, program officer at the Foreign Policy Program of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV).
The role of the Armenian diaspora is particularly important and Ankara should establish dialogue with all segments of it, Görgülü said, adding that the diaspora also needed to realize the change in the Turks’ approach to what happened in 1915.
What was the picture on Turkish–Armenian relations prior to Davutoğlu’s trip?
Relations have been deadlocked since 2009, as the protocols [to normalize relations] that were signed were not later approved. Azerbaijan was a crucial blocker. The borders between Armenia and Turkey remain closed. Davutoğlu saw an opportunity to make a goodwill gesture, but no big expectations should be anticipated from this visit.
You are convinced that the process was blocked by Baku?
This is one of the primary reasons. When both sides negotiated the texts of the protocols, Nagorno Karabakh was not on the paper. Although I’m sure the diplomats discussed the issue, it was not presented as a precondition. But after the signing, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the two issues were linked, and Nagorno Karabakh is now a strong pre condition.
Apparently the failure of the process has created a loss of confidence in Armenia.
Definitely. The signing of the protocols created a good atmosphere, but the failure of the process has created huge disappointment. When we talk to our counterparts in Armenian civil society they blame Turkey. I think both sides have made mistakes, but I think Turkey has a bigger role.
What made Davutoğlu go to Yerevan?
There are a couple of reasons. 2015 is approaching. In the past two years there has been almost no official contact, and not going there would also have been problematic. Turkey wants to open a new channel of dialogue with Armenia before 2015, to give the international community the message that Turkey is not isolating Armenia and that the two are on speaking terms. For example, Davutoğlu said the deportation [the decision that led to the death of Armenians] was “inhumane.” The message he gave was for 2015. He underlined the humanitarian dimension.
The fact that Turkey’s initiatives were triggered by the approach of 2015 probably makes Armenians more intransigent, doesn’t it?
Armenians don’t trust Turkey’s motives. They approach it with suspicion because they believe that Turkey wants to launch an initiative with 2015 in mind. So they will approach another round of initiatives coming from Turkey with caution. They don’t want to be involved in a reconciliation process that will bear no results in the end. But the important thing about 2015, apart from the diplomatic initiative, is what Turkey will actually do about 1915.
Will Turkey apologize? Will a government official make a statement creating empathy for the tragedy? Or build a statue? I think all the options are being evaluated in Ankara. Everyone is expected Turkey to do something. From the signals we receive, Turkey is doing something defensive to answer allegations, but it is also getting prepared for other types of activities. An apology is difficult, but it may be something to create empathy, which is key to reconciliation with Armenia. There needs to be a remedy, otherwise something will be missing.
What came of Davutoğlu’s visit?
Davutoğlu made an important declaration, saying the deportation was “inhumane.” Turkey should continue diplomacy with Azerbaijan to find common ground, as Davutoğlu also said there were three actors in this game. Although I don’t know exactly how much leverage Turkey has on Azerbaijan, Baku has more leverage on Ankara than vice versa.
What makes you say that?
There is increasing interdependency between the two, particularly with the Trans-Anatolian pipeline project [which will carry Azeri oil to Europe via Turkey], and a new gas deal. There is increasing foreign direct investment from Azerbaijan. In 2008 there was a problematic period; the gas deal was over and both sides started harsh negotiations on the pricing of gas and the transit fee. All the brotherhood and fraternity rhetoric was put aside and both sides prioritized national interests. At this stage, the [Armenian] protocol process came up, and Azerbaijan used the energy card very harshly against Turkey. After that point, Baku understood one thing and said: We have to invest more in Turkey, we have to get closer to Turkey in order to prevent another road accident.Baku would not let Turkey have a second round of rapprochement with Yerevan, unless it is offered something interesting, like the withdrawal of Armenian soldiers from occupied Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabakh.
Any government in Turkey that opens borders without convincing Baku will be committing political suicide. Not only will it not win votes inside, but it will be losing a neighboring country that is investing in you and is rich in natural resources. It would basically be a stupid move.
We are approaching the end of an era. Since the end of the Cold War, Azerbaijan has been at the center of Turkey’s policy in the Caucasus. This is now consolidated. The direct result of this is the exclusion of Armenia. Of course, Armenia is a problem and Turkey will try to fix it, but currently Azerbaijan and Georgia are the two axes Turkey is building its regional policy on and Armenia is out of his picture.
What is the likelihood of reviving the protocols?
Going back to the protocols is not an option; they are not in the refrigerator, but rather they are dead. Both sides need to develop new diplomatic tools, new mechanisms. And the international community should pressure Baku, Yerevan and Moscow. Armenia is excluded from the Western camp, and it will be much closer to Russia, especially if it joins the customs union with Russia.
Why does the Armenian diaspora in the West not mind Armenia coming into theRussian sphere of influence?
The diaspora does not really know Armenia. They are just beginning to get to know Armenia. The diaspora’s main task was the recognition of genocide and they spent lots of energy on that. After the Cold War they gave lots of financial aid to Armenia but they did not much care about what is going on in Armenia’s politics. Also, the diaspora does not have that much leverage on Yerevan anyway. But now the new generation of the diaspora is going to Armenia to work, to live. These kinds of people experienced open society, and will object to that [the Russian sphere of influence]. So the only chance Armenia has is the young Armenian diaspora. Otherwise, Armenia will only become more authoritarian.
There is a lot of change in the Turks’ approach to 1915, but this isn’t much known by the diaspora either.
1915 is no longer a taboo. The assassination of [Turkish Armenian journalist] Hrant Dink was a crucial turning point. People started discovering what happened in 1915, and we can openly discuss what happened to Armenians living in Anatolia and their heritage. Of course, the old mentalities do not change quickly, but the Justice and Development Party government is also open to this change of rhetoric. They are open to discussing all the dimensions of the problem. This does not mean that they will recognize or apologize, but at least they are not disturbed that 1915 is being discussed and that there are different opinions. Right now you can publicly state that it was genocide and you don’t end up in jail. The Armenian diaspora needs to realize that Turkey is not the Turkey of 10 years ago, and Turkey should explain that to the diaspora as well. Turkey should get in touch and create dialogue mechanisms with all segments of the Armenian diaspora.
Who is Aybars Görgülü?
Aybars Görgülü serves as program officer at the Foreign Policy Program of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV).
Dr. Görgülü received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Istanbul’s Sabancı University in 2013, and previously got his M.A. in diplomacy and international relations from the University of Clermont-Ferrand, France and his B.A. in Social and Political Sciences from Sabancı University.
Görgülü’s academic interest is in Turkey’s foreign policy and the Caucasus region, and he actively participates
in civil society efforts aiming to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia. Görgülü has published on Turkey-Armenia relations, Turkey’s South Caucasus policies, and Turkish foreign policy.
His publications have appeared as TESEV monographs, in edited volumes, and in academic as well as popular journals.