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‘Normalization with Armenia hostage to Turkish domestic politics’

Today's Zaman

The normalization of relations between estranged neighbors Turkey and Armenia is hostage to Turkish domestic politics, said Richard Giragosian, founding director of the Yerevan-based independent think tank Regional Studies Center (RSC), on Tuesday.

According to Giragosian, a recent statement from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regarding the 1915 killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia, in which he extended condolences from Turkey to Armenians for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, has raised expectations internationally. He said the Armenian side is waiting for more tangible and concrete steps from Erdoğan rather than words and gestures of good will.

“At the heart of the matter, the flowery language in the April 23 statement of Erdoğan was designed to make him look more presidential, with a softer political image. In other words, it was designed to emphasize Erdoğan’s [presence] more than Turkish President Abdullah Gül in the eyes of the public. It also aimed to change the view of the international community [concerning] Erdoğan,” Giragosian said in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman in Yerevan on Tuesday.

Welcoming Erdoğan’s 1915 statement, Giragosian noted that it was very significant in terms of its diverse audience. “Beside the international community, the Armenian diaspora and the Armenian government, the most important target of Erdoğan’s statement was Turkish domestic politics,” he added.

Giragosian also said that normalizing ties with Armenia is something Turkey wants to do once Erdoğan has becomes the president of Turkey. “The strategy of the Turkish side toward Armenia is related to domestic politics in the country. Whether this strategy will work or not is another issue,” he said.

Touching upon the 100th anniversary of the 1915 tragedy, which Armenians say amounts to genocide, he said the 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.

Turkey’s ‘three-plan strategy’ towards Armenia for 2017

He also noted that Turkey is working on a “three-plan strategy” with regards to Armenia for the year 2017.

“The first plan is to accredit a key representative to Armenia, like Turkish Ambassador to Georgia Levent Gümrükçü. The second [would be to] make the unofficial diplomatic relations official; if an ambassadorial accreditation [cannot be made], then consulate-level relations could be established. If that does not work, perhaps [the] third plan is a Swiss mediation between Turkey and Armenia, which is actually a more realistic plan,” Giragosian said.

He also said that rather than opening the closed border between Turkey and Armenia, the Turkish side could establish two border crossing points in which goods can pass from one and the other can be used for tourism. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan after Yerevan and Baku clashed over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Giragosian said that when compared to previous years, there was sincerity and good will on both sides regarding the normalization. He added that the Armenian side has learned lots of lessons from a historic reconciliation process launched in 2009 and that Turkey should also take action according to it. The two sides signed twin protocols to normalize diplomatic relations, but the move was not well received by Azerbaijan. The protocols, signed in Zurich, shook Turkish-Azerbaijani relations, and the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has yet to be resolved.

For Turkey, having good ties with Armenia ‘low-hanging fruit’

Giragosian noted that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Yerevan last December was not the first time a Turkish foreign minister had visited the capital, but he said it was a very significant one.

“It was a clear indication of Turkish willingness toward Armenia. Today, the door between the two countries is closed, but it is not locked, and much effort is not needed to reopen that door,” Giragosian said.

According to the analyst, Armenia is low-hanging fruit for Turkey, and if the latter were to want normalization, it could be an easy victory.

He also added that a letter from Gül to his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarksyan, was followed by Davutoğlu’s visit. “It is not public knowledge, but there is a standing invitation from Gül to meet with his Armenian counterpart,” Giragosian said.

Sinem Cengiz
Today’s Zaman

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