Turkish-Armenian rapprochement is being held hostage

Those who follow Turkish-Armenian relations these days witness a “war of letters” between the two countries

Sinem Cengiz

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The latest developments in Turkish-Armenian relations have confirmed my previous article in which I have stated that “2015 would be a definitive year for Turkish-Armenian ties.” In that article, I have noted that this year, the centennial of the tragic events of 1915 that led to the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, would be a time that Turkish-Armenian relations would face several challenges.

Those who follow Turkish-Armenian relations these days witness a “war of letters” between the two countries. This war started earlier this year when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent an invitation to his Armenian counterpart to visit Turkey for the commemoration of the Çanakkale (Dardanelles) battle victory on April 24, which coincides with the centennial of the 1915 events.

Turkey, in order to counter the adverse effects of Armenian efforts for the centennial, sent letters to more than 100 leaders and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was one of them. Needless to say, April 24 is a long-awaited date for the Armenians, who have been preparing for their own events to remember the mass killings a century ago; therefore it was not surprising to see the harsh reaction from the Armenian side over Turkey’s move.

Overshadowing move

In an open letter to Erdoğan, while rejecting the invitation, Sargsyan accused the Turkish government for deliberately timing the commemoration to overshadow the centennial of 1915 and stated that the invitation itself shows that Turkey continues to pursue its policy of denial of the Armenian “genocide.”

Those who follow Turkish-Armenian relations these days witness a “war of letters” between the two countries

Sinem Cengiz

Prior to the Turkish invitation, it was the Armenian side that invited Erdoğan to visit the capital Yerevan on April 24. “It’s not an Armenian custom to accept an invitation from someone who has not yet responded to an invitation from the intended guest,” said Sargsyan in his letter.

Turkey strongly reacted to the Armenian president’s words, saying that Turkey returns back the remarks of Sargsyan who acted against diplomatic practices.

The “battle of letters” waged between the Turkish and Armenian leaders with bitter words undermine the earlier normalization attempts and lead two sides to miss historic opportunities.

However, the last straw came when Sargsyan stated on Monday that he withdrew from Parliament the protocols signed with Turkey in 2009 to normalize relations and establish diplomatic relations between the two estranged neighbors.

The historic protocols, which were inked after a period of hostility between two countries, not only aimed to develop relations but also to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border, which has been closed since 1993. That significant reconciliation process, which was launched as part of Turkey’s policy of “zero problems with neighbors,” was not welcomed by some sides, such as Azerbaijan and both Turkish and Armenian nationalists. Therefore, since then, the ratification of the protocols in both the parliaments stalled.

Groundbreaking agreement

In a letter sent to parliament, the Armenian president, who asked Parliamentary Speaker Galust Sahakian to withdraw his signature from the groundbreaking agreement, stated that the reason behind his decision to recall the protocols from parliament was due to “the lack of Turkish authorities’ political will, the distortion of the letter and spirit of the protocols and the continuous stimulation of preconditions.” Accusing Turkey for putting obstacles in the way for the establishment of relations between two countries, Sargsyan said: “it would become clear to the international community which party bore the responsibility for Europe’s last closed border and for the missed opportunity.”

The response from the Turkish side did not take much time. The Turkish government stated that the motivation behind Yerevan’s move was “to create a reason to accuse Turkey” ahead of the centennial of the 1915 events, describing the move as “wrong and unfortunate.” Turkey also stated that it would continue to remain committed to the protocols.

While most of the comments over the development were based on Yerevan’s aim to further corner Turkey ahead of the centennial of 1915, it is significant not to neglect the domestic political context in which Sargsyan’s decision was made. Armenia’s decision of withdrawing the protocols was mainly due to domestic considerations rather than foreign policy calculations.

According to Armenian journalist Aris Yalman Nalci, Sargsyan decided to withdraw the protocols in order to prevent the opposition, which is getting stronger in the country, to use the protocols as a trump card against him and to gain the support of the diaspora. “The frozen protocols could be revived even after 20 years, so Sargsyan does not want anyone to have part in it if one day normalization happens between Turkey and Armenia,” said Nalci. Agreeing with Nalci, Richard Giragosian, the director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center (RSC), says that although the decision was unexpected, the timing only confirms that it was related mainly to domestic politics than foreign policy.

For Sargsyan, who got stuck in domestic politics, withdrawing the protocols was more a gain rather than a loss, as he wanted to turn public opinion in his favor and garner the support of the diaspora in this political crisis. The protocols which were signed among great hopes are not fully cancelled out as it is only recalled from the parliament. As Giragosian says, “the protocols were already politically deceased, while it is now the implementation if the protocols’ provisions that is the next step, but beyond 2015.”

It is important to note that both sides should take the necessary steps to avoid losing the protocols in the dusty pages of the history. Or else, it is unlikely to be able to move forward with the rapprochement process if the relations will be held hostage to the domestic politics of the two countries.


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: @SinemCngz

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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