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Armenians caught off guard ... 06/10/2003

Armenians caught off guard ... again

The recent Turkish diplomatic initiative has caught the Armenian leadership off guard .... again.

Last week TARC held a meeting in Istanbul after a long lull.  Before that, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey, Vartan Oskanian and Abdullah Gul, met in Spain.  The outcome of those two meetings was the news that Armenia-Turkey border may reopen soon, without necessarily establishing formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Now comes the third Turkish initiative to carry its diplomatic campaign on more popular and community level, all the while recognizing that any official deal can only be cut with the government in Yerevan.

The Turkish general consul in Washington, D.C. has approached several Armenian organizations in the U.S. to set up private meetings with the Turkish Ambassador Ecvet Tercan.  As of this writing some groups have already met with the refined diplomat and others are waiting in line.

It looks like the list has been compiled haphazardly, or, perhaps, deliberately so.

The Turkish initiative raises a fundamental question: Who can speak for the Armenian community in the Diaspora or, at least, in the U.S.?  Some groups have the presumptions, but in reality no individual group has the clout or influence to represent the Armenian community.  And that gives an advantage to the Turks, to play one group against the other.

We already witness a division between major Armenian advocacy groups: The ANC has turned down the invitation outright, while the Armenian Assembly has set some conditions for the meeting.

Both groups depart from the same facts for their decision: Indeed, the request for the meeting comes on the eve of the introduction of a genocide resolution in the Senate.  Senators John Ensign (R-NV) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ), along with 12 co-sponsors are expected to introduce the resolution next week, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the implementation of the genocide convention.

The ANC position is that the Turks have been trying to derail the genocide resolution under the pretense that already Turkish-Armenian dialog is in progress and the introduction of the resolution may damage U.S.-Turkish relations, and even Armenian Turkish relations, just as the TARC talks gave the ammunition to President Bush to water down his April 24 commemorative statement, dwelling more on the negotiations and sidelining the issue of the genocide.

The Assembly position is derived from the same facts, but entirely with different logic.  Indeed, the Assembly chairman has stated: "Why would any Armenian organization refuse an opportunity to present our case directly to the Turks?  We don't need to give Turkish lobbyists the ammunition of being able to tell Senators next weeks that the Armenian-American community refused an offer to meet with a Turkish diplomat to discuss the issues that currently divide us."

The Armenian Assembly has also proposed an agenda as a pre-condition for talks and the Turkish side has accepted without hesitation.  That agenda highlights four important issues - the Armenian genocide, Turkish Armenian relations, Nagorno Karabagh peace process and the plight of the Armenian community in Turkey.

Refusing to talk to the Turks is not a solution.  It is a dead end.  If any solutions will be found for the outstanding issues, it will come through negotiations.  That is why the ADL leadership accepted the invitation to meet with the Turkish ambassador later this week in New York.

Whether a set agenda is proposed or not, the Turks know exactly what Armenians think and want.  The problem for us is to speak with one voice in the Diaspora.

We may speculate on the motivation of the Turks to choose this particular time to launch their diplomatic campaign.  One reason may be the pressure from the European Union to ease restrictions on Turkey's applicat ion for membership.  The other reason may be the pressure from the U.S. State Department in the wake of Turkish blunder during the Iraq war, straining the relations between the U.S. and Turkey.  Turkish American relations are more complex than they appear on the surface.  The U.S. has another tough nut to crack, which is Iran.  Iran is another bastion of anti-Israeli policy in the Middle East and Sharon's cohorts at the White House have already sold a bill of goods to the administration that it is in the national interest of the U.S. to bring a regime change in Iran.  Therefore, in dealing with Iran the Bush policy makers need Turkey and Armenia to be on the same team.  Armenia is closer to Iran than Turkey.  The U.S. needs to wean Armenia away from Iran not to be dependent on Tehran economically and politically.

Should a war be decided against Iran, it will have many far-reaching repercussions, denying access to Russia to the Persian Gulf region and further curbing its influence in the Caucasus.  That will leave Armenia to the tender mercy of Ankara.

Turkey's economic decline may have also played a role in compelling Ankara to approach the Armenians: By blockading Armenia economically, Turkey also blockaded itself, losing lucrative business with emerging Central Asian economies.  Of course, some trade is being conducted between Armenia and Turkey and between the latter and Central Asia, through Georgia.  But an unstable Georgia is the most unreliable trade route for Turkey.

When Turkey decided to shut the borders with Armenia, there was an outcry in its Eastern Provinces, which are still in economic depression.

These are some of the complex reasons to force Turkey to take the initiative to talk with Armenian representatives.

We do not expect too much to come out of these talks, but we believe that it is a positive movement.  Thus far, Turkey, being the stronger party, refused to talk to the Armenians.  Turkey is still strong to be able to dictate the agenda in these talks.

Recently Turkey's foreign minister Abdulla Gull announced that Turkish-Armenian relations might improve, only if Armenia renounces its territorial claims over Turkey.  That was welcome news, because, before that announcement there were more unacceptable conditions for that improvement; that Armenians had to stop their campaign for the recognition of the genocide and that they had to evacuate the territories liberated in Nagorno Karabagh.  If the latter conditions are dropped, we are only left with the territorial claims, which we cannot achieve anyway.  That condition in itself is a tacit recognition that Armenia has historic territorial claims from Turkey.  But on the other hand, if we sign a treaty with Turkey from our weakened position, disclaiming any territory, we can scrap the treaty any time Armenia becomes stronger, like all strong powers do, international law notwithstanding.

We consider a positive development to have talks with high-level Turkish diplomats, even if they do not produce immediate results.  This may be the beginning of a long and bumpy road, which may lead us to a satisfactory solution, bringing much desired stability to the region, and mutually advantageous trade and political cooperation between two neighboring countries.

June 10, 2003
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