26 December 2006

1325) Interview With Oskanian

Nursun Erel’s interview with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian in “The New Anatolian” newspaper published in Ankara ran on December the 4th 2006. This interview which set forth Armenia’s stance on and policy towards Turkey in a detailed manner was not met with much interest in the Turkish press. We shall convey to our readers the statements of the Minister deemed most significant alongside certain explanatory remarks and comments. . .

Oskanian, as done in almost all of his recent speeches on this subject, reiterated that Turkey’s recognition of the “genocide” was not a precondition for the normalization of relations between the two countries. Subsequently, however, Oskanian added that recognition of the Armenian “genocide” was a moral obligation of every Armenian. Stating that both sides should not set forth preconditions, Oskanian expressed how they are pursuing recognition whilst Turkey is pursuing denialism. In other words, Oskanian proposed that Turkey opens its border with Armenia, that Armenia continues to propagate genocide allegations and that in return Turkey defends itself by stating that no genocide took place. Peace and understanding between both countries can only be established through the cessation of reciprocal accusations and animosity. This does not translate into forgetting certain historical events. There are certain episodes in history related to the Armenians the Turks do not want to be forgotten as well. However, with nearly a century having passed since the occurrence of these incidents, they should be viewed as issues to be analyzed by historians and other experts. The problem posed in this regard should be settled between both countries. Yet it is seen that Oskanian desires the genocide dispute to continue unabated.

Approximately two weeks ago, in a speech delivered at the Budget and Planning Commission of the Turkish Parliament, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül stated that Turkey may defer this problem to international arbitration. However, no official response was issued by the Armenians on this important matter. In his response to a question posed by Nursun Erel on this issue, Oskanian expressed how they shall never discuss this matter for there has never been a case they needed to prove by resorting to court and added that the issue at hand was not of a legal but of a political nature.

In the first instance it should be mentioned that Oskanian is approaching this matter in an emotional rather than rational manner. As is the case with the great majority of Armenians, due subjugating themselves to brainwashing over the past sixty years, Oskanian also believes beyond doubt that genocide took place and therefore feels this is not a matter up for debate. However, due to their demand that Turkey recognizes the “genocide”, they may be obliged to debate this issue after all. To preclude such an eventuality, the Armenians have been endeavoring for other states to recognize the “genocide” with the ultimate hope that this may pressure Turkey to succumb to recognition as well. However, as Oskanian recently stated, as the number of states recognizing genocide allegations increases, Turkey’s resistance to pressure in this regard continues to rise. As such, Armenian reluctance to discuss this matter with Turkey is not reasonable. Furthermore, the unwillingness on the part of Armenia to discuss the “genocide” issue -one of the major impediments to the establishment of normal relations between the two countries- is detrimental to their own interests. However, the extreme emotional sensitivity on the part of the Armenians precludes them from acting in a sound manner.

Due to the need to resolve the issue relating to genocide allegations as soon as possible, in April 2005 Turkey proposed to Armenia that this matter be analyzed by historians and other experts, but Armenia did not accept this proposal. This time Turkey has begun inquiring into the possibilities of resolving this issue by deferring it to a mechanism of international justice. However, the stance of the Armenian Foreign Minister with respect to resorting to international justice has also been negative. Although it may appear that this reluctance stems from the disinclination to debate the ‘reality of the genocide’, it is the case that the Armenians are apprehensive about not being able prove the existence of genocide before a judicial body.

Oskanian has described the proposal for establishing a joint commission of historians as a smokescreen for Europeans to think that Turkey has taken a positive step forward on this matter. The Foreign Minister has based this opinion of his on three grounds.

The first reason advanced by Oskanian is that such a commission is already existent and that Turkish, Armenian and foreign scholars have debated and declared their position vis a vis this issue. These scholars wrote a letter to Prime Minister Erdogan and stated that the issue has been studied, that the conclusion is clearly genocide and that there is no need for further discussion.

On this matter Oskanian is displaying a degree of confusion. No commission bringing together Turkish, Armenian and other scholars has been set up. Although negotiations were carried out in Vienna between members of the Turkish Historical Society and an Armenian historian of Austrian citizenship, amongst whom an exchange of documents was carried out, this group has not been able to continue their work.

On the 16th of April 2005, The International Association for Genocide Scholars, by way of letter sent to Prime Minister Erdogan, stated that the existence of the Armenian “genocide” was the general view not only of Armenian but also of other scholars examining this issue. However, the Institution in question does not comprise all nor even the majority of scholars specializing in this area of study. Furthermore, not a single Turkish scholar that is a member of this Institution is known. Also, it is clear that for a party siding with the allegation of the existence of the Armenian “genocide”, to send a letter to his Prime Minister crosses the line between scholarly and political action.

The second ground set forth by Oskanian is based on article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The Foregin Minister has expressed that since this article penalizes those stating that genocide occurred, it is not possible for Turkish scholars participating in a joint historical commission to accept that the events of 1915 amount to genocide or even discuss this issue for they may be punished.

These statements on the part of the Armenian Foreign Minister constitutes a gross exaggeration. First of all it should be noted that no mention of the word “genocide” is made in the pertinent article. This article deals with penalizing the act of degrading Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, and the State’s institutions and organs. If a prosecutor, on account of a written complaint or his own authority, interprets mention of the genocide as degrading Turkishness he may initiate a lawsuit. However, there is no one in Turkey who has been convicted due to accepting the Armenian “genocide”. Furthermore, there are publishing houses in Turkey which freely publish books of authors claiming that the Armenian genocide took place.

The third ground set forth by the Armenian Foreign Minister is based on the contention that establishing a joint commission of historians does not appear possible when the border between the two countries remains closed. There is, however, no relationship between the two. That Turkey’s border with Armenia is closed does not translate into how Armenians are forbidden from entering Turkey. As such, there are approximately 70,000 individuals of Armenian origion working in Turkey and these individuals go back and forth between the countries via airway or other border Gates.

In short, the grounds set forth by the Armenian Foreign Minister as to why he is against the formation of a joint commission of historians are of no validity. The real reason stems from the reluctance on the part of the Armenians to discuss and analyze this issue believing that the matter has been resolved in their favor.

Oskanian touched upon the Treaty of Kars during his interview with Nursun Erel of the New Anatolian Newspaper. This treaty signed on 13 October 1921 between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbajcan, Georgia and the Soviet Union, inter alia, established Turkey’s Eastern border. As it is still in force, it is not legally possible for Armenia to make territorial claims from Turkey.

For the matter at hand to be comprehended in full a few points shall be called attention to. At the beginning of 1990 Turkey proposed to Armenia that a document recognizing each others territorial integrity be signed for the establishment of diplomatic relations. However, despite the Treaty of Kars being in force, this proposal was not accepted on the part of Armenia which retained its stance despite Turkey’s many initiatives in the following years. Turkey, on the other hand, taking the genocide allegations and the occupation of Karabagh, Azerbaijan and other territories into consideration, did not establish diplomatic relations with Armenia. In this context it should also be noted that at the Armenian National Assembly and in the Armenian press demands are made from time to time for the Treaty of Kars to be renounced.

During his recent interview the Armenian Foreign Minister expressed the following: “The Treaty of Kars is in force as far as I'm concerned. Because Armenia is a successor in recognizing the Soviet treaties. And as long as any treaty hasn't been renounced officially or replaced by a new one, it has been in force. But the problem is that the agreement has been violated so much by the Turkish side. If a legal expert looks at this agreement and the way it's been implemented, I'm not sure if the legal experts would conclude that this is a valid treaty. The violation is from the Turkish side, (because of) having closed its borders with Armenia.”

In the first instance, it should be cited that the Armenian Foreign Minister’s statements were not of an official nature but were expressed as his own personal thoughts. As is known, the right wing parties of Armenia, and in particular the Dashnaks, retain the inclination to rule out the validity of the Treaty of Kars and consider it null and void. Therefore, instead of creating a rift between himself and these circles, Oskanian has chosen to state that the Treaty under question is in force “as far as he is concerned”.

The Treaty of Kars incorporates the following main elements. First of all it states that certain agreements concluded in the past are void and that no international document not recognized by Turkey will be recognized. In this manner with the Treaty of Kars, Armenia, as with the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, have officially accepted not recognizi0ng the Sevres Treaty. This constitutes the second reason as to why Armenian extreme nationalists are opposed to the Treaty of Kars. Establishing Turkey’s eastern border, this Treaty ceded Batumi to Georgia. Another important article of this Treaty is that which grants autonomous status to Nakhichevan under the protection of Azerbaijan. In other words, a change in the status of Nakhichevan is dependent upon the consent of Turkey. As such, the realization of the dream that Nakhichevan, like Karabagh, may be annexed to Armenia is inherently unrealizable.

Furthermore, it is not possible to interpret any article of the Treaty of Kars as foreseeing that it shall become null and void in the event that the border between two countries is closed. The fact that an official declaration by Armenia has not been made to the Turkish government stating that the Treaty has been breached or is void bears testament to the fact that it is still in force.

Oskanian has also touched upon the contentious issue of the Declaration of Independence adopted on August 23rd 1990, before the Republic of Armenia gained independence. According to Article 11 of this Declaration “The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia”.

Turkey has objected to this declaration on two grounds. The first reason being mention of Eastern Anatolia as Western Armenia. In this manner, Eastern Anatolia is indirectly displayed as Armenian territory or to say the least the ownership of this territory is called into question. In other words, Turkey’s territorial integrity is not recognized and the fact that Armenia has not accepted to sign a document relating to the mutual recognition of territorial integrity substantiates this assertion.

The second reason of objection stems from how the Declaration designates the task of attaining international recognition of the Armenian “genocide” as a mission incumbent upon Armenia in spite of Turkey’s objection to this allegation.

In the preamble of the Armenian Constitution, adopted in 1995, the “fundamental principles of Armenian statehood and the national aspirations engraved in the Declaration of Independence of Armenia” are recognized. As such, the Declaration has become a part of the Armenian legal system. The Armenian Constitution was amended last year; however, the stipulation relating to the Declaration of Independence was left untouched.

In response to Nursun Erel’s question regarding the article relating to Turkish territory, the Armenian Foreign Minister stated in a derogatory manner that this was a general statement about their past and not necessarily a statement about their future claims. In short, while a document setting forth the Armenian Constitution’s fundamental principles and national aspirations designates Eastern Anatolia as Western Armenia, the Armenian Foreign Minister has asserted that these expressions do not equate into a demand. Herein lies a blatant contradiction. On the question of who is to be believed the Constitution should be taken in primacy.

Another issue drawing attention during this interview with Oskanian were his remarks in the way that Turkey would play a more constructive role in the Caucuses and serve as a bridge between the Caucuses and Europe. It appears that the Armenian Foreign Minister is exaggerating the importance of his country. Apart from Armenia, Turkey enjoys good relations with the remaining three countries of the Southern Caucuses- namely the Russian Federation, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Turkey is in no need of Armenia’s help to improve her relations with these countries. Furthermore, there exists no designs for Turkey to serve as a bridge between Europe and the Caucuses. The EU is consolidating its relations with these countries within the framework of the European Neighborhood Project and Turkey can serve as such a bridge between them only in the event that she becomes a member of the European Union.

The aforementioned remarks of the Armenian Foreign Minister, reflect the isolation his country is in. On this point that Armenia is in a state of serious conflict with three of her four neighbors draws attention. In spite of the existence of a cease fire, Armenia is still at war with Azerbaijan. Due to propagating genocide allegations, not recognizing Turkey’s territorial integrity and due to the occupation of Karabagh and other Azerbaijani territories there exists serious areas of conflict with Turkey. Furthermore, it has problems with Georgia stemming from the Armenian minority in Javakhk and due to the transit pass of goods (including that of natural gas). It is the case that Armenia only shares normal relations with Iran; however, this country has little influence in the Caucuses.

When analyzing this state of affairs, it can be seen that the culprit of the existent problems in the Southern Caucuses remains to be Armenia. Therefore it is necessary that Armenia begins to contribute to the establishment of peace and cooperation in the region by way of normalizing her relations with her neighbors. To this end Armenia must abandon her historical ambitions and animosity as well as the pursuit of trivial interests born of internal affairs which are of no benefit to her and detrimental to the region.

Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
12 December 2006
İKSAREN


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