598) Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia: A Triangular Interaction?

Talat Pasha, the Ottoman statesman, prime minister, minister and politician during Union and Progress Party, rule was assassinated in Berlin on March 15, 1921. Tribute was paid to his memory with little fanfare on the 81st anniversary of his death.. It was the first time a memorial meeting was organized by way of a scholarly international seminar by the Armenian Studies Center's director, Omer Lutem, a retired ambassador and colleague, at the historic Pera Palace Hotel, where Talat Pasha's memories lie..

At this most informative seminar German, Russian, Azerbaijani and American speakers Professor Erich Figl, Professor Otto Winkelman, Professor Peter Bendixen, Professor Nesib Nessibl, Mr. Samuel Weems and Professor Kalleiya Balova, along with Turkish scholars such as Professor Arslan Terzioglu, Professor Seçil Akgün, Ambassador Bilal Simsir, Professor Mehmet Saray and Ambassador Ömer Lutem took to the rostrum, discussed and presented new data on the Armenian question. I also expressed some views and personal suggestions that were warmly received and are reproduced at the end of this article.


Talat Pasha was in self-exile in Berlin. He was only 47 years of age when he was assassinated by a 24-year-old Armenian student, a killer ostensibly hired by a great power, known as Sogaman Tayleryan. He was shot in the head from behind and the bullet went out of his right eye. He died instantly in front of his rented house, and nobody recognized him as he lay in a pool of blood. The killer was caught by a passerby. He was tried for manslaughter in a seven-week trial but was acquitted of this premeditated murder in broad daylight and, amazingly, went unpunished by a German kangaroo court.

A portrait of Talat Pasha:

For the last 81 years, Talat Pasha has been disowned by the last Ottoman and Turkish republican governments, and his death was not cared about, his political heritage little defended. Students of my generation were educated with total ignorance of what happened in 1915, the most terrible and tragic year of Ottoman history.

Talat bey was a small bureaucrat and a simple teacher who took interest in politics at an early age in Saloniki, where he was born in 1874. He opposed the repressive policies of Sultan Abdulhamid II and was arrested for his views and political activities in 1895. He studied law for only a few years in Saloniki. In 1906 he established what he called the Ottoman Independence Association, which would serve as the nucleus of the future Union and Progress Party.

Talat bey was a member of the Ottoman Parliament from Edirne during the 1908 revolution and also served as deputy speaker of the Ottoman Parliament. He became interior minister (1908-1911) and later communications minister (1912). He was under arms during the first Balkan Wars and active when the Ottoman armies took Edirne back from Bulgarian occupation. He was involved in the Ottoman-Bulgaria peace negotiations. He became interior minister once again (1913).

Pasha became prime minister on Feb. 4, 1917, which lasted until July 17, 1918. He also represented the Ottoman government at Brest-Litowsk (1918) with Russia.

In some accounts, he is portrayed as the most realistic and down-to-earth figure among the other Union and Progress leaders, namely Enver and Cemal Pashas. He was a heavily built but soft-spoken man, perhaps lacking the political ambition required, although per chance he climbed the ladder all the way to the top. As opposed to his merits, he was also criticized for his narrow-minded view of the world and his lack of political know how. Pasha was considered to be an honest and simple man of politics by his contemporaries yet admitted to being a man of principle, to his credit. His remains came home in the middle of World War II from Germany, where he was temporarily buried in a Christian cemetery and laid to eternal rest in Abidei Hürriyet Tepesi in Istanbul. His legacy, as one of the three leaders of the Union and Progress Party, is related to the Armenian question as it created controversy for decades among his adversaries, who vilified his name without much defense on his behalf.

Contribution of the Armenians:

Historians recognize the active contribution of the Armenian "millet" to Ottoman history, politically, economically and last but not least, artistically. The great Ottoman architect "dev�irme" Sinan was born as child Agop in the Kayseri region. The builders of Dolmabahçe Palace were also Armenian architects for all to admire. The "Baruthane" gunpowder factory in Bak�rköy was the work of an Armenian family under the tutelage of the sultans from one generation to the next. The Ottoman Foreign Ministry at the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century was full of Armenian officials of various ranks, from the minister down to the minor clerk.

Ottoman togetherness:

Turks and Armenians lived together for more than 600 years within the Ottoman commonwealth, without much of a problem with mutual respect, support, interaction and even compassion, but not hate or enmity, in spite of ethnic or religious differences. The primary and most important reason that united them was a feeling of Ottoman tolerance and a sense of Ottoman togetherness.

Armenian minority:

The Armenian nation "millet" was divided among the Catholic, Orthodox and Gregorian sects. They were not forced to convert to Islam at any time. They freely practiced their Christian faith in their many churches, not only in Istanbul but all over Anatolia in Ottoman times.

The Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire was mostly a refined people who excelled in commerce, in bureaucracy, in crafts and arts, in music and in diplomacy, as they served as the sultan's ambassadors abroad or dragomans in the Sublime Porte, Babiali.

Most faithful millet:

Among the many "millets" within the Ottoman Empire Sultan Abdulhamit described the 1 million or less Armenians as "millet-i sadika," or "the most faithful nation" in an empire totaling some 35 million subjects at the time. Yet it was one Edward Jorris, an Armenian terrorist, who tried to assassinate Sultan Abdulhamid II on April 13, 1909. Many people were killed at the scene but Sultan Abdulhamid escaped death. The terrorist Jorris was caught but forgiven by the sultan for his outrageous crime and surprisingly set free.

What happened in 1915 under the terrible war conditions and in the last hours of the crumbling Ottoman Empire is a truly tragic story in our common history, which fatally cuts and badly hurts both ways.

Reconciliation is a must:

There must be reconciliation, as Turks and Armenians cannot continue to live in the dark shadow of the past. The Armenians slain and the Turks killed must be left alone in heaven or in hell, for due reverence of their misfortune and memory. No amount of vindictiveness or sense of vengeance will bring them back. Who killed whom or how many is a redundant question after eight decades or more, as this tragedy was not a numbers game.

Center for Armenian research:

The Center for Armenian Research was established some months ago in Ankara. It is part of the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies, ASAM. It has published a quality quarterly since May 2001.

Armenian writers or historians of Armenian origin may be included on the board of directors of this center as well as space to be allocated in the quarterly publication for Armenian views and comments, since the aim of the center is to study Armenian-Turkish history, culture and religion as well as the present-day Armenia, not from a propagandist but from a scholarly point of view. For the last 85 years or so, one-sided Armenian claims and accusations prevailed without proper Turkish defense. Even historians may have had political bias, at the expense of being unjust and unfair to our common history.

History falsified:

History falsified by Armenian apologists in the heat of the past memories, true or false, did a great disservice to the Armenian people by creating a chronic Turkish neurosis. By keeping alive such an enmity they psychologically hurt themselves from within for many a generation of Armenians up until today. Many claims and assertions have reopened the old wounds and proven to be counterproductive. One humble piece of advice may be to not make political capital out of old scores and sores. History should neither be at the service of blood feuds nor help a sense of vengeance or vindication.

Reconciliation Commission:

It is a sad reminder that the Reconciliation Commission composed of Turkish and Armenian former diplomats, academics and intellectuals who started a much-needed dialogue between the two sides on an informal basis and at the level of civil society, now seems deadlocked and somewhat failed. It was a courageous and timely venture, a worthy initiative of 10 wise men from both sides under the auspices of the Henry Dunnan Center for Humanitarian Dialogue. They, unfortunately, did not make much headway, even in search of joint projects to cover business, tourism, culture, education and, most importantly, confidence building measures between Turkey and Armenia. It is hoped that similar initiatives will be renewed or emerge again and continue towards the realization of similar tasks.

A superpower design?:

Armenian critics and opponents of this failed initiative saw it as a superpower design, meaning that the United States was engaged to reconcile the Turks and the Armenians for America's own advantage, to decrease the present Russian influence on Armenia. This negative view dismisses the important fact that such a rapprochement and a possible Turkish-Armenian dialogue towards an understanding and eventual cooperation will benefit all interested parties, primarily Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the United States and the Russian Federation.

Need for dialogue:

The proposed Turkish-Armenian dialogue is nearly a century late as it is a must and a priority. Both sides need it for their own common advantage. To keep a sense of revenge alive for narrow political aims has led no one anywhere but, in many instances, to a blind alley. "Turkish-Armenian reconciliation may be difficult, but eventually we have to face it," as Mr. Kevork Toroyan, a retired American businessman from New Canaan, Connecticut, suggested last year after visiting Turkey with a big delegation of Americans of Armenian origin.

Some simple suggestions for rapprochement:

We, the Turks and the Armenians, including the Azerbaijanis, need a dialogue and not opposite monologues. We should no longer be repeating the worn-out clichés. Azerbaijanis and Armenians as neighbors also need a dialogue, which is more than two monologues. All should remember that instability is the enemy of politics and economy.

The media in the three countries have a great responsibility in providing better understanding and appreciation of our peoples. In the Ürgüp, at the Cappadocia meeting, journalists from three countries briefly showed that they could interact and even dance together to Turkish music as neighbors and colleagues.

I always held the view and humbly suggested that Ankara-Yerevan rapprochement and understanding may help Yerevan-Baku relations.

Turkish private sector investments in Armenia and in Azerbaijan may not be a utopian dream but a reality sooner rather than later. Greater and direct trade and exploratory visits by businessmen to that effect may be another way out from the present dead end and vicious circle.

An Armenian representative office was inaugurated in Istanbul, seemingly the sole responsibility of the Black Sea Economic Corporation recently, although it is underlined that it falls short of diplomatic representation. It is definitely a positive and symbolic step forward by Armenia that perhaps should be reciprocated one way or another.

The establishment of diplomatic relations, if not immediately possible, should be an important goal, although presently it is under the mortgage of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia and is closely linked with the solution of the question of Nagorno-Karabakh. The designation of an honorary consul or the establishment of unofficial liaison office or a trade office under a private representative may be a first step and an alternative to future diplomatic relations.

Turkish Eximbank credits for small or medium-size export-oriented Turkish businessmen and official aid and assistance to Armenia should be considered and may be beneficial in developing commercial relations between Turkey and Armenia.

Symbolic acts and manifestations of good will sometimes go a long way; messages of congratulations and condolence on occasions between the three countries have rarely been exchanged. Such symbolic acts cost nothing but do help to capture the hearts and minds of the general public in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Visa formalities for Armenian tourists and businessmen have now been simplified and facilitated at Turkey's border posts. This was a a much-expected, pragmatic and meaningful step forward. It was a symbolic step as it is, with regard to Turkey's positive approach towards developing tourism and business from Armenia to Turkey.

The facelift and renovation of an Orthodox church, St. Stephan, on the shores of the Golden Horn, built by an Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavur in the 19th century, is yet another symbolic act of goodwill to the Orthodox Armenian world.

A group of Turkish women paid a private visit to Yerevan on World Women's Day on March 8, 2002. This was a spontaneous move and happening perhaps for the first time with an underlying message of solidarity from Turkish women to Armenian women. It was also a symbolic gesture by an NGO, with such bilateral private contacts hopefully to continue. It was a missed opportunity for the media that there was no TV coverage of the Cappadocia meeting of journalists.

Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijan TV crews and journalists should visit each other as frequently and as regularly as possible, to create a better ground for understanding among the masses of viewers of the three countries. It will have more than symbolic value but would be an extremely important mission for the benefit of mutual understanding, awareness and appreciation, to erase common prejudices and misinformation.

Although there are no cultural agreements or cultural exchange programs between the governments, is it not possible that Turkish and Armenian musicians could be exchanged for performances at the opera houses of Istanbul, Ankara and Yerevan, along with orchestras and conductors from both countries and Turkish and Armenian classical and folk music and choruses?

The diaspora Armenians contribute to their kith and kin. Turkey should not shy away from providing financial assistance and aid to Armenia, which is in dire straits. Helping the Armenian economy raise the poor standard of living should be considered. Such an attitude may go a long way in demonstrating Turkey's genuine interest in the well-being of Armenia, with the purpose of promoting good neighborly relations.

The initiation of border trade without a doubt will contribute to promoting profitable economic and beneficial trade ties, which are the basis of all bilateral relations, along with politics and diplomacy.

As was concluded at the end of the Cappadocia meeting of journalists by Turkish Daily News Editor in Chief Yusuf Kanlı, "The NGOs may not find solutions to the endemic and chronic issues and problems that exist between Turkey and Armenia, but they can try to assist and perhaps serve as a source of inspiration to the political leaders with new or unexplored ideas, as brain trusts." The statement and the suggestion is self explanatory.

With great interest I participated as an observer and put forward similar views and suggestions in the Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey Journalists' Initiative 2002 at Ürgüp on the weekend of March 10, 2002. This was a useful and worthy project and an exercise supported by the Turkish Democracy Foundation, the Yerevan Press Club, the Journalists Club of Azerbaijan and the Association of Diplomatic Correspondents of Turkey. It was the first of its kind and a shared success as the first small step towards a steady march to initiate close cooperation among the journalists of these three neighboring countries. These meetings will hopefully continue in the future to forge the idea of interaction and personal relationships.

In the event Turkish-Armenian relations take a positive and constructive turn and improve, they are no doubt bound to help in the solution of Azerbaijani-Armenian problems. It may not be a utopian suggestion to say that our three countries are destined to create a tripartite relationship, a useful triangle of peace and stability in the Caucasus, a practical relationship hopefully to be inaugurated in good time by the addition of Georgia and the Russian Federation. Tomorrow's reality is only possible with today's dreams.

I recall what great French General de Gaulle once said in his wisdom and foresight, "Europe ends in the Caucasus." It is not too much of a daydream to envisage Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey becoming partners within the EU family in the matter of perhaps a decade or more. We may proudly witness and hopefully prove that the issues of today may be as extinct as dinosaurs and look archaic or anachronistic tomorrow, with little foresight, some common sense and an element of realism.

Turkish Daily News, March 31, 2002, Yüksel Söylemez
April 25, 2006



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