Denial Pays off for Erdogan in Washington


By Edmond Azadian

Many people entertained a very naive view that the protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey could take on a life of their own and create some facts on the ground, which we may never reverse.

Also, Armenian policymakers pinned the hope on the international community by thinking that sending the ball to the Turkish court could give Yerevan the upper hand in its negotiations with Turkey. But it turns out that despite having the ball in its court, Ankara will not nudge it away from its perceived interests, no matter what. The test came at the Obama-Erdogan meeting at the White House, which lasted four times the anticipated time slot, and ran into a diplomatic snag, which caused the resignation of the Turkish ambassador in Washington.

Among the issues discussed between the two heads of states were the Protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan had a list of goods, which he has been able to peddle successfully in Washington.

One of the issues which have stopped Turkey’s admission into the European Union — the Cyprus problem — was not even brought to the negotiation table. Although the Turkish daily Hurriyet, in its December 9 issue, states that President Obama has threatened Prime Minister Erdogan that the US Congress may adopt the Armenian Genocide Resolution should Turkey fail or delay the ratification of the protocols. That may not be true, or even if it is true, it has not made any impression on Erdogan. Because, coming out of the White House, even at a press conference at Johns Hopkins University, Erdogan has adamantly stuck to his denialist gun by stating, “We absolutely refute the Genocide accusations. That is an outright lie. I call upon supporters of that notion to come up with the proof. Our ancestors could not have committed a genocide.”

In view of this blatant denial, the joint committee to study the Armenian Genocide will be stillborn, since Mr. Erdogan knows in advance the conclusion of the yet-to-be-formed historical commission.

Mr. Erdogan has also refused to accommodate Mr. Obama’s appeal to send troops to Afghanistan. Instead, he has promised to patch up the strained Turkish-Israeli relations, which is a top priority on Washington’s foreign policy establishment agenda.

Erdogan came out of the White House as a winner, as his subsequent actions and statements have demonstrated.

A sure indication of that arrogance is the banning of the pro-Kurdish political party (Democratic Society Party), which holds 20 seats in the Turkish parliament, meanwhile intensifying the repressive war against the Kurdish minority. The “opening” approach to the Kurdish minority issue was a much-heralded political move, admired by the European nations.

The reversal of the short-lived milder Kurdish policy has its impact on the reconciliation with Armenia, since both were part and parcel of the human rights opening in Turkey.

Erdogan and his government believe that they have a strong support in some quarters to be able to trample human rights issues and to challenge greater powers. The US is still behind Turkey’s entry into the European Union despite Turkey’s arrogance to challenge all the conditions set by the European Union.
In all its actions and policy decisions, Turkey has held on to the axiom that might is right, since it is a strong military power and has never hesitated to flex its muscles to impose its will on its neighbors. Based on that strength, it has shrewdly manipulated Europe, the US and now even Russia to put that power to their use, so that they may achieve their goals in the region. Conversely, it has enlisted the support of major powers in pursuing its own agenda. Therefore, Turkey has shown it can get away with murder and survive.

The protocol issue also has to be analyzed within this context. Our pundits and armchair diplomats recommend all kinds of policy positions to the Armenian government, sometimes without realizing that any action or political posturing has to be commensurate to one’s resources, and that they also need to be in line with the interests of major powers. The economic and political pressure on Armenia is overwhelming. Its government cannot behave as Turkey does. A case in point is the profuse praise showered on Turkey by the former European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana upon the signing of the Protocols, as if there was only one side in the deal. The scenario was repeated at the White House as well.

In reality, Turkey has committed a crime by blockading Armenia and is enjoying praise simply on the promise of good conduct. Mind you, it is only a promise, which may or may not even materialize. No mention is made of its repeated, ongoing violation of international law, not only with regard to its neighbor, Armenia, but also domestically with regard to quashing dissent.

After signing the Protocols, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Tavoutoglu had a prepared speech which would have contradicated the spirit of the Protocols, which were signed under the presumption of there being no preconditions. At that time, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was able to stop that speech. Now those preconditions are emerging and most members of the Turkish leadership insist the Protocols will not be ratified by the Turkish Parliament unless the Nagorno Karabagh issue is settled to the benefit of Azerbaijan. That announcement was made by Davoutoglu in Athens, after his meeting with the Azeri Foreign Minister Mamedyarov. It was also repeated by Erdogan himself in Washington, with an added sarcastic twist that the Turkish Parliament is an independent body and that the executive branch cannot influence its decision. In truth, everyone knows that Erdogan’s party holds the majority vote in the parliament and it can pass any resolution that the party  — i.e., Erdogan — wishes.

Azerbaijan has been pushing the envelope too far by consistently issuing threats of war. Neither the OSCE nor the Council of Europe have yet slapped Azerbaijan’s wrist for misbehavior.

Armenia is being cornered and needs to demonstrate its resolve. Fortunately, the Russian military brass made a vague statement recently that it will come to the rescue of any ally which is attacked.

Earlier, President Serge Sargisian’s office had announced that in case of any military action by Azerbaijan, Yerevan will make a unilateral decision by recognizing Karabagh’s independence and signing a mutual defense treaty.

On December 10, Armenia’s government came out with a stronger stand. Indeed, President Sargisian has announced that Armenia is ready to fulfill its international obligations and approve the signed Protocols. “We expect the same from the Turkish side,” he added, “but if Turkey continues to drag its feet, then Armenia may resort to the international law and take necessary actions.”

If the state of the Cypriot and Kurdish issues can provide any hints about the Turkish government’s intentions, then the Protocols will not be approved by Ankara soon and nor should we hold our breaths for the opening of the border.

Having said that, Armenia’s domestic situation does not support the government’s resolve to stand up against international pressure and Turkey’s power plays. Indeed, the Armenian National Congress has been harping all along that Sargisian has been compromising on Karabagh to obtain legitimacy. Now the ARF has joined the chorus calling for a regime change right in the middle of these delicate negotiations.

If the Yerevan administration can withstand successfully all these domestic and foreign pressures, then it deserves to survive.
Otherwise, God may help Armenia.