Turkish Diplomacy’s Gordian Knots


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been trying to give a positive spin to his country’s foreign policy with his academic semantics, but thus far, he has been only successful in providing a very transparent veneer to all the intractable problems that Turkey has created over the years, both domestically and internationally. Even his professorial tone has been sober and somber as he advocated an Ottoman-style hegemony in the Balkans, extolling the “harmony” which the Ottoman sultans had created over centuries.

It seems that Davutoglu’s “zero-problem-with-the-neighbors” policy intends to solve all those problems in Turkey’s favor and claim stability and harmony in the region. In promoting its brazen foreign policy, Ankara is counting on international support, which it has been garnering through a barter system.

Prime Minister Erdogan’s arrogance and cynicism, after visiting the White House last December, says a lot about Turkish foreign policy’s headway. Among other issues, Erdogan seems to have wrested from the Obama administration the blocking of the passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution in the Congress, in return for a pledge to normalize Ankara’s relations with Israel.

Presently, Mr. Erdogan is visiting Moscow, while Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, heads to Yerevan to bring back a gift to Turkey’s Azeri brothers, in the shape of a nod from Moscow to pressure Armenia to relinquish strategic regions captured by Armenians during the war with that country.

Although Turkey faces some stiff conditions in order to be admitted to the European Union, it has not met any of these conditions and continues to challenge the international community with impunity. Penal Code 301 is still on the books, 38 percent of Cypriot territory still remains under Turkish occupation, the Kurdish problem has been compounded by banning a pro-Kurdish political party and relations with Armenia and Greece are not in any better shape. All these problems have been created by Turkey, in direct violation of international law, to win concessions from respective parties.

The Protocols for establishing relations and opening the borders between Armenia and Turkey were signed last October in Zurich without any preconditions, yet, all the major figures in the Turkish government have been setting conditions in order to open the border. Opening the border is not worth the concessions, Turkey has been demanding from Armenia.

A recent public embarrassment for Turkey demonstrated to what extent the Turkish leaders have been sticking to their guns. A case in point was the statement made by the Greek Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who said that he feels “crucified” in Turkey with all the repression exerted on his church and his activities, especially with the closure of the Greek Orthodox Seminary in Heybelianda, in violation of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. That has been an international issue for decades, yet the Turkish leaders blamed the patriarch for his courageous statement, rather than taking a positive action.

Bob Simon of CBS presented the interview with the patriarch on the program, “60 Minutes,” not because anyone at CBS cares about the fate of the Greek Church in Turkey, but just to convey a message that denying support to Israel has a price.

Following the airing of the patriarch’s interview, some mild comments were heard in support of religious freedom, whereas Ankara’s action is a flagrant breach of international law. Indeed, the Turkish daily Taraf has interviewed the director of religious affairs administration, Mourad Bardakoglu, and his deputy, Mehmet Gormez. They have both maintained that it is unacceptable to shut the seminary, when Turkey insists on the law that religious leaders must be Turkish citizens. They also make their point within the context of freedom of worship, which is advocated by the European Union.

But these voices have been countered by the harsh reaction of the Prime Minister Erdogan, who has set some Byzantine conditions in order to be able to open the seminary. In short, all hopes that the seminary may open its doors in the foreseeable future are dashed.

It is interesting to quote the prime minister’s ludicrous arguments: “The opening of the seminary is a process involving multiple dimensions. This issue has to be studied well in its length and width within the context of our laws and within the application of our educational programs. Our ministers and institutions are continuing to study the issue, but on the other hand the Greek authorities have to address the religious problems of the Turkish minority in Greece.” (It seems they have been “studying” the issue since 1971!)

As we see, Turkish leaders have counter proposals for correcting any problem, which is their own doing, very much like imposing on Armenia a third-party problem, namely the Karabagh issue, in order to lift the blockade against Armenia.

Repeated pleas of the patriarch have fallen on deaf ears, but at least for once Erdogan has given blunt answers, stating that there is not a single mosque in Greece. The moral of the story is that the Greek Patriarch has to wait until such time that the Greek government builds a mosque (to Mr. Erdogan’s liking) in order to see a positive action with regard to the fate of the seminary in Turkey.

Armenians have been in the same situation in Turkey. The Holy Cross seminary was closed down by the authorities. Although there is a mosque in Yerevan, that did not help the situation. There are only 4,000 Greeks left in Turkey, whereas only in Istanbul the Armenian community is 70,000-strong. However, neither the Armenian patriarch (when he was able to fulfill the duties of his position) nor any other leader in the community was able to voice the problem courageously like the Greek patriarch. Instead, Patriarch Mutafian was used and abused for Ankara’s political ends and was ignored when the Armenian community’s problems were raised.

Not only was the Holy Cross seminary not opened (nor discussed), stifling regulations were imposed on the community schools to lead them to their demise. Armenian parents have to go through many regulations to enroll their children in Armenian schools, which desperately need those students. A new phenomenon has also been compounded on this educational problem: the migrant workers from Armenia are barred from sending their children to Armenian schools nor can they enroll them in Turkish schools.

All the problems, which Turkey has created for its neighbors and for itself, have become Gordian Knots, never to be solved.

The forthcoming meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Armenian community representatives should address these topical issues.

She needs to be told that just as she twisted Eduard Nalbandian’s arm to sign the protocols, she has to twist the arms of the Turkish leadership to live up to their commitments.