Commentary: The Waiting Game


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The blame game has culminated into the waiting game. Armenia and Turkey are at loggerheads at this time on the issue of Protocols signed between the two countries last October in Switzerland.

This waiting game has its domestic and international components. On the domestic front, none of the parties will face major hurdles in approving the Protocols in their respective parliaments, as both executive branches have controlling votes in their legislatures.

The Turkish Parliament has not yet taken up the Protocol issue and the Armenian side is waiting for Ankara to take the first step. Therefore, both parties are waiting to see which one will blink first.

The Protocol issue had divided the Armenian public into opposing camps. Although when push comes to shove, the parliament has the votes to overrule. However, public opinion consensus is important in this kind of crucial matter.

Recently, President Serge Sargisian gave a major speech at Chatham House in London, laying out the major tenets of Armenia’s foreign policy. Armenia-Turkish relations, the Karabagh and Genocide issues had their best exposes in that speech which led the president to announce that upon his return to Yerevan, he would present the Protocols to the parliament for deliberation, which he eventually did.

At this time, Armenia’s political parties have been dissecting and commenting on the content, its implications and the impact of the speech.
Armenia’s foreign policy establishment has been touting it to be a major victory on a world forum. However, the irony is that during the speech, there was almost no major figure of any political consequence present, except Britain’s former defense chief, George Robertson.

Armenia’s former speaker of the parliament, Tigran Torossian, was critical of the speech and he interpreted it to be as a pressure tool over the members of the parliament. He also questioned the benefit of open borders with Turkey. He stated that there is already an exchange of goods between the two countries and Turkey’s exports to Armenia exceed the reverse trade more than 100-fold.

At the same time, US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch sees the opening of the borders as a panacea for Armenia.

Probably, the truth is somewhere in between.

If and when the Armenian Parliament takes up the Protocol agenda, the Heritage Party of Raffi Hovannisian and the ARF are planning demonstrations in front of the parliament, which authorities will not mind as it will show democratic dissent for the world audience.

While on the domestic front, President Sargisian seems to have the upper hand on the issue of approving the Protocols, the international component of the issue is definitely more complex.

The Protocols were supposed to be one of the success stories of the Obama administration and Hilary Clinton’s reputation was on the line. The US was even able to enlist the support of Russia. But Turkey continues to play games, because it never had any serious intentions to resolve the border issue, without major concessions from Armenia.

A recent article by Gordon Phillips, which appeared in the Boston Globe, has been extensively discussed in the Turkish press. The ominous title, “Turkey-Armenia process on the verge of collapse” has been interpreted as a failure of the US policy in the region. Mr. Phillips believes that the approval of the Protocols by the Turkish Parliaments will realize the country’s new foreign policy aim of “zero problems with the neighbors” and the resulting peace and stability plan in the Caucasus.

But Turkey has never resolved any of the international problems that it has created since the founding of the republic in 1923. It has used its international clout created by its opportunistic foreign policy to avoid issues and play the blame game accusing other parties in the failure.
Recently, Prime Minister Erdogan met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Doha, and, again, they discussed the Protocol issue among others. Upon the conclusion of the meeting, Erdogan adamantly insisted on linking the Karabagh issue to the approval of the Protocols. The major powers, and especially the US State Department, have been entreating Turkey and Armenia to demonstrate political will and resolve the outstanding issue, yet no one has yet witnessed the State Department demonstrate a similar will. The fact that Erdogan keeps harping on preconditions after his meetings at the White House and recently after the Doha meeting, suggests there is an agreed upon disagreement between the parties to stay the course on their foreign policy, which can only lead to an impasse.

At this stage, Turkey has pinned its hopes on Russia to pressure Armenia to give in to Turkey’s demands. The deputy of the ruling party in Turkey, Salih Kapusuz, has announced that the forthcoming visit of Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev to Turkey will further develop relations between the two countries. The warm reception accorded to the Prime Minister Erdogan in Moscow is a sign of Russia’s positive intentions with regards to Turkey. The two countries have decided to raise the level of their bilateral trade from $32 billion to $100 billion.

Mr. Kapusuz has not missed the opportunity to also comment on Armenia-Turkey relations. Indeed, echoing the prime minister and the foreign minister, he has repeated the same line: “Russia has to take the initiative on the issue of Nagorno Karabagh. Upon the evacuation of Azeri territory by Armenia, Turkey may take an action. But we see that Armenia, instead of doing that, resorts to other maneuvers. That is why the fate of the Zurich Protocols is in limbo. We hope that some progress may be achieved when Mr. Medvedev visits Turkey next May.”

Therefore, at this time, the parties are in a waiting game hoping one of the major powers to tilt the balance one way or the other.

At the same time, Bill Burns, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, is visiting this week Baku and Ankara, and not Armenia, clearly demonstrating the US foreign policy priorities at the State Department.

The role of the Armenian-American community may hinge on both components, namely, domestic and international, but its impact is dubious, given the sorry state of divisions. Whereas a united front could bear some results at the proposed meeting with Mrs. Clinton, but if one group will lend its support to the Protocols and another group will oppose it, our political maturity may become a laughing stock at Foggy Bottom.

It is possible that the delay in the meeting between the Armenian-American community groups and Clinton could be a saving grace for us.