Friday, April 23, 2010
Around April 24, the Remembrance Day of the tragic events of World War I, emotions in the Spring season of the resurrection are high on the both Turkish and Armenian sides.
The Armenian coalition government of President Serge Sarkisian halted the ratification process of the protocols Thursday, injecting even more stress into the process. Although the Armenian leadership has given signals in recent times that they might make such a move, the announcement of a pause in the ratification process still came as a surprise.
The Turkish officials took the halting notification rather calmly. During Thursday, when the announcement came from the coalition parties in Yerevan, the Turkish officials were pretty relaxed while explaining the Turkish government's take on the unfolding events. The Turkish officials stated that the decision to freeze matters was for Armenia to make. "We do not take a position on the decision negatively or positively,” said one official. "If the Armenian administration can handle the process, let them handle it."
According to one school of thought, the Armenian government's halting of the process is a way to show off for its audience both inside Armenia and in the worldwide diaspora. Before April 24, the Armenian government wanted to prove that it is serious about getting rid of the process.
Another school of thought, voiced by one of the leading Armenian-American opinion makers who wanted to stay anonymous, argues for an immediate stop to the protocols.
"The Armenian government knows what it is doing, as the Turkish government knows what it is doing," the expert said, who continued by arguing that the protocols are not going anywhere and that Armenia should just withdraw its signature from them without any hesitation.
"Because all that was needed to be done," the Armenian writer argued, "was to open borders and exchange diplomats between the countries." And later on, other steps would have followed.
Anthony J. Barsamian, chair of Public Affairs for the Armenian Assembly of America, said: “Armenia came to the table in good faith and extended a hand toward normalization with Turkey. Unfortunately, Turkey came to the table with preconditions which now has resulted in frustrating the process.”
Cengiz Aktar, head of European Union Relations Department at Bahçesehir University and who is known to be pretty straightforward on the issues related the historic relationships between Turkish and Armenian people, said that with this halt, the Armenian government declares that they are not in a mood to step forward on the Karabakh issue.
Such a declaration would change U.S. President Barack Obama's mind not to utter word of genocide, even if he decided he would have just done so before Armenia's latest declaration. If Obama says genocide, Aktar argues, "That would mean sacrificing the relationship with Turkey, which is impossible."
Obama will not use the word of genocide in his yearly statement on April 24, the general expectation in Washington goes.
Another part of this year's puzzle is the low number of co-sponsors on the both Houses of the Congress for different versions of bills, which urge the U.S. president to call the 1915 events a genocide. There are about 140 signatures that have been collected in the House of Representatives this year – which is a surprisingly lower number than the 200 some signatures of past years. In the U.S. Senate as well, the numbers of co-sponsors are down sharply this year when comparing with the past years.
One of the reasons of this lower reception from American lawmakers could be to give more chance for the normalization process, a Turkish official speculated. This explanation encloses a flawed argument which is to claim that the U.S. lawmakers ever think about international affairs when they decide to vote on a bill.
The other reason for the low reception could be the increasing Turkish presence in America.
It is really remarkable to see that the visibility of the American-Turkish presence across the U.S. land increasing rapidly. A lot of Turkey-centered talks are being conducted in various Washington think tanks, and there is almost always a packed audience for such discussions. The Fethullah Gülen Movement has also added a whole new avenue to this Turkish presence in various states in America. The Gülenists organize ever-more events, and there is growing number of the grassroots organizations of this movement that host senators and congressmen for their fundraising events.
It should not belittled: the Armenian coalition partners decided for a freeze, not for an end to the process. On the contrary, the Armenian leaders repeatedly stated in last months that they are not happy with their counterparts' efforts in Turkey and the Turkish Parliament should do more and fast.
The Armenian government and diaspora openly applied to April 24 this year to pressure on Turkey for the ratification without making any gestures on the Karabakh issue. The U.S. administration also backed the Armenian position and stayed firm throughout recent months to show their "anger" with the Turkish administration in various channels. At the end, it became clear, Turkey is not moving ahead, unless there is tangible advancement on the Karabakh issue, in spite of the pressure.
One of the most plausible criticism about the current White House in Washington is that this administration usually go between the idealistic and realistic postures so quickly and unexpectedly. Run up to the April 24, the Obama administration, without much consideration over the possible repercussions of nationalistic uproar in Turkey, urged the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, ideologically or emotionally to ratify protocols hastily, in a time, when the AKP administration wounded badly by the colossal domestic fights and various democratic openings within Turkey. The U.S. administration, was too busy to see that for the Turkish administration, compromising over the ratification process was too much to ask and could be a lethal along with trading the brotherly relationships with Azeris for better relationships with Armenia.
It can now be said that the U.S. administration might adapt a more realistic protocols policy after April 24.
Both sides, the Armenian and Turkish leaderships, proved that they have enough courage to have come forward to talk over some tough issues and historic grievances in recent years. Many courageous steps have been taken by the leaders and much ground covered lately in both communities in regard to empathizing with each other. This proves that there is some kind of a long healing process underway as well between the two communities.
Did the leaders of the both countries come to the table a couple of years ago to just show off and "play for their interests" as one Armenian expert put it, or there is some more courage till to the end.
Times like this play a great litmus a test to prove for either.