Does the WSJ Piece Bolster Prospects for Turkey-Armenia Ties?

In an opinion piece published in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, entitled “We Are Ready to Talk to Turkey,” Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, encourages establishment of normal relations with Turkey and expresses Armenia’s long-standing agreement to dialogue with its neighbor.

The international community, specifically the United States, has been pressing the normalization of relations between these two neighboring countries without publicly addressing the complexities that encompass these relations. More recently, the US, through its various mouthpieces has pointed to a 2005 proposal by Turkey to establishing of a commission that would address–through academicians–the Armenian Genocide question as a means to ensuring dialogue between Armenia and Turkey and furthering the US Executive Branch’s continued complicity in Turkey’s campaign to deny the Genocide and revise history.

Sarkisian’s Wall Street Journal article also is not forthright in addressing the massive complexities that accompany even the beginning of a dialogue. Yet, it utilizes a tactic that has received much media coverage to drive the point home that since 1998 Armenia has always advocated for an unconditional establishment of relations with its neighbor, Turkey. The tactic was Sarkisian’s invitation to his counterpart Abdullah Gul to attend an upcoming soccer match between their national teams, scheduled for September 6 in Yerevan.

In his opinion piece, Sarkisian says: “There is no real alternative to the establishment of normal relations between our countries. It is my hope that both of our governmen’s can pass through the threshold of this new open door. Establishing normal political relations would enable us to create a commission to comprehensively discuss all of the complex issues affecting Armenia and Turkey. We cannot expect tangible progress without such structured relations. Only through them can we create an effective dialogue touching upon even the most contentious historical issues.” He also discusses Turkey’s closure of Armenia’s border and the preconditions it has set on Armenia regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Readers–be they the WSJ audience of international stakeholders and policymakers or Armenia’s throughout the world–need to be reminded that Turkey did not merely close its borders but established an economic blockade of Armenia, which prevents the transport of goods and services to Armenia, thus impacting its economy. We can recall the devastating effects of this blockade, which has been also mimicked by Azerbaijan, in the early 1990s when Armenia was a fledgling country reeling from an earthquake and a war. It is up to Turkey to remove the blockade, a notion that has not usually been discussed by Western advocates of normalization of relations.

Another reminder to readers is the issue of the Armenian Genocide. When Armenia has, time and again, advocated for an unconditional establishment of relations, it has unequivocally stated that the recognition of the Genocide would not be a pre-condition to these ties. Yet, Turkey seems always to push the establishment of this so-called historical commission as its talking point–and pre-condition–to dialogue.

In fact, as early as Tuesday, this matter was addressed by the Armenian Revolutionary Bureau, which reiterated: “The Bureau is adamant that the fact of the Armenian genocide is not a subject of discussion, and no high-ranking official representing Armenia may have a different approach. Universal recognition of the genocide is vital for the existence, security and future of our people and statehood.”

Turkish-Armenian relations are fraught with complexities and challenges and addressing them by any government official in a simplified manner creates the misguided notion that things can go to normal by a wave of a magic wand.

Any relations between Armenia and Turkey must be based on honesty, truth and justice. It remains to be seen whether viewing a soccer match will be the beginning of that process. What is certain, however, is that all parties must be more forthright in their posturing or presentation of argumen’s–be they bilateral, in addressing the international community of stakeholders or for domestic consumption.

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