ISTANBUL (RFE/RL)–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian addressed a Turkish think tank and called on Turkey to respond to Armenia’s invitation to not allow historic problems and political issues to obstruct bilateral–diplomatic relations. The minister addressed Turkey’s holding captive interactions with Armenia for the benefit of a third party–as well as Azerbaijan’s use of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict to block Armenian-Turkish relations. The minister also spoke about the stability of Armenia’s economy despite efforts and myths to the contrary–as well as the opportunity of Turkey’s European integration process for Armenian-Turkish cooperation and dialogue. Finally–the minister welcomed changes in Turkish society and mentality which have resulted in preliminary–public discussions of the Genocide issue a huge step forward for a society where the term and the concept have been taboo for so long.
Minister Oskanian spoke at a special meeting convened by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation–in Istanbul on June 26. The audience consisted of a group of social scientists–politicians–students–the press and other interested individuals.
The Foundation–known by its Turkish acronym–TESEV–has hosted various forums and conferences focusing on Turkey’s foreign policy and EU integration–ethnicity and politics–religion and politics–Turkey’s human development indicators and other societal issues.
Oskanian was introduced by Professor I. Turan who prefaced his talk by noting that "Armenia is Turkey’s farthest neighbor." Neighbors and neighborly relations was also the focus of the minister’s talk. Oskanian noted–"For the last half millennium–the destinies and the lives of our countries and our peoples have been intertwined. Not easily–not always for the best–but given that history and geography have thrown us together–we are neighbors."
He continued–"We are not the only neighbors in the world who have had–and who continue to have–a troubled relationship. Troubled memories–a tortured past–recriminations–unsettled accounts and the enduring wounds of victimhood–plague the national consciousness of peoples on many borders. In our case–some distance between our two countries might have allowed us to put distance between our past and our future. But we have no such luxury. There is no space–no cushion–between us."
He went on to say–"It should not surprise anyone if we suggest that we in the South Caucasus should look carefully at efforts to take solid steps to seriously address the challenges borne of historically rooted conflicts–centenary in their origins–embedded in the collective memories of peoples. Nor can these conflicts be simply resolved or cosmetically reformulated by those who believe that the past is an irrelevancy. History is as much the foundation of a neighborhood as geography–a common landscape of plateaus–majestic mountains or shared river basins.
"In this neighborhood–Turkey is Armenia’s neighbor–just as Armenia is Turkey’s. This fact can be self-servingly ignored–manipulated–marginalized or resisted. But it cannot be denied or changed–except with bloodshed and further conflict."
Minister Oskanian also stressed the fact that Turkish-Armenian relations are being held hostage to Azerbaijani pressure. He said–"Armenian and Azerbaijani relations are being held hostage to Azerbaijan’s own reluctance to recognize incontrovertible facts on the ground–its tendency to confuse stubbornness for principles–its desire to build policy on myths and fables–and its denial of the reality that a future must be built on a real past and a viable present."
The minister went on to note that Nagorno Karabakh has never been part of independent Azerbaijan. He added–"Azerbaijan has succeeded in convincing Turkey that blockading Armenia will diminish Armenia’s economic capacity–undermine its self-reliance and force Armenia to negotiate from a weaker position and hence compel it to consider concessions it would not otherwise be willing to make in the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh." He continued to explain that "Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s continued closures of the borders with Armenia are based on the demonstrably false premise that Armenia’s weak and collapsing economy will force it to accept any solution imposed by friend and foe alike. Perhaps–Azerbaijan–for a variety of reasons–including domestic consumption–world public opinion–and the need to justify clinging to a politics that so far have been ineffectual–needs to create and perpetuate the myth of Armenia’s utter vulnerability–and its being on the verge of economic collapse."
He cited economic indicators and Western sources to cite Armenia’s surprising placement among European countries in the UN Human Development Index–in the Wall Street Journal index of open economies and others–where Armenia in fact places above its regional neighbors. The minister stressed–"It is not too soon for our neighbors to realize that the last decade’s politics of pressure–discrimination and blockades have not achieved their intended goals." Minister Oskanian called on Turkey not to conduct a politics of exclusion and one-sidedness–especially in light of Armenia’s and Turkeys both having chosen a European orientation.
The minister welcomed TESEV’s general focus on the need for active cooperation between the governmen’s and the peoples of the region for the region’s future peace and prosperity. He stressed that such cooperation cannot wait for the resolution of historic and political problems–but can provide the route to such resolution.
Questions from the audience focused on Armenia’s preconditions for bilateral relations–the Genocide issue and Armenia’s expectations of Turkey–as well as factors influencing Armenian and Turkish public opinion and the Diaspora factor in Armenia-Turkey relations.
Those from the audience who spoke expressed their gratitude to the Minister for having provided this opportunity for frank talk–satisfaction at the minister’s open and candid assessment of current conditions–his honest declaration that without setting aside historical issues–problems or injustices–Armenia "extends a hand to Turkey" for dialogue.
Minister Oskanian was in Istanbul for a three-day visit on the occasion of the BSEC 10th anniversary summit. His talk at TESEV was followed by a visit to the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul.