BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, Mevlut Cavusoglu arrived in Yerevan Wednesday amid controversy because he refused to visit Dzidzernagapert, forcing Armenian authorities to change the nature of his trip from an “official” visit to that of a “working” one and sparking a boycott of meetings by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Cavusoglu met with President Serzh Sarkisian, who expressed hope that the PACE delegation visit would shape a more objective view of Armenia and the challenges in the region. “This visit will provide an opportunity to discuss issues on our agenda, and I’m confident that it will contribute to the deepening of cooperation between the Republic of Armenia and the Council of Europe, particularly the cooperation between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Armenian National Assembly,” said Sarkisian.
The PACE President said “a close cooperation has been established with the Armenian delegation to PACE.” He also praised Armenia’s progress in implementing democratic reforms and fighting corruption. Cavusoglu said that as newly elected PACE President he prioritizes the deepening relations between the Assembly and member states, and excludes the use of double standards toward member states to ensure an objective and balanced attitude toward everyone. But is Cavusoglu sincere in his assertion of not applying double-standards? Upon his election, Cavusoglu, who is one of the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey and has served in the Turkish parliament since 2002, expressed his intention to reestablish the PACE subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been dormant since 2008 after the death of its chairman, Russell Johnston.
However, soon after assuming the PACE presidency, Cavusoglu told the Azeri APA news agency that “Karabakh is referred to as Azerbaijani territory in all Council of Europe decisions.” “The Karabakh conflict is one of the most urgent issues in the region and hinders the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. I’m saying this not because I’m a Turk, but because this is the truth,” added Cavusoglu.
However, in a phone conversation with the Armenian Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian, Cavusoglu refuted the above statements, saying “it was a result of bad translation and wrong perceptions in Azerbaijan.”
In a later interview with the Turkish Haberturk TV, Cavusoglu discussed the Armenian Genocide in the following manner: “Although Armenia accuses us of committing genocide, it has no proofs of the fact, since we have not perpetrated genocide. Armenians themselves have perpetrated genocide in Khojaly and its history is still very fresh.”
His statements before visiting Armenia, coupled with his insistence on not going to Dzidzernagapert are enough to justify the ARF boycott of the Cavusoglu visit to Yerevan. “In effect, Mr. Cavusoglu is making no secret of the fact that he is visiting Armenia not so much as the head of the PACE but as a Turkish politician. Given these circumstances, our faction does not find it appropriate to meet with him,” said a letter sent by the ARF parliamentary faction to Abrahamian Tuesday announcing the party’s decision to boycott meetings with the visiting PACE leader.
Government sources confirmed that Cavusoglu informed the Armenian authorities that he would not make the customary visits that all foreign dignitaries make to Dzidzernagapert. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service Tuesday, ARF parliamentary faction president Vahan Hovannesian said: “Naturally, Cavusoglu was always going to be a Turkish president [of the PACE] and place Turkish interests above everything else,” he said. “For no Turkish politician has reached the level of European broad-mindedness and will reach it in the foreseeable future.”
In a customarily Turkish manner, by praising Armenia’s “progress in implementing democratic reforms,” Cavusoglu exonerated official Yerevan of all of its past wrongdoings vis-à-vis the March 1 incidents and gained free reign to govern PACE as he sees fit. When the Armenian authorities agreed to change the format of the visit at Cavusoglu’s insistence, they effectively gave the PACE president a green light, instead of actively working to neutralize this dangerous and politically-charged approach.
The so-called opposition and ruling parties’ naïveté in moving forward with meetings plays right into the agenda that Cavusoglu is eager to advance.