YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met not only his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian but also veteran politician Vazgen Manukian during his visit to Yerevan last week, it emerged on Monday.
Manukian, who was a key member of Armenia’s first post-Communist government and now heads a body advising President Serzh Sarkisian, said he was invited to speak with Davutoglu immediately after the latter arrived in the Armenian capital on Thursday morning.
“A member of the Turkish delegation phoned me in the morning to ask whether I would mind meeting [Davutoglu,]” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I said I don’t mind. I find it hard to tell why he wanted to meet me, but during our conversation I got the impression that they have come not so much to make statements as to gauge public mood here.”
Manukian was one of the top leaders of the 1988 popular movement for Nagorno-Karabakh’s reunification with Armenia that eventually ended Communist rule in the republic and led it to independence from the Soviet Union. He served as prime minister from 1990-1991 and defense minister from 1992-993.
Manukian stressed that he talked to Davutoglu in his private capacity and expressed only his personal views. He defended the Turkish minister’s lukewarm reception by Armenia’s leadership, a fact reflecting a widespread sense in Yerevan that Ankara is trying to imitate another thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations to stave off greater international recognition of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire during its forthcoming 100th anniversary.
“In a sense, the Turks fooled us on the protocols issue,” Manukian explained, referring to Turkey’s refusal to unconditionally implement the 2009 agreements on the normalization of bilateral ties. “We followed a rocky path, overcoming serious complications, but Turkey stopped at some point. As if that wasn’t enough, it linked the Karabakh issue to relations with Armenia.”
According to Manukian, the genocide issue was discussed during their conversation. He said he told Davutoglu that Armenians around the world will continue campaigning for genocide recognition regardless of interstate relations between Turkey and Armenia.
“I told him the story of our family as an example,” he said. “My grandfather had five sons when they fled the southern shores of Lake Van. Only one of them, my father, was alive by the time they reached modern-day Armenia. … Many other Armenian families can tell similar stories.”
“Apart from historical memory and our duty to our grandparents, we have a feeling that Turkey will remain dangerous to us as long as it refuses to acknowledge the genocide,” added Manukian.
Hurriyet Daily News quoted Davutoglu as telling Turkish journalists in Yerevan that the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians were “totally wrong” and “inhumane.” But he seemed to stand by the official Turkish line that they did not constitute genocide.
Manukian was one of the architects of the foreign policy pursued by newly independent Armenia’s government in the early 1990s. Unlike Diaspora-based traditional Armenian parties, the government of then President Levon Ter-Petrosian did not set any preconditions for normalizing relations with the Turks. It also avoided any territorial claims to Turkey.
After a brief period of mutual engagement, Turkey closed its border with Armenia in April 1993 in response to a successful Armenian military operation in and around Karabakh that precipitated Azerbaijan’s subsequent defeat in the war. Manukian was Armenia’s defense minister at the time.
Manukian said he told Davutoglu that the border closure was a serious mistake as it stripped Ankara of any leverage against Yerevan. He claimed that the chief Turkish diplomat partly agreed with him.
“He admitted that if you shut down everything you lose a chance to influence things,” said Manukian. “He said that if they had been more flexible in 1993 they would have been in a better position to influence events in the South Caucasus.”