Turks used to loath Arabs enough that they preferred to forego delicious Arab pastries so as to avoid meeting an Arab. Turks even coined a boastful saying to this effect – “Ne Shamin shekeri, ne Arapin yuzu” (Neither the sweets of Damascus, nor the face of the Arab). Armenians by tradition do not nurture such vulgar prejudicial practices toward other people and nations, epecially towards Arabs, who have been generous hosts by welcoming into their lands and by caring for thousands of Armenians fleeing the state-organized Ottoman Turkish massacres from 1915 to 1923.
Armenians, however, dealing for so many centuries with the Turks, have developed a keen understanding of the Turkish state of mind in matters of safety, security and trade. This experience has taught Armenians that words of the Turkish leadership do not translate into their true meaning when they are put into action. For this reason, it would be most appropriate to adapt the above Turkish saying with a corrective twist – “Ne Turkin sozi, nede onun ishi” (Neither the Turk’s word, nor his action).
Recent pronouncements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan come once again to prove, unfortunately, that the disparity between Turkish word and action is real. It appears that this discomfiting Turkish attitude towards Armenia and Armenians has become engrained in Turkish body politic.
Last week, during his visit to Azerbaijan, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey will neither reopen the border and nor establish diplomatic relations with Armenia so long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. Despite the ongoing bilateral negotiations between Armenia and Turkey, he explicitly reaffirmed the position that there was a linkage between those negotiations and the Karabakh problem.
At the joint press conference with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Erdogan made this position crystal clear. He stated, “Occupation of Karabakh is the cause here and closing of the border is the effect. It is impossible for us to open the border unless that occupation ends.”
While in Russia, Erdogan sought Russia’s support for his country’s bid for a role in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. At a joint news meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, he claimed that “Turkey and Russia have responsibilities in the region.” He said, “We have to take steps for the peace and wellbeing of the region. This includes the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Middle East dispute, and the Cyprus issue.”
In diplomatic parlance, Erdogan’s claims can only serve the dual purpose of undermining the Karabakh peace process supervised by the OSCE Minsk Group (co-chaired by France, Russia, and the U.S.) and trivializing the ongoing talks with Armenia. Erdogan’s linkage of the two processes is now beginning to be viewed as an exercise harboring danger to the peace and stability in the region. So much so that, at the beginning of this week, the OSCE Minsk Group delegated one of its co-chairs, Ambassador Bernard Fassier, to Turkey to warn the Turkish government on its recent linkage policy.
According to Turkish daily Hurriyet, the French co-chair attempted to impress upon Turkey that the Karabakh peace process cannot be linked to the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations, and warned Ankara that any attempt to link the two can harm both processes. Ambassador Fassier asserted, “The normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations should not be confused with the Karabakh conflict. These are different and parallel processes.” He further stressed that for the Minsk Group, as well as the U.S., Turkey-Armenia negotiations and Karabakh peace talks are separate processes.
All this adds up to one fact. Namely, words and action are not correlated in Turkish diplomacy. The tragic aspect of this reality is that the Obama administration — despite its predecessors’ vast experience in Turkish unreliability unless supported by billions of dollars of American money and/or diplomatic/political concessions at the expense of American values and principles — has yet to learn not to trust Turkey without verification.
With regards to the promisingly budding “friendly” relations between Turkey and Armenia, the Obama administration was duped into accepting Turkey’s word as opposed to its real intents and action. As soon as the April 24 Presidential Statement was issued, the April 22nd Armenian-Turkish foreign ministerial joint statement with its fanciful “roadmap” wore out its utility. Now, the National Security Advisor, the White House Chief of Staff, and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations have to explain to the President Turkey’s linkage policy that is endangering the parallel yet separate processes of Turkey-Armenia negotiations and the Karabakh conflict resolution.
The trio advisors pressingly urged the President – and they carried the day – to avoid the word Genocide without serious consideration of the Turkish intent. They failed to grasp that Turkey was playing for time – at least until April 24, because Turkey would never seriously entertain the possibility of opening its borders and establish normal diplomatic relation with Armenia, unless the following three conditions are met by Armenia:
a. Cessation of the pursuit of the Armenian Genocide recognition internationally;
b. Acceptance of the voided October 1923 Kars Treaty; and,
c. Return of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani jurisdiction.
With all the Turkish hoopla and hype, the President’s said top advisors did not get and still do not get that Armenia will always be a hindrance to Turkish strategic designs beyond the Caucasus, that Turkey cherishes regional interests in conflict to U.S. interests, and that Turkey seeks to boost its regional role to the detriment of the U.S.
These geopolitical factors should raise serious concern with our President and his advisers. Hopefully, the next time around, they too will begin to appreciate the Armenian experience and acquire the expertise to detect the distinction between Turkish word and action.
Editor’s Note: Seto Boyadjian is an attorney and member of the national board of the Armenian National Committee.