Airmail: Presidential Pen Pals

February 11, 2010 at 9:52 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , )

Flying from Armenia to the United Kingdom on February 9th, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan penned the following for his counterpart, Turkish President Abdullah Gul:

Your Excellency,

I’m extending my greetings to You and the people of neighborly Turkey.

Our initiative of normalizing the Armenia-Turkey relations is in the spotlight of attention of the international community. This is truly a historic one, and the whole world realizes it. The efforts of the countries involved in the region are invaluable in the process of improvement of bilateral relations. I’m confident that it would be impossible to register progress without their mediation. At the same time I do believe that no matter how much the friendly states are interested in the positive outcome of the process, they cannot do what our peoples are able to do.

Mr. President,

I think you’ll agree that the authorities are to play a key role in breaking the stereotypes between our peoples and establishing an atmosphere of mutual trust. Only with trust in our work, resoluteness and adherence to our principles can we achieve results. Otherwise, when the words and deeds contradict each other, it brings about mistrust, thus opening a broad filed of action for those who oppose the process. We have to realize that in this case time does not contribute to the process.

If up to this moment we have managed to bring the bilateral contacts to a level, from where the future of normal relations between our countries becomes more visible and tangible, today it’s high time to demonstrate willingness to make a step forwards in order to leave and stable and secure region to the coming generations.

Accept, please, Your Excellency, the assurance of my respect.

On February 11th, Gul wrote back:

Your Excellency, Dear Friend,

I would like to thank you for the kind message that you have sent on the occasion of your flight over the Turkish territory. Please accept my reciprocal greetings to you and the people of neighboring Armenia.

I welcome the thoughts conveyed to us in your message. I do share the view that our bilateral efforts aimed at the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations attracted due attention world-wide by creating a new hope for peace in our conflict-ridden geography. Overcoming the long-established prejudices and nurturing mutual understanding and trust among our two neighboring peoples were indeed our main objectives when endorsing the process of normalization between our countries. You should have no doubt that our determination to take these objectives forward is intact, provided that this resolve and commitment remains reciprocal.

I also agree with you that responsible governance necessitates both standing behind words and supporting words with deeds. Hence, we will continue to work for taking our normalization process forward based upon the understanding reached between our two countries. We have to be aware that concluding this historic process will require honoring our commitments in their entirety as well as displaying adequate political courage and vision.

A future characterized by sustainable peace, security, prosperity and cooperation for all the people living in our region is our common goal and I will remain personally engaged in this process hoping to see it reach a satisfactory conclusion for both of our countries.

Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.


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Charlie Rose Drama Alert

December 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations, media) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Barely had my disappointment faded after the Armenia-lite Erdoğan talk when Charlie Rose stirred up some dark, rich diplomatic drama on December 8th – from an armchair, no less. 

Charlie Rose

The spicy soujuk of the interview is this bit:

CHARLIE ROSE:  …There is now an agreement between Turkey and Armenia.     What is necessary in order to — what more evidence does history need with respect to the genocide? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  Let me first of all say that you say of
genocide, speak of genocide.  I would be sorry to hear you say that.  I can
say very clearly that we do not accept genocide.  This is completely a lie. 

I invite people to prove it.  I wrote a letter in 2005, and I said
that this is not up to politicians.  It is up to historians to look into
this.  We have opened our archives.  We have all the documents there.  And
in our archives more than one million documents were already looked at. 
Today it’s even more than that.  And we have opened the archives of the

And I asked the Armenian side to open their archives and let third
countries have documents.  We made a call for that too so that people could
look into all of these documents and we could all decide and see what’s
going on.

But it’s — this is not about lobbying and going to politicians and
asking them to take certain decisions.  This is not really the way to go. 
Something like this is really not possible, and there is no truth to it. 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Did President Obama bring it up with you?  Has he
discussed it with you? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  I have spoken with him, yes.  Of course, this
most recent normalization process between Turkey and Armenia was important. 
This was the context in which we discussed these issues.

And let me say to the normalization process.  It was Turkey that
initiated the normalization process.  It was Turkey that took upon itself
the risk. 

We believe in ourselves.  What we would like to see is for this
normalization process to go forward.  And in that it’s important that we go
into that and the Karavak (sic) issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia be resolved. 
There is an occupation.  We have to solve that problem.

There are three countries involved — United States, the Russian
Federation, and France.  The Minsk (ph) group, why hasn’t it solved the
problem in the last 20 years?  The problem has to be solved.

And once that problem is solved then that region will be a region of
peace.  Why?  Because once the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia is
solved, that hatred is going to dissipate.  There is the decision of the
United Nations Security Council which will be implemented.  And the
problems between Turkey and Armenia will definitely be resolved.  I believe
in it. 

But at the moment, you have the U.S. Congress here, and the U.S.
Congress doesn’t have direct relations with our region.  We are there in
that region.  We have direct relations.  We have direct issues.  And it’s
the Turkish parliament who has to make a decision on this agreement between
Turkey and Armenia.  They have to approve it. 

And of course, the Turkish parliament too is very sensitive about this
issue.  And if the positive developments that we would like to see do not
come about, then I do not believe that our parliament will have a positive
result as a result of its deliberations.  We will have a secret ballot, but
I don’t believe that without any other positive developments there will be
a positive outcome.  (Entire transcript here.)

BAM – Turkey inserts NK as an official precondition – in English – on prime time TV.  I didn’t know that Sargsyan watched Charlie, but he surely caught wind of Erdoğan’s flaunting their agreement, and issued the following statement on Thursday, December 10th:

Serzh Sargsyan

I am stating again that the Republic of Armenia is prepared to properly honor its international commitments.  Namely, to ratify the Turkish-Armenian protocols.  But you will recall that I have also stated before that if Turkey drags out the ratification of the protocols, then Armenia will immediately make use of possibilities stemming from international law

And so I am declaring now that I have instructed relevant state bodies to prepare amendments to those of our laws that pertain to the signing, ratification and abrogation of international agreements.

Turkey’s objective is to link Turkish-Armenian relations with the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.  I must once again repeat that those attempts are a priori doomed to failure.

Obviously, the deadline for ratifying these protocols is approaching.  While there is some leeway (the protocols need to be ratified in a “timely manner”) the window of opportunity to normalize that has eluded Turkey and Armenia for nearly twenty years may slowly be closing.

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Confronting Memory through Art in Turkey

November 2, 2009 at 7:22 pm (Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

This fall, an Istanbul art exhibit at the BM SUMA Art Center is breaking the silence over a collective Turkish memory that some would like to forget and others find impossible to ignore.  The “Dirty Story” exhibit confronts the memory of Turkey’s 1980 military coup through art in hopes of coming to a modern understanding of the deaths, detentions, human rights abuses, and pain caused by that era of Turkey’s not-so-distant past.  The exhibit also challenges political and artistic censorship in Turkey, with photos of muzzled artists alongside a photographed tombstone, engraved with a gun.

Tarih-i Kadim (The Old History) artist unknown

Whenever grotesque and inhuman events tear the social fabric of a society, it takes strength and courage to initiate healing.  Leave it to Turkish artists to tackle this challenge.

In recent weeks and months, much of the global Armenian diaspora have mobilized in opposition to the Armenian-Turkish protocols.  At the core of their opposition is pain that results from Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide.  The protocols do not address this wound – they arguably make it worse by having both countries agree to a historic commission.

What is not being addressed within the diaspora, Armenia, or Turkey is the difference between rapprochement and reconciliation.  The diaspora’s response to the protocols demonstrates the difference between the two and the need for rapprochement not to preclude or prevent reconciliation.  In fact, the protocols have the potential to pave the way for more efforts, more courage, and more drive for understanding and peace between these groups.

The “Dirty Story” exhibit offers a model for initiating reconciliation that could be applied to the memory of the Armenian genocide.  Besides obliterating  Armenian society in eastern Anatolia, the genocide destroyed the social fabric of late Ottoman and early Turkish societies.  The ramifications of genocide denial reverberate in Turkey to the present day.  The timing is perfect for an artistic collaboration to explore this trauma and shock all sides into an atmosphere where reconciliation is possible.

[Thanks to Rob at Art Threat for bringing this exhibit to my attention.]

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Signed – next up: Ratification

October 11, 2009 at 10:51 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , , , )

Edouard Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu, signing  Credit: AFP

Eduard Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu sign the protocols. Credit: Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

On Saturday October 10th, Armenian and Turkey took step two towards normalizing relations between their two countries. Reports of last-minute, pre-signing glitches and post-signing extra conditions are adding some drama to Armenian, Turkish, international, and regional media coverage of the highly anticipated and, to many, highly dreaded moment.

Eduard Nalbandian and Ahemt Davutoglu after signing the protocols   credit: Asbarez

Eduard Nalbandian and Ahemt Davutoglu after signing the protocols. Credit: Fotoloor/Asbarez

In short, although the protocols have been signed by both countries, both governments must now ratify the documents, which would open up diplomacy and the Armenian-Turkish border within two months. Turkish PM Erdogan is already standing up with a precondition: Armenia must pull out of its occupied NK territories. Meanwhile, members of the Armenian diaspora are continuing with their protests and demonstrations against the protocols, because the documents includes an agreement on a “dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence.”

Perhaps my favorite coverage of the new precondition was anticipated by ArmComedy with the headline “Turkey’s New Precondition: Sargsyan must attend Gul’s Birthday Party.

To ratification and beyond, I will be watching the diplomacy unfold.

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All-Armenia Tour ’09!!!

October 6, 2009 at 12:14 am (Armenian-Turkish relations, Diaspora-homeland relations, media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , , )

I like the idea of an pan-Armenia tour. I would like to do one someday – hit up Manchester, Buenos Aires, Cairo…

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is wrapping up his week-long all-Armenia tour in Rostov-on-Don/Rostov-na-Donu after stops in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Beirut. His purpose: to rep the protocols to the protocol-bashers, namely, diasporans around the world.

You might have heard about his reception. In Paris, protesters scuffled with the police. In NYC, young activists fought to have their voices heard. In Los Angeles, thousands picketed Sargsyan, shouting votch! (no!) outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

dont betray UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles.  Credit:

"don't betray" UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles. Credit:

The protests were not limited to Sargsyan’s tour, either – protests have sprung up in Montreal, Toronto, and Argentina. Glendale and Los Angeles – if we can separate the two – have been particularly active both before and after Sargsyan’s visit.

Like good activists, diasporan organizers have done an excellent job gathering protesters and publicizing their events. Conflicts between picketers and riot police – caught on camera and video – nicely convey the passion these diasporans feel about the protocols. To the media, it sure looks like the diaspora is unified in their opposition Indeed – as discussed previously – the diasporan political parties are mostly united – and more groups join in every day – the Zoryan Institute, AGBU, various schools and churches. The combination of self-promotion paired with the sudden burst of diasporan activism ensures that the protests will make the news.

This worries me. While I do no oppose the protocols, I do not fully support them either. You are not going to find me on a street corner with a witty poster because I am not a blind nationalist – of the Republic or of the nation. I see benefits and dangers in the protocols, but I am willing to let them play out. They will not fix everything – and they will not ruin everything. However, I am not inspired by Armenian youths in California forming a human chain to prevent Sargsyan from visiting their local genocide memorial. In fact, I see some really detrimental behavior shaping up in the form of these protests:

1. Like with section 907 of the Freedom of Support Act – the diaspora is once again actively interfering with Armenia’s foreign policy. The opposition claims that Armenia is not on equal negotiating grounds with Turkey – but have they considered their role in tipping the power scales against Armenia?

2. Diasporan media outlets are owned by diasporan political parties and those parties are part of the anti-protocol coalition. They promote and report on the opposition – and that becomes the de facto truth. Like I said, I am not out there repping my ambivalence towards the protocols – and that wouldn’t be nearly as sexy as straight-up opposition anyways. When there is only one voice speaking for the diaspora – that will become the only voice.

NYC protest  Credit: Asbarez

NYC protest Credit: Asbarez

3. Diasporan youth are being indoctrinated into an Armenian identity that is primarily based on the Armenian cause. This is not new. However, the urgency of the situation is new. Youths tend to take these revolutionary things pretty seriously, and hatred will form. Hatred without proper means of reconciliation gets desperate, and that leads to extremism.

My inner pessimist is already anticipating the day when the protocols will fail and a roar of victory will rise up from the diaspora: “we did it! now we can get back to advocating for Turkey’s admission of the genocide.” I love the activism, I love the passion – I just think it is misguided. If the diaspora’s goal is to achieve recognition for the genocide from Turkey (I will leave NK out of this for now) the diaspora needs to start becoming the change they want to see. It isn’t going to happen by force, guilt, or political pressure – it will happen through knowledge and understanding.

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Stop the Peace, I mean, Protocols

September 21, 2009 at 3:22 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations, Diaspora-homeland relations) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Diasporan dissent is hitting the streets with a new campaign called Stop the Protocols.  This coalition of Armenian youth groups and diasporan organizations opposes protocols between the Armenian and Turkish governments that would establish diplomatic relations between the countries and open their shared border.  According to the Stop the Protocols website:

These protocols, if accepted by Armenia, will result in the surrendering of the Armenian Cause*, the end for Karabakh’s independence, and the nullification of the Armenian people’s legal rights to historic Armenia.

[*The Armenian Cause, once broadly understood as all efforts towards maintaining Armenian-ness in dispersion (language, food, music, religion) is now commonly used to describe the campaign for genocide recognition and all related activities.]

Rally poster, Photo in poster credit:

These protocols, understandably, trigger many of the passions and fears of the diaspora.  However, what is surprising to me is how unified the diaspora is when it comes to condemning the protocols.    All three political parties active in the diaspora (and yes, the Armenian diaspora has had full fledged political parties for 90+ years) are supporting a “Stop The Protocols” rally in California on September 27th.  That’s the Dashnaks, Hnchaks, and Ramgavars.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised by this.  These three groups have unified in the past for genocide recognition campaigns.  Furthermore, the likelihood that the protocols will translate into action is high, so opposition to them might seem like these parties’ last hope to represent their diasporan constituents before the protocols push them and their goals into oblivion.  The Stop the Protocols coalition also includes the ARF Shant Student Association, Unified Young Armenians, Armenian Youth Federation, Woodbury University Armenian Students Association, and the UCLA Armenian Students Association.

While I understand their drive, I disagree with their position.  The diaspora is comfortable speaking on behalf of the Armenian nation; however, the diaspora has the economic and social stability to be idealistic.  The diaspora and its political parties can afford (financially and ideologically) to be stridently nationalistic, seek reparations, demand autonomy for NK, and make genocide recognition the focus of their political activism.  It is really easy to be an armchair nationalist, write some checks, and rant about Obama dodging the g-word.  It is much harder to make a living in the Ararat valley and worry about your son’s mandatory military service and whether or not he will be sent to NK.    Of course the Armenians of Armenia are concerned about NK, genocide recognition, and mets hayk – but they are also the ones who have the deal with the day-to-day reality of two closed borders, a smoldering war, and missed opportunities for trade, tourism, and pipelines.  So when diasporan groups speak on behalf of the Armenian nation, it comes across as selfish and self-indulgent.

I also disagree with the doomsday effect the Stop the Protocols campaign is forecasting if the protocols are signed.  The end of the Armenian cause is impossible.  I think this fear is based on Turkey’s ongoing genocide denial and the potential for the genocide to be used as a bartering chip in negotiations, from the state-to-state rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey to regional relationships – like Turkey’s accession to the EU.   While I agree that it might be harder to get Turkey to recognize the genocide after Armenia and Turkey establish relations, truth be told, getting Turkey to recognize the genocide hasn’t been going so well for the past century.  Blaming the death of the Armenian cause on the protocols sounds defeatist to me.

credit: Tufenkian Foundation

credit: Tufenkian Foundation

Blaming the protocols for ending NK’s independence is also uncalled for.  First of all, NK’s independence is kind of weak – not even Armenia recognizes NK as an independent nation.  Furthermore, Turkey has long had a hand in the peace process and continues to have an interest – protocols or not.  After a 15-year ceasefire, it is time for the NK conflict to be resolved, and not everyone is going to be happy about it.  The diaspora is attached to the NK conflict because of how it resonates with 1915; however it is not true nor fair to equate Nagorno Karabakh to eastern Anatolia.

And finally – the Stop the Protocols campaign is also opposed to the protocols because they would nullify the “legal rights” of Armenians to historic Armenia.  When it comes to territory, the diaspora has always been on its own:  not a single Armenian president has ever made claims on Eastern Anatolia, including the current one.  However, several cases out of California have made inroads into reclaiming financial assets.  I think this is more realistic.



What the campaign boils down to is a conflict between the Republic of Armenia and its diaspora over who best represents the Armenian nation.  Traditional, nationalism is the domain of nation states; however, the Armenian diaspora has its own nationalism complete with political parties and political agendas.  More and more, the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan is excluding the diasporan perspective from Armenia’s national and foreign policies.  As the Stop the Protocols campaign demonstrates, the diaspora is ready and willing to strike back.

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Protocols and the Peanut Gallery

September 2, 2009 at 3:54 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , , , )

Serzh Sargsyan and Abdullah Gül - credit:

Serzh Sargsyan and Abdullah Gül - credit:

It has been a few days since the news broke about Armenia and Turkey’s protocols and, as expected, everyone has something to say about it.

The Dashnaks: Don’t like it – they would prefer genocide recognition and guaranteed sovereignty of Armenian lands first (NK, but slight nod to the homeland in eastern Anatolia.)

ANCA: like the Dashnaks (because they are the US lobbying version of the Dashnak party) the ANCA is concerned about Armenia’s sovereignty and how the protocols might cast doubt on the Armenian genocide.  Also want Turkey and the US to recognize the genocide.

Armenian National Congress (HAK): AKA Levon Ter-Petrossian’s party AKA Sargsyan’s opposition commend the protocols, (which, after all, mirror Ter-Petrossian’s policy back when he was president but don’t like the historical commission part because it might cast doubt on the ‘reality of the Armenian genocide.’

So it looks like Armenia’s sovereignty is a primary concern. (Armenia’s sovereignty is made visual here.)  For some this sovereignty extends to NK and even eastern Anatolia.  For others, sovereignty is more about the ability to take a stand on the genocide and facilitate its recognition.  

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Roadmap to Protocols: Armenian Turkish Diplomacy within 2 months?

August 31, 2009 at 10:06 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , )

Very exciting news today, courtesy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey.  Armenia and Turkey have agreed to two protocols to be mediated by the Swiss.  The protocols are expected to be signed within six weeks.

The “Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey”emphasizes their commitment to open the border, recognizes that border as it is, agrees to establish diplomatic missions in each other’s country, and generally promotes peace, trust and neighborliness.  The “Protocol on Development of Relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey” identifies the mutual interests of both countries to enhance bilateral relations and the countries AGREE TO OPEN THE BORDER WITHIN TWO MONTHS OF SIGNING.  They even have a time-line.  Read the texts of both protocols here.

Armenian-Turkish border - credit: evrimnazli

Armenian-Turkish border - credit: evrimnazli

Armenia and Turkey announced a vague roadmap on April 23rd, 2009 but, to date, these protocols have been the greatest strides towards diplomacy.   The 1.5 million dollar question thrown around between April and today was how the genocide would play into the diplomatic process, even though Serge Sargysan has said for over a year that Armenia has no preconditions to normalizing relations.  The only nod to the genocide comes in the Protocol on Development of Relations, in which both countries agree to “implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.”

No doubt this is going to please some and horribly upset others, namely the Dashnaks.  I, for one, will be keeping an independent watch on that two month deadline.  It’s time for some action.

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