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April 22, 2009

ACNIS Holds Seminar on “Armenian-Turkish Diplomacy: An Update”

Yerevan—Just two days before the annual April 24 commemoration of the Armenian genocide, the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) convened a special roundtable seminar discussion today entitled “Armenian-Turkish Diplomacy: An Update,” providing the latest information regarding the outlook for the current effort to reach a new “normalization” of Armenian-Turkish relations.

Welcoming the participants and attendees, ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian introduced the speakers and guests, and noted the presence of noted prominent Armenian-American historian and scholar Richard G. Hovannisian, Professor of Armenian and Near Eastern History at the University of California, Los Angeles.  Giragosian also noted that this month’s seminar, devoted to Armenian-Turkish diplomacy and the outlook for the normalization of relations, reflected one of the most pressing issues in Armenian foreign policy.

For his part, ACNIS Founder Raffi K. Hovannisian also welcomed the participants and presented an overview of the issue in broader terms of regional development, citing the fact that Armenia has always pursued a policy toward Turkey with no preconditions, but not failing to acknowledge the burden and legacy of genocide.  He further dismissed the recent attempts by Turkey to artificially link the Karabagh issue to its position toward Armenia and hailed the irresponsibility of recent Turkish threats to label Armenia as guilty of occupation of Azerbaijani lands within the United Nations Security Council.

The discussion featured four main presentations, with ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian offering an update from his recent visit to Turkey and an assessment of the current stage of Armenian-Turkish negotiations, Professor David Hovannisyan, the Director of the Center for Civilization and Cultural Studies at Yerevan State University, presenting “An Overview of Armenian-Turkish Relations,” Ms. Vercihan Ziflioğlu, a reporter with the Istanbul-based “Hurriyet Daily News,” offering her unique perspective on “Armenian-Turkish Relations: The View from Istanbul,” and Ashot Soghomonyan of Yerevan State University, who offered a concluding “Overview of the Challenge of Armenian-Turkish Relations.”

ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian explained that there was a “prevailing sense of skepticism” after repeated announcements by Turkish officials trying to link the Karabagh issue to the Turkish-Armenian normalization process.  He defined this as rooted in the “asymmetry of power” between Turkey and Armenia and also explained that it seems likely that Turkey had “changed the course of its policy” toward Armenia, away from its earlier engagement and has possibly “surrendered to Azerbaijani pressure.”

Giragosian went on to say that while “there is still a chance for normalization, the window of opportunity was narrower than before, with a possible breakthrough agreement only likely between September and November of this year.”  After which, he said, “if the process remains unresolved into next year, any real chance for normalization would be more vulnerable to new complications and renewed pressure.”  He stressed that there were “three important lessons from the process: the fact that an opening of the closed border should not be misinterpreted as any kind of reward or gift to Armenia, as it represents merely the basic minimum of what is expected of Turkey.  Second, there is “no linkage between the normalization process and the Karabagh issue, and, in fact, Turkey can not and should not have any direct role in the Karabagh issue or in the OSCE Minsk Group’s mediation effort.”  Third, Giragosian noted that Armenia has already gained in terms of a weakening of the earlier Turkish-Azerbaijani policy of “one nation, two states,” and from the deterioration in relations between Ankara and Baku.

Professor David Hovannisyan, a retired senior Armenian diplomat and former Armenian Ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic, reflected on his experience as a member of the former Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), adding that although he remains optimistic over the long term, he was also pessimistic in the short term.  He also stressed three main factors explaining the timing of the normalization process: the war in Georgia in August, which speeded up the process; a shift in Turkish policy away from the Balkans to the Caucasus as a priority, as well as a new impetus in Turkish-Russian relations; and the election of US President Obama, as a new catalyst for US policy in support of normalized relations between Armenia and Turkey.

As an Armenian from Istanbul, Ms. Ziflioğlu noted that as a journalist she expected the borders to be opened, arguing that the world now expected Turkey to fulfill expectations of progress with Armenia.  She also spoke of her experience as an Armenian growing up in Istanbul, noting the differences she felt compared to her Turkish classmates and friends.  She also called for a “change in mentality beyond simply opening borders.”

Finally, Yerevan State University Professor Ashot Soghomonyan then closed the seminar by comparing the competing stereotypes held by each side.  He stated that the Armenian perception of the Turk is as “murderer and as a nation guilty of genocide,” while most Turks perceived Armenia in three different ways: in terms of the terrorism of ASALA in the 1980s, second, within the context of the ARF, as nationalists, and third, reflecting their perception of the “dangerous diaspora” that Turkey sees as threatening Turkey with territorial demands and compensation for the genocide.

Closing the session, parliamentarian and Heritage Party member Stepan Safarian and ACNIS Senior Analyst Manvel Sargsian then provided concluding comments, which were then followed by a series of questions and answers, as well as a lively exchange among many leading Armenian analysts, experts and journalists.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) is a leading independent strategic research center located in Yerevan, Armenia.  As an independent, objective institution committed to conducting professional policy research and analysis, ACNIS strives to raise the level of public debate and seeks to broaden public engagement in the public policy process, as well as fostering greater and more inclusive public knowledge. Founded in 1994, ACNIS is the institutional initiative of Raffi K. Hovannisian, Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Over the past fifteen years, ACNIS has acquired a prominent reputation as a primary source of professional independent research and analysis covering a wide range of national and international policy issues.

For further information on the Center call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am; or visit www.acnis.am.

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