09/05 Zaman: For Turkey, ‘embracing’ a small neighbor should not be so difficult

YAVUZ BAYDAR y.baydar@todayszaman.com Columnists
For Turkey, ‘embracing’ a small neighbor should not be so difficult

Time is running out for shaping a new strategy in Ankara over what increasingly more countries now regard and officially recognize as “the genocide” of Ottoman Armenians during World War I.
The resolution in the US Congress hangs in the balance, backed by a majority of members. As well, the sharp turn of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is perhaps very timely for many of the genocide recognition supporters and could be a turning point for the issue.

It should also come as a wake-up call for Turkish diplomacy. It seems more than obvious that a new approach, new parameters and new strategy are needed. One might claim that all of this is long overdue. For the past decade, pressure has slowly been building up over the matter; however, rather than agreeing with what by any international standards constitutes the definition of “genocide,” one parliament after another has approved recognizing the fate of the Ottoman Armenians as such.

The flow of events in the direction of Armenian genocide recognition now appears unstoppable. When, rather than if, the US Congress passes the resolution, a wall will be torn down, opening the floodgates for other countries that synchronize their actions with the US to swiftly join in. A fair prediction is that by the year 2015, the 100th anniversary of the killings in Asia Minor, a large majority of the world’s nations will be in line with the recognition. In other words, the scene will be Turkey versus the rest of the world.

“So what?” is the response by a few in positions of power when confronted by this potential scenario. This answer is based on the assumption that Turkey can withstand any criticism from the rest of the world as long as it maintains a strong economy. However, there is another crucial consideration missing in that stance -- it will be morally unsustainable. As long as you keep silent on, or even worse, in total denial of, the tragedy, crucial supporters that are were in favor of Turkey will continue to turn against it. The more obstinate Ankara is in being “aggressively in denial” with “Armenians killed Turks” or “Armenians started it all” type discourse, the more insulted the world will feel.

What is needed is a new way of thinking. First of all, it is necessary to be fully aware that the year 2015 (potentially the year Turkey will be granted EU membership) will be the year of reckoning. From that point on, the new administration in Ankara, who will certainly be a fresh combination of a dynamic president and a prime minister with strong aspirations to “clear the way” for a strong and reliable Turkey for the West, should provide a detailed road map for dealing with the issue.

Given that viewpoint, there seems to be only one way forward -- leaving aside all diplomatic hangups, starting a full dialogue with Yerevan and opening the borders.

Will that be easy? Of course not. But keep in mind that President Abdullah Gül was trying all possible ways to avoid the issue and exercised great care in dealing with Yerevan directly. Although he has met fierce resistance from some senior Foreign Ministry bureaucrats and the National Security Council, both he and Erdoğan know that the only way out is to begin talks with their eastern neighbor. When this is done, most of the pressure from abroad will dissipate.

Yerevan is also in great need of opening the channels of communication with Ankara; it is squeezed between Russia and Iran and with both a strained balancing act is apparent. It certainly understands the rationale behind having normalized relations with Turkey. For Ankara, the dialogue also will serve as an efficient means to normalize its strained relations with the US.

Both Gül and Vartan Oskanyan as foreign ministers tried hard to find ways to open the border. There was a draft plan which provided several options including: opening the border post only for limited hours, opening it only to non-Turks and non-Armenians, opening only for the transit of goods, etc. The interests of both sides have now been well defined and should be brought to the table when talks begin.

It is a crucial moment for Turkey, and for Gül and Erdoğan it requires facing the issue head on. Luckily, for them, the main opposition in Turkey, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), could be a positive force in helping to develop a feasible solution.

Let each side keep in mind that not reaching a climax of “genocide recognition” by 2015 in refusing to normalize relations with each other will be harmful to both countries. Winners or losers -- the decision is in their hands.

Source: http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=121217