An Armenian Guest for Turkey’s Presidential Inauguration
Conspicuously present at the grand, August-28 inauguration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, marking the first-time Armenia has participated in a state-ceremony hosted by its historic enemy, Turkey.
Widely criticized in Armenia and watched with cautious hope by the Caucasus peace-wishers, the visit, so far, has amounted to no more than a walk-on role.
The inauguration in Ankara was mainly noted for the absence of Western leaders and outcries by the Turkish opposition in response to Erdoğan’s perceived authoritarian drift. Against this backdrop, Nalbandian’s visit offered a bit of positive relief. It came after almost 100 years of feuding over Ottoman Turkey’s annihilation of ethnic Armenians and republican Turkey’s subsequent denial that the actions amounted to genocide.
Nalbandian used the opportunity to invite Turkey’s new/old leader to attend Yerevan’s centennial commemoration of the 1915 massacres. While such an invite is unlikely to go down well with Ankara, it might have helped Yerevan respond to domestic controversy over the visit.
For Erdoğan, the presence of a token Armenian could help him add some favorable spin to his international reputation, badly damaged by a crackdown on free voices and alleged corruption, among other ills.
And not enhanced by a campaign-season slur about ethnic Armenians.
Baby-steps, though, have been taken by Turkey toward reconciliation – Erdoğan’s earlier, selectively worded expression of condolences to Armenia for the 1915 bloodshed and recent talk of restoring an ancient Armenian church in Turkey.
Yet it pays to stay skeptical about such steps. The 2009 attempt at reconciliation, strongly backed by various diplomatic powers, ground to a halt over differences related not only to 1915, but Armenia’s conflict with Turkish ally Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh.
This latest attempt may not be too different.