Armenia, Turkey and the Mountain of Discord
A pile of rocks is once again straining the already rocky relations between Armenia and Turkey.
The pile in question, Turkey's Mt. Ararat, is a stumbling block hard to miss, no matter which side of the border you are on. Height: up to 5,137 meters tall; massif: some 40 kilometers in diameter; symbolic value: immeasurable.
For Armenians, Ararat is what Mount Olympus is for the Greeks and more. Here, per legend, Noah anchored his cruising zoo after the biblical deluge. Armenians claim they adopted Christianity in the mountain’s foothills, and Ararat holds pride of place in Armenia's coat of arms.
With that glorious history in mind, an Armenian youngster the other day asked Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan about the chances that Armenia one day would get the mountain back. Armenia lost control over Mt. Ararat under the 1922 Treaty of Kars with Turkey.
Sargsyan said he'd leave that question for a future generation of Armenians to handle.
Before long, Turkey was foaming with anger. For Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's take on the matter, check out The Turko-file.
Erdoğan and his ministers were quick to demand an apology from Sargsyan, but odds are they will never get it.
Irredentist claims -- even to a mountain -- can go a long way in the Caucasus. The danger , though, lies in always interpreting literally the national symbolism with which politicians throughout the region love to lace their remarks.
Particularly in the run-up to an election. Armenia's ruling Republican Party, headed by Sargsyan, faces a parliamentary vote early next year for which maneuvering has already begun.
In an implied reference to his own past as the head of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh's military forces, Sargsyan reminded the assembled that his generation did its share of restoring Armenia’s former glory by driving the Azerbaijanis out of Karabakh.
"If you and your peers spare no efforts and energy… we will have one of the best countries of the world,” Sargsyan told the aforementioned boy. He might as well have kissed a baby.
Sargsyan's press office maintains, though, that the president added something else that critics in Turkey should have noticed as well: “In many ways, the weight of a country is not measured by its size. It must be modern, safe and prosperous . . . .which will allow any nation to sit next to the famous, strong and established countries of the world.”
But amidst the mood of the moment, don't expect Ankara to notice.