Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Armenia on December 12 in what Ankara has portrayed as an attempt to jump-start a stalled rapprochement process. But many in Yerevan perceived the trip as designed to counter Armenia’s efforts to win worldwide recognition of the 1915 Ottoman-era mass slaughter of Armenians as genocide.
Davutoğlu’s was the first senior Turkish official to travel to Armenia since the 2009 signings of a framework agreement on reconciliation. Neither the Turkish nor the Armenian parliament has ratified the protocols. Both sides blame the other for the failure of the reconciliation bid.
After years of inactivity, the topic recently reappeared on Turkey’s diplomatic agenda. Davutoğlu said a desire to promote peace in the South Caucasus motivated him to attend a Yerevan gathering of foreign ministers from the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC).
In comments to reporters, Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said bilateral ties can be normalized only “without any preconditions” – a reference to Ankara’s previous demands that Armenia return occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The two foreign ministers held a bilateral meeting on December 12 on the sidelines of the BSEC gathering.
In advance of any official statement about the bilateral discussions, Armenian analysts tended to voice pessimism about the visit, asserting that Davutoğlu’s “intentions are not sincere.”
“Turkey is currently doing its best to throw dust in the eyes of the international community, to make things look like there’s some certain progress in the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement process, in order to use it as a tool to neutralize the genocide-recognition process prior to 2015,” alleged political analyst Ara Papian, director of the Modus Vivendi Center, a local think-tank mostly focusing on Armenian-Turkish relations.
Papian, who served as Armenia’s ambassador to Canada before “football diplomacy” with Turkey began in 2008, cited diplomatic friends who, he said, cautioned against genocide-recognition as long as the reconciliation process hung in the balance. “Now, Davutoğlu is trying to refresh that impression,” Papian claimed.
Hovhannes Sahakian, an MP for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, expressed the belief that if Turkey was sincere about restarting the rapprochement process, “relevant messages” would have been sent prior to Davutoğlu’s visit.
In recent months, the Armenian government’s position on rapprochement has appeared to sharpen. For example, this past July, for the first time, a senior government official, then General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian, demanded that Turkey pay both material compensation to the heirs of victims of the slaughter and that Armenia itself “get back” sections of border territory that make up part of eastern Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Ministry rebuffed both ideas.
As a reminder of the political pressures that the Armenian government is operating under, hundreds of young nationalists, holding posters demanding “Recognition” and chanting “Shame!,” gathered in the morning outside Yerevan’s Marriott Hotel, which hosted the BSEC summit, to protest Davutoğlu’s presence at the meeting.
Davutoğlu, together with Armenian Foreign Minister Nalbandian and a bevy of bodyguards, is believed to have entered the hotel through a back door.
Gayane Abrahamyan is a freelance reporter and editor in Yerevan.