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South Caucasus
Omer Lutem, interview

Armenia must first abandon its historical ambitions

Last week The New Anatolian featured long interviews with several Armenian officials and politicians, including Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Parliament Speaker Tigran Torosyan and Giro Manoyan, spokesman for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, or Dashnaktsutyun), a government coalition party. In light of what they told us, what would Turkish experts say about the current state of Turkish-Armenian relations?

This week former Ambassador Omer Engin Lutem, now the director of the Armenian Research Institute, shares his views with us:

TNA: How do you see Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian's statement that "genocide" recognition isn't a precondition to establish diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia?

LUTEM: Oskanian, as in almost all of his recent speeches on this subject, reiterated that Turkey's recognition of the "genocide" wasn't a precondition for the normalization of relations between the two countries. Subsequently, however, Oskanian added that recognition of the Armenian "genocide" was a moral obligation of every Armenian. Stating that neither side should set forth preconditions, Oskanian expressed how they're pursuing recognition while Turkey is pursuing denialism. In other words, Oskanian proposed that Turkey open its border with Armenia, that Armenia continues to propagate genocide allegations and that in return Turkey defends itself by stating that no genocide took place. Peace and understanding between both countries can only be established through the cessation of reciprocal accusations and animosity. This doesn't translate into forgetting certain historical events. There are certain episodes in history related to the Armenians the Turks don't want forgotten either. However, with nearly a century having passed since the occurrence of these incidents, they should be viewed as issues to be analyzed by historians and other experts. The problem posed in this regard should be settled between both countries. Yet it's seen that Oskanian desires the genocide dispute to continue unabated.


And does he clearly refuses Turkey's new stance seeking a solution via arbitration, too?

A while ago, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul stated that Turkey might refer this problem to international arbitration. However, no official response was issued by the Armenians on this important matter. But in his response to your question on the issue, Oskanian expressed how they shall never discuss this matter, for there has never been a case they needed to prove by resorting to court, and added that the issue at hand wasn't of a legal but of a political nature. Oskanian is approaching this matter in an emotional rather than rational manner. As is the case with the great majority of Armenians, due to subjugating themselves to brainwashing over the past 60 years, Oskanian also believes beyond a doubt that a genocide took place and therefore feels this isn't a matter up for debate. However, due to their demand that Turkey recognize the "genocide," they may be obliged to debate this issue after all. To preclude such an eventuality, the Armenians have been endeavoring for other states to recognize the "genocide" in the ultimate hope that this may pressure Turkey to succumb to recognition as well. However, as Oskanian recently stated, as the number of states recognizing the genocide allegations increases, Turkey's resistance to pressure in this regard continues to rise. As such, Armenian reluctance to discuss this matter with Turkey isn't reasonable. Furthermore, the unwillingness on the part of Armenia to discuss the "genocide" issue -- one of the major impediments to the establishment of normal relations between the two countries -- is detrimental to their own interests. However, the extreme emotional sensitivity on the part of the Armenians precludes them from acting in a sound manner.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent proposal for a bilateral historians' commission was also dismissed by Oskanian as a "smokescreen." How do you see this?

Due to the need to resolve the issue relating to genocide allegations as soon as possible, in April 2005 Turkey proposed to Armenia that this matter be analyzed by historians and other experts, but Armenia didn't accept this proposal. This time Turkey has begun inquiring into the possibilities of resolving this issue by deferring it to a mechanism of international justice. However, the stance of the Armenian foreign minister with respect to resorting to international justice has also been negative. Although it may appear that this reluctance stems from disinclination to debate the "reality of the genocide," it's the case that the Armenians are apprehensive about not being able prove the existence of genocide before a judicial body.

Oskanian has described the proposal for establishing a joint commission of historians as a smokescreen for Europeans to think that Turkey has taken a positive step forward on this matter. The foreign minister has based this opinion on various grounds. The first reason advanced by Oskanian is that such a commission is already existent and that Turkish, Armenian and foreign scholars have debated and declared their position vis-a-vis this issue. These scholars wrote a letter to Prime Minister Erdogan and stated that the issue has been studied, that the conclusion is clearly genocide and that there's no need for further discussion.

On this matter Oskanian is displaying a degree of confusion. No commission bringing together Turkish, Armenian and other scholars has been set up. Although negotiations were carried out in Vienna between members of the Turkish Historical Society and an Armenian historian of Austrian citizenship, among whom an exchange of documents was carried out, this group hasn't been able to continue their work. On April 16, 2005, the International Association for Genocide Scholars, by way of a letter sent to Prime Minister Erdogan, stated that the existence of the Armenian "genocide" was the general view not only of Armenian but also of other scholars examining this issue. However, the institution in question doesn't comprise all nor even the majority of scholars specializing in this area of study. Furthermore, not a single Turkish scholar that is a member of this institution is known. Also, it's clear that for a party siding with the allegation of the existence of the Armenian "genocide" to send a letter to his prime minister crosses the line between scholarly and political action.


He also says Article 301 is an obstacle to efforts to objectively investigate the genocide issue in Turkey.

The foreign minister has expressed that since this article penalizes those stating that genocide occurred, it isn't possible for Turkish scholars participating in a joint historical commission to accept that the events of 1915 amount to genocide or even discuss this issue, for they may be punished.

These statements on the part of the Armenian foreign minister constitute a gross exaggeration. First of all it should be noted that no mention of the word "genocide" is made in the pertinent article. This article deals with penalizing the act of degrading Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, and the state's institutions and organs. If a prosecutor, on account of a written complaint or his own authority, interprets mention of the genocide as degrading Turkishness, he may file charges. However, there's no one in Turkey who has been convicted due to accepting the Armenian "genocide." Furthermore, there are publishing houses in Turkey which freely publish books of authors claiming that the Armenian genocide took place.

How do you see Oskanian's expectations on the closed border between two countries?

The Armenian foreign minister's statement is based on the contention that establishing a joint commission of historians doesn't appear possible when the border between the two countries remains closed. There is, however, no relationship between the two. That Turkey's border with Armenia is closed doesn't translate into Armenians being forbidden from entering Turkey. As such, there are approximately 70,000 individuals of Armenian origin working in Turkey, and these individuals go back and forth between the countries via airways or other border gates.

In short, the grounds set forth by the Armenian foreign minister as to why he is against the formation of a joint commission of historians are of no validity. The real reason stems from the reluctance on the part of the Armenians to discuss and analyze this issue, believing that the matter has been resolved in their favor.

How do you see the Armenian stand on the Treaty of Kars?

This treaty signed on Oct. 13, 1921 between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbajcan, Georgia and the Soviet Union, inter alia, established Turkey's eastern border. As it's still in force, it's not legally possible for Armenia to make territorial claims from Turkey. For the matter at hand to be comprehended in full, a few points shall be called attention to. At the beginning of 1990 Turkey proposed to Armenia that a document recognizing each other's territorial integrity be signed for the establishment of diplomatic relations. However, despite the Treaty of Kars being in force, this proposal wasn't accepted on the part of Armenia, which retained its stance despite Turkey's many initiatives in the following years. Turkey, on the other hand, taking the genocide allegations and the occupation of Karabagh, Azerbaijan and other territories into consideration, didn't establish diplomatic relations with Armenia.

In this context it should also be noted that at the Armenian National Assembly and in the Armenian press demands are made from time to time for the Treaty of Kars to be renounced. During your interview the Armenian foreign minister expressed the following: "The Treaty of Kars is in force as far as I'm concerned. Because Armenia is a successor in recognizing the Soviet treaties. And as long as any treaty hasn't been renounced officially or replaced by a new one, it has been in force. But the problem is that the agreement has been violated so much by the Turkish side. If a legal expert looks at this agreement and the way it's been implemented, I'm not sure if the legal experts would conclude that this is a valid treaty. The violation is from the Turkish side, (because of its) having closed its borders with Armenia."

In the first instance, it should be noted that the Armenian foreign minister's statements were not of an official nature but were expressed as his own personal thoughts. As is known, the right-wing parties of Armenia, and in particular the Dashnaks, retain the inclination to rule out the validity of the Treaty of Kars and consider it null and void. Therefore, instead of creating a rift between himself and these circles, Oskanian has chosen to state that the treaty in question is in force "as far as he is concerned."

The Treaty of Kars incorporates the following main elements. First of all it states that certain agreements concluded in the past are void and that no international document not recognized by Turkey will be recognized. In this manner with the Treaty of Kars, Armenia, as with the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, have officially accepted not recognizing the Treaty of Sevres. This constitutes the second reason why Armenian extreme nationalists are opposed to the Treaty of Kars. Establishing Turkey's eastern border, this treaty ceded Batumi to Georgia. Another important article of this treaty is that which grants autonomous status to Nakhichevan under the protection of Azerbaijan. In other words, a change in the status of Nakhichevan is dependent upon the consent of Turkey. As such, the realization of the dream that Nakhichevan, like Karabagh, may be annexed to Armenia is inherently unrealizable. Furthermore, it isn't possible to interpret any article of the Treaty of Kars as foreseeing that it shall become null and void in the event that the border between the two countries is closed. The fact that an official declaration by Armenia hasn't been made to the Turkish government stating that the treaty has been breached or is void bears testament to the fact that it's still in force.


Some people also believe that the Armenian Constitution, in citing Armenia's Declaration of Independence, takes a hostile stand towards Turkey, but Oskanian denied this. What do you think?

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on Aug. 23, 1990, before the Republic of Armenia gained independence. According to Article 11 of this declaration, "The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 genocide in Ottoman Turkey and western Armenia." Turkey has objected to this declaration on two grounds, the first reason being mention of eastern Anatolia as "western Armenia." In this manner, eastern Anatolia is indirectly depicted as Armenian territory or to say the least the ownership of this territory is called into question. In other words, Turkey's territorial integrity isn't recognized and the fact that Armenia hasn't agreed to sign a document relating to the mutual recognition of territorial integrity substantiates this assertion. The second reason for objection stems from how the declaration designates the task of attaining international recognition of the Armenian "genocide" as a mission incumbent upon Armenia in spite of Turkey's objection to this allegation. In the preamble of the Armenian Constitution, adopted in 1995, the "fundamental principles of Armenian statehood and the national aspirations engraved in the Declaration of Independence of Armenia" are recognized. As such, the declaration has become a part of the Armenian legal system. The Armenian Constitution was amended last year; however, the stipulation relating to the Declaration of Independence was left untouched.

In response to your question regarding the article relating to Turkish territory, the Armenian foreign minister stated in a derogatory manner that this was a general statement about their past and not necessarily a statement about their future claims. In short, while a document setting forth the Armenian Constitution's fundamental principles and national aspirations designates eastern Anatolia as western Armenia, the Armenian foreign minister has asserted that these expressions do not equate into a demand. Herein lies a blatant contradiction. On the question of who is to be believed, the Constitution should be taken in primacy.

Instead of tension, Oskanian suggested that Turkey play a constructive role in the Caucasus. How do you see this?

You mean his remarks in the way that Turkey would play a more constructive role in the Caucasus and serve as a bridge between the Caucasus and Europe. It appears that the Armenian foreign minister is exaggerating the importance of his country. Apart from Armenia, Turkey enjoys good relations with the remaining three countries of the southern Caucasus -- namely the Russian Federation, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Turkey is in no need of Armenia's help to improve its relations with these countries. Furthermore, there exists no design for Turkey to serve as a bridge between Europe and the Caucasus. The EU is consolidating its relations with these countries within the framework of the European Neighborhood Project, and Turkey can serve as such a bridge between them only in the event that it becomes a member of the European Union. The aforementioned remarks of the Armenian foreign minister reflect the isolation his country is in. On this point, the fact that Armenia is in a state of serious conflict with three of its four neighbors draws attention.

In spite of the existence of a cease-fire, Armenia is still at war with Azerbaijan. Due to propagating genocide allegations, not recognizing Turkey's territorial integrity and the occupation of Karabagh and other Azerbaijani territories, there exist serious areas of conflict with Turkey. Furthermore, it has problems with Georgia stemming from the Armenian minority in Javakhk and due to the transit pass of goods (including that of natural gas).

It's the case that Armenia only has normal relations with Iran; however, this country has little influence in the Caucasus. When analyzing this state of affairs, it can be seen that the culprit for the problems existing in the southern Caucasus remains Armenia. Therefore it's necessary that Armenia begins to contribute to the establishment of peace and cooperation in the region by way of normalizing its relations with its neighbors. To this end, Armenia must abandon its historical ambitions and animosity as well as the pursuit of trivial interests born of internal affairs which are of no benefit to itself and are detrimental to the region.

Who is Omer Engin Lutem?
Ambassador Omer Engin Lutem began his diplomatic career in the Foreign Ministry in 1957, serving in Turkish missions in France, Germany, Italy and Libya. He served as general director of intelligence and research and was later appointed Turkish Ambassador to Bulgaria. He went on to serve as Turkish ambassador to the Vatican, and as the Turkish permanent representative to UNESCO. He is now director of the Armenian Research Institute.

Nursun Erel - TNA
18 December 2006