Friday, December 22, 2006

Leveraging Turkey 

Armenians and Armenian diaspora got an interesting surprise today when Armenian defense minister Serge Sarkisian wrote in the Wall Street Journal (subscriber link) that the Armenian government is willing to speak to Turkey about normalizing relations without any preconditions.
Over the past few months, attention in Europe has focused once again on the genocide of the Armenian people. The debate in the European Parliament over whether Turkey's recognition of the genocide should be a precondition for membership in the European Union, and the French National Assembly's bill criminalizing genocide denial, have put the spotlight on this tragic period of Armenia's history.

...Turkish-Armenian relations and the genocide are, of course, important factors that need to be considered during Turkey's negotiations for EU membership. It is important to remember the past to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not repeated. Nevertheless, Armenia has a very straightforward and practical position in terms of future relations with Turkey. We would welcome starting normal diplomatic and other relations -- without preconditions. That includes not tying the establishment of diplomatic relations to recognition of the genocide. More importantly, we want to profit from such diplomatic relations as a means to overcome the issues that burden our relations. We cannot expect solutions to come before we start talking to each other. Solutions will only arise when we work hard for them, starting by establishing an open dialogue.

Emil Danielyan summarizes the article, pointing out that
The comments highlighted the differing positions on the issue of official Yerevan and the Armenian Diaspora. The influential Armenian community in France is particularly vocal in opposing Turkish entry to the EU, saying that the bloc should not even consider Ankara�s membership bid as long as the latter refuses to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide.

President Robert Kocharian argued in October that the accession talks will put Turkey under growing Western pressure to normalize relations with Armenia and reconsider its long-running policy of genocide denial. �In that sense, we don�t see any dangers in that process. Perhaps quite the opposite,� he said.
When I sent this to some family and friends, my father wrote back that he thought Sarkisian was "soft" but that maybe it is needed. I am scheduled to speak at a conference on the economic benefits of opening the border. We're still putting final touches on the paper, but suffice for the moment to say the costs of blockade are substantial in our view. Thus it comes as little surprise that the Armenians in Armenia itself would be more favorable to some normalization with Turkey than would the diasporan Armenians who bear none of the cost of continued estrangement and conflict for making genocide recognition a precondition.