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17 12 2007 - Time is not on Armenia's side
Friday, December 14, 2007
Semih ÝDÝZ
As Armenians prepare for their presidential elections to be held in February, Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora are seen to be increasingly debating the question of relations with Turkey in a manner that suggests a serious divergence of views emerging among them.

There seems to be a growing struggle between the “realists” and the “pipe dreamers,” mostly of Dashnak ilk, on the topic with acrimony flying in both directions.

Former President Levon Ter Petrossian, much vilified by the Dashnak's for his moderate (and realistic) approach to Turkey, promises to change things if he is elected. The Dashnak camp, lead by out-going President Robert Kocharian, is – as expected – accusing him of “preparing to sit the country on Turkey's lap.”

While not slated to win, Petrossian nevertheless has undeniable facts on his side which have to be taken into notice by the electorate. The most glaring fact is of course that the “Kocharian period,” for all the bombast and bravado it entailed, has brought little to this country in terms of helping it break out of its poverty and isolation.

Sefa Kaplan, a well known journalist for Hürriyet, was in Yerevan recently to attend a conference and talk to a group of young people. His article on the subject in Tuesday's Hürriyet indicates that there is more on the mind of Armenian youth than getting Turkey and the Turks to eat humble pie.

Remarks, published in the Financial Times this week, by Serge Sargissian – Armenia's prime minister who is expected to win the presidential elections – were also interesting for revealing a nascent desire for some kind of a new chapter in relations between the two countries.

Sargissian, who is known to be a “Kocharian man” readily, admits that neither Armenia, nor Turkey gain anything from the present situation. He also bemoans the fact that when Armenia was part of the USSR, and Turkey was in NATO, the two countries used to have a certain relationship that is lost now.

“A railway line was built through Armenia to Turkey. A high-voltage electricity line was built between the two countries. Why should my wish for relations not be logical now?” Sargissian was quoted saying.

These remarks in fact hint at Armenia's real concern. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline has bypassed this country. So has the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line project. The Armenian Diaspora tried hard to prevent these projects but failed totally. It is clear that these economically strategic projects will lead to new ones which Armenia will not be a part of again.

So what Sargissian says about neither Turkey nor Armenia benefiting from the current situation is not completely true. It is apparent that Armenia is losing much more than Turkey is. A brief conversation I had with the mayor of Kars a few days ago also proves this.

I asked Naif Alibeyoglu, who was in Ankara on business, if they still wanted the border between Turkey and Armenia opened, as they did in the past, because of the economic advantages this would bring to the economically depressed Kars region.

“No” he said going on to add, “Those days are over. We asked them to cooperate with us but they had other things on their minds and we had no time to waste. We now have the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and that is providing new opportunities for us.”

It is a fact that while the Kocharian administration, supported by the Dashnaks, was pursuing a foreign policy aimed primarily at forcing Turkey to recognize the events of 1915 as “genocide,” things that pertain to the real world were developing in the background that Armenia missed out on to the detriment of its own citizens.

Pointing to this dilemma for Armenians, Levon Ter Petrossian was quoted recently as suggesting openly during a political rally that the Armenian Diaspora's interests and the interests of The Republic of Armenia do not necessarily overlap.

It is not surprising, given this, that he is so hated by the Diaspora. The best proof of this is perhaps a recent comment by Harout Sassounian, the publisher of “The California Courier.”

While not known outside his community, Sassounian is said to be influential among Diaspora Armenian's in the United States. Mr. Sassounian says in a piece he wrote on Dec. 5 that “The Armenian Cause is not about genocide recognition, but the pursuit of justice which entails that the Armenian victims receive reparations.”

He adds that “Remembering the genocide is also about keeping the hope and dream alive for succeeding generations of Armenians – that some day, they will regain their historic lands.”

Pipe dreams

Admitting that “Nobody gives an inch of land to anyone unless forced to do so” and underlining the importance of keeping the Armenian dream alive through generations, Sassounian concludes as follows:

“The Republic of Turkey will not have the same borders forever. No one knows what can happen in the next 30 years or 300 years, but if Armenians relinquish their claims now, they would have lost the chance of recovering anything forever.”

If Armenians in Armenia prefer to go down this road, rather than the realistic road suggested by Mr. Petrossian, or the one that Mr. Sargissian is now trying to hint at, this means they have a long wait on their hands.

It also means that during this time they will continue to evacuate their country, which has provided them with little over the past 10 years in terms of the basic things that ordinary people all over the world want. UNDP and IBRD figures indicate openly the mass exodus out of Armenia today.

As for Sassounian's remark that “the Republic of Turkey will not have the same borders forever” history tells us that Turkish borders have been more secure over time than have Armenian ones - and we go all the way back to Roman times when we say this.

The logical thing to do would be for Armenia to concentrate on what it has, and to improve on this (including by means of better relations with Turkey), rather than wait forever until the pipe dreams of some of their leaders and opinion framers are realized.

Sassounian must know, of course, that remarks such as his only make the hardliners in Turkey more hard-line towards all things Armenian, rather than serve the search for a workable modus vivendi between Turkey and Armenia, and the two nations.

It is clear from his remarks, however, that this is the last thing Diaspora Armenians want.
This is probably what lies at the bottom of the divergence that appears to be developing among Armenians on the question of relations with Turkey.
This divergence will probably grow as more Armenians realize that time in not necessarily on their side. At least not in the way they think.

A. Melikian

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