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Armenian and Turkish intellectuals discuss future of reconciliation
Mar 12, 2010 - ZAMAN TODAY
Turkish and Armenian intellectuals and journalists gathered for the third meeting of the Turkey-Armenia Dialogue Series, organized by the Caucasus Institute and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation.
Amid increasing tension in US-Turkish relations after the approval of a resolution advising the US president to term as genocide the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian minority in Anatolia, a group of Turkish intellectuals and journalists came together on Friday in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, with their Armenian counterparts with the aim of debating the future of the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process.

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In the third meeting of the Turkey-Armenia Dialogue Series: Assessing the Rapprochement Process organized by the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), intellectuals and journalists from both sides attached great importance to the improvement of dialogue between the so-called hostile societies in getting to know each other better.
In his opening speech, Mensur Akgün from TESEV emphasized that the purpose of the foundation in organizing the meeting was not to represent the Turkish state or defend its arguments in regard to the Armenian question. Explaining the stance of the foundation he said they view the Armenian issue as an important part of Turkey’s democratization, which means it seems like a domestic problem but with an international political aspect as well.

Temel Ýskit, a retired ambassador and columnist for the Taraf daily, emphasized the change of the Turkish public’s perception towards the Armenian issue. “I was an ambassador and denied the Armenian genocide claims for 40 years. But now I am one of the people who made a presentation at the first Armenian conference in Turkey, and I am one of the people who signed the document aiming to apologize to the Armenian people for the tragedy witnessed in 20th century,” he said.

The first Armenian conference in Turkey sparked great controversy when it was organized in 2005 and was considered a dangerous act that would ultimately support the Armenian arguments related to the genocide issue.

Characterizing the pressure Azerbaijan put on Turkey as a harmful act regarding the Armenian reconciliation process, Ýskit noted that the remarks of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan in the Azeri parliament in 2009 tied the Armenian reconciliation process to developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. He also said that the protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey should be seen from a larger perspective in that the restoration of relations will trigger the establishment of peace in the Caucasus region.

In 2009, Turkey and Armenia agreed to establish diplomatic relations and reopen their border, which has been closed since 1993, but the agreements have yet to be ratified by either parliament. Ratification has been stalled as the two sides have traded accusations of trying to modify the deal.

David Hovhannisyan, a retired Armenian ambassador who commented on the US congressional resolution approved on Thursday, said the Armenian people and state are not much interested in the measure and interpreted the issue as a part of US-Turkish relations, which he expects would cause a growing but temporary dispute between the US, which deployed its soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its strong Muslim ally Turkey. The retired diplomat assessed that the establishment of diplomatic relations is the first step to reconciliation between the two states but that peace between the Armenian and Turkish societies will take much longer. “Turkey had strained relations with Syria and Greece in the past, but their border has not been closed. And now you have very good neighborly relations with them, especially with Syria,” he added. Hovhannisyan also accused the Turkish government of dragging its feet in putting the protocols on Parliament’s agenda, saying: “The process between Armenia and Turkey must be based on sincerity and responsibility for peace. … We [the Armenians] have to be patient. I do not expect the Turkish government will step things up concerning the protocols amid rumors of early elections.” He proposed the building of an EU-type mechanism in the region in which the administrations could seek economic interests.

On the Armenian minority in Turkey, Aris Nalci, editor of Agos, a bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly whose editor-in-chief was gunned down by a nationalist Turk, drew attention to the identity problem of Turkish citizens having an Armenian ethnic background. “During our conversations in Yerevan, coming from Turkey, everyone called us ‘you’ but I do not know to which group I belong, ‘you’ as in Turks -- or us -- Armenians.”

Evaluating the regional benefits of the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border, Tevan Poghosyan, executive director of the International Center for Human Development (ICHD), expressed optimism and said the border will be opened one day; Agri is closer to Yerevan than it is to Trabzon, he said.

07 March 2010, Sunday


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