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Facts and Comments

Retired Ambassador Ömer Engin LÜTEM*
Review of ARMENIAN STUDIES, Number 5, Volume 2 - 2003



In Armenia, the debates on the normalization of relations with Turkey and opening of the land border, which we have discussed in our previous article,[1] are continuing.

The groups with ultra-right tendencies, first and foremost Dashnaks, claim that national security implications of opening the border with Turkey are not analyzed, that it is not appropriate to develop relations with Turkey without conditions; and that this surprising tolerance of the Armenian authorities leads to Turkish diplomats’ imposing increasingly stricter pre-conditions upon the Armenian side.[2] One of the sources counts among the above-mentioned preconditions the evacuation of Karabagh by Armenia, renouncement of genocide claims and territorial demands, which are also the conditions of Turkey to establishing normal relations with Armenia. On the other hand, Dashnaks demand reparation, land, and recognition of the so-called genocide by Turkey in return for the development of normal relations with Armenia. The Armenian government, aware of the impossibility of agreement with Turkey in case these demands are put forward, defends establishing relations without conditions. Nevertheless, Armenia has not renounced those claims yet officially. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oskanian, stated that recognition of the so-called genocide is to be dealt with after establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey.[3]

One of the arguments of the opponents of the opening of the border is that this would be in favour of Turkey instead of Armenia in terms of the political aspects. The pro-H?ntchak media argued that Turkey has always entertained pan-Turanian aspirations to join its Central Asian cousins to build an pan-Turkic empire, and Armenia will contribute to the realization of this objective by opening the border.[4] 

The claim that Armenia would prevent Turkey from uniting with Central Asian Turks was an idea proposed to assist the establishment of Great Armenia, which was envisaged during and after the First World War. It is surprising to face this view today, an idea which was not valid even in those years, and this points to the fact that H?ntchaks, who failed in parliamentary elections, are so weakened that they look for help in old fashioned demagogic ideas.

Another view is that Armenia will be a transit country not only for Turkey but also for Azerbaijan and Central Asia in case of the opening up the border. This view is theoretically correct, though it is hollow regarding contemporary realities. The eastern parts of Armenia belong to Azerbaijan, and the conflicts with Armenia should be resolved in order for Azerbaijan to allow for transit passages. For the railways, the conditions are different. Turkey does not have direct railway connections to Georgia or Azerbaijan. The railway goes through Kars to Armenia, and then turns north to Georgia, and south to Azerbaijan. It is connected to the Central Asian countries through Georgia by the Russian railway network. Armenia’s giving permission for transit passages, due to the fact that its land routes declined as transit passageways, reduced the debate of opening Turkish-Armenian border to the railway connection. Nevertheless, Turkey has not demanded to use the Armenian railway, on the contrary, the Kars-Tbilisi railway project, which bypasses Armenia, is placed on the agenda. 

The opening of the border became so important in Armenia that the Union of Industrialists and Businessmen of Armenia has arranged a seminar on this issue on September 17, 1987.[5] Some of the views put forward at this seminar are summarized below:

The president of the mentioned union, Arsen Gazaryan, mentioned the closing of the border between two countries ten years ago, and argued that the businessmen in the eastern regions of Turkey demanded opening of the Armenian border from the public authorities. Moreover, Gazaryan repeated the idea that Armenia was a path for Turkey to access the markets of Azerbaijan and Central Asia, and that Turkey was a path for Armenia to access the Russian and European markets. This, in turn, will reduce Armenia’s dependence on Georgia.

The journalist, Tatul Manaseryan also repeated the view that Turkey had much bigger interest in the opening of the border and related this argument to the issue of development in the eastern regions of Turkey. This view is not realistic in view of the limited contribution of limited exports to such a small country like Armenia.[6]

Harutyun Haçatriyan, the vice director of the most prominent news agency of Armenia, Noyan Tapan, had pointed a fact by explaining that the opening of the border will be beneficial to Armenia since it will be a spiritual blow to Azerbaijan.

The Assistant Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Armenia, Samvel Avetisyan, indirectly distanced himself from those who argued that opening of border would be much more beneficial to Turkey by saying that Turkey does not really need Armenia, for the latter is a considerably small market for Turkey’s large economy.       Indeed, according to Armenian sources, Turkish exports to Armenia is around 20-25 million dollars.[7] Even this export increases ten times in coming years by the opening of border; its place in the total export volume of Turkey will be less than 1%. Therefore, the contribution of the opening of border to the development of the eastern regions and to Turkey’s material profits is negligible. From this point of view, opening of the border is not important in terms of economy, rather it is important as a step of normalization of the relations between the two countries.


While debates continue in Armenia, there are statements in Turkey affirming the stance of the government.

The new Azerbaijani prime minister, ?lham Aliyev has made his first visit to Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an arranged a press conference with ?lham Aliyev on September 8, 2003, and commented that Turkey is on the side of Azerbaijan whose lands are occupied by Armenia and she is to continue supporting all attempts to resolve the Karabagh problem.[8]

The prime minister stated, as an answer to a question on the opening of the railway between Turkey and Armenia, that the unique credible project was the Kars-Tblisi project though it has been not realized yet, and it does not include Armenia. Furthermore, the prime minister cited that the Kars-Tblisi Railway Project aims at accessing the Turkish republics.[9] Thus, the prime minister has excluded Armenia from the plan of connecting Turkey by railway to the Caucasus and then to the Turkish republics. On the other hand, according to Armenian sources, the prime minister has explained to the Turkish Armenian Patriarch Mesrop Mutafyan at their meeting on September 25, 2003 that although Turkey is resolving the conflicts with her neighbors and establishing good relations, the border will not be opened and good relations cannot be established as Armenia does not recognize the border of Turkey. He also mentioned that the dramatic historical events should be left to the historians.[10]

The Armenian authorities preferred to give a soft response to the statement of Turkish prime minister. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Oskanyan, as an answer to a question, stated that the arguments that Turkish-Armenian border will be opened in the short term is exaggerated, that he has never had great expectations on this issue, and that the issue will be made clear at the meeting with the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs.[11] The official spokesman of President Koçaryan, A?ot Koçaryan, explained that the president is in favor of opening of the border, which is expected to happen after a long time, and doubts that Ankara will agree to reciprocate soon.[12]

The Tashnaks, afraid of being out of the agenda and rapprochement between the two countries, utilized the statements of the Prime Minister Erdo?an as a means to criticize Turkey and the Armenians who are in favor of opening the border.

Gegam Manukyan, member of the Higher Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, stated that Turkey’s intolerant policy towards Armenia was well-known, and that the majority of Armenians has always known that the ongoing isolation of Armenia will, in fact, continue and that Ankara will maintain its biased position, and that the Turkish government was not ready to listen to the demands of the international community, and that it was not ready to work in the spirit of cooperation and tolerance. He added that Turkey will continue to violate human rights and international norms by constantly denying Armenian Genocide and blockading Armenia.[13] Manukyan also stated that the statement of Erdo?an should be a wake-up call for those Armenian officials who call for the immediate opening of the border, urging Gymri railway to be repaired and become ready for operation, and the border which was closed by Ankara to be reopened.  It is clear that he referred to the Minister of Transportation, Andranik Manukyan, who explained that all preparations for the railway are completed and that Armenia was ready to start transportation with Turkey.[14]

As it is clear from this point, the Tashnaks are in conflict with other members of the government also on the opening of the border. Their uncompromising behaviors might result in their leaving the government in case the border is opened. The fact that Makaryan Government has the majority even without the Tashnaks can make this easier.

In contrast to the radical stance of Tashnaks, the statements of the Defense Minister Serj Serkisyan, who is known to be close to Koçaryan, that Armenia and Turkey would open the border in a few months, and there are prerequisities to think so show that Koçaryan and his group really desire opening of the border.[15]


The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the two countries made their traditional speeches at the gatherings of the United Nations General Assembly. They also took the advantage of them and arranged bilateral talks.

Vartan Oskanyan especially concentrated his speech at the General Assembly on September 25 around an answer to ?lham Aliyev’s speech criticizing Armenia on the same forum; and he skipped the relations with Turkey. However, towards the end of his speech, he spoke about the so-called Armenian Genocide as: ‘On another matter, important for us and for all humanity, Armenia continues to engage countries and governments around the world to recognize and condemn the first Genocide of the 20th century. The survivors of the Genocide and their descendants are helping build a democratic Armenia, committed to a future, without forgetting the past.[16]  Judging by his entire speech, this issue is out of the topic. This makes us think that the Armenian minister has mentioned this issue in order to avoid criticisms especially from the Tashnaks since he has always mentioned this issue in his UN General Assembly speech every year.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül referred only to the Karabagh problem about Armenia in his speech, and said: 'Turkey expects Armenia to fully comply with the relevant U.N. resolutions in order to find a prompt and just solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The peaceful settlement of this conflict will positively contribute to the normalization of the Turkish-Armenian relations and also to regional cooperation.[17] 
While the Turkish side did not speak about the meeting of the two ministers on September 25, Vartan Oskanyan made numerous statements about it; and he said that Armenia and Turkey have taken a further step towards normalizing their strained relations, there is no practical positive results to report at this point; and that they are on the right track in terms of registering progress in the bilateral relations.[18] He also continued commenting on this issue after he returned to his country; and he said that there are signals from Turkey that it is willing for a positive shift in its relations with Armenia, and his impression is that this issue is no longer occupies much space in Turks’ mind and is not strictly tied for normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations as it was in the past.[19] Oskanyan argued that the country economic programmes were not linked to the problem and the Armenian economy has already adapted to the blockade.[20] According to the Tashnak media Oskanyan has also said that Turkey did not demand that Turkish territorial integrity be recognized anymore.[21]

The attempts to belittle the border issue by arguing that it will not effect economy much although the attempts of Armenia to open the border is so clear, the statements neglecting the closeness in the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan that Turkey is not interested in the Karabagh problem, the illogical claim that Turkey does not demand Armenian recognition of its territorial makes us think that Oskanyan speaks to satisfy the expectations of the Armenian public opinion.

While the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs pretends not to credit the border with Turkey, the depression began with the pressures on President Shewardnadze in Georgia brought the border issue back on the agenda.

The land connection of Armenia to Russia and then to Europe is still through Georgia. The first issue in the minds of the Armenian authorities when the events in Georgia broke out is the transit transportation through this country. President Koçaryan mentioned that stability in Georgia might be helpful to avoid the possible negative consequences, particularly, the possible problems with the transit cargo transportation through Georgia,[22] The Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartanyan also mentioned his happiness since no problem has occurred in goods turnover.[23] Minister of Transportation, Andranik Manukyan, at a speech in the parliament, expressed that the transportation though Georgia and the route to Georgia was not effected from the recent developments, but he did not know its future. Manukyan added that 90% of Armenian trade is conducted through Batum and Poti ports of Georgia.[24] Galust Saakyan from the Republican Party drew attentions to the risk created by the situation in Georgia by saying that the Armenian leadership should think about this issue and try to find alternative routes for the country's economic development. Saakyan thinks that the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border has become pressing in these circumstances.[25] Thus, the developments in Georgia once more revealed that opening of the border with Turkey is a priority for Armenia.


In these three months, there are two statements explaining the attitude of turkey towards Armenia in principle.

The first statement belongs to the President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and in his speech in the opening of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on the internal and external problems of Turkey, the president said about the relations with Armenia:‘In accordance with its willingness to develop good relations with all its neighbours, Turkey wants to normalize her relations with Armenia.  However, the realization of this goal requires that Armenia pursues a foreign policy that is consistent with the principles of good neighbourliness and international law, exerts serious effort to resolve problems with its neighbours and opts for a final choice of making peace with its past and leaving the judgment of history to historians. Should Armenia display political will in this direction, Turkey would not remain unresponsive. Such a positive development would also contribute in a concrete manner to the stability and welfare of the Southern Caucasus.’[26]

The second statements has taken place in the speech on November 3, 2003 in the presentation of 2004 Fiscal Year Draft Budget to the Turkish Grand National Assembly Planning and Budget Commission. The related part of this speech is as follows: Turkey wants to normalize her relations with Armenia and improve collobration in the context of neighbourly relations. The achievement of this target depends on Armenia’s acting in accordance with the codes of international law, making her final choice on behalf of peace with her history and showing great will in order to resolve her conflicts with her neighbours. On the condition that she clearly states that she adopted such an approach, Turkey will respond and that will make important contributions to the welfare and stability of Southern Caucasia.[27]

As it is clear from the statements above, the speeches of the president and the minister of foreign affairs share the same attitude towards Armenia. They can be summarized as follows:

The first principle is that Armenia should comply with the codes of international law. When we apply this to the Turkish-Armenian relations, since the borders of Turkey are demarcated by international treaties, it is in contradiction to the international law that Armenia declared Eastern Anatolia as Western Armenia in its Constitutional Declaration; and in this context, it is clear that Armenia cannot demand land or reparation from Turkey. Similarly, Armenia’s occupation of Karabagh, which is legally Azerbaijani territory, is also in contradiction to law. On the other hand, acceptation of every possible change in the status of Karabagh by Azerbaijan is also a requirement of international law.

The second principle is that Armenia should attempt to resolve her conflicts with her neighbours in correspondence with the principles of international law. If Armenia’s policies towards Azerbaijan and Turkey are analysed, it is understood that the main target is not to resolve the problems, but to take advantage of them. For example, Armenia tries to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey, at least to open the border without renouncing her claims for territory and reparation and without resolving the Karabagh conflict. On the other side, she tries to normalize relations with Azerbaijan and lift the embargo without withdrawing from Karabagh and other Azerbaijani territory.

The third principle is that Armenia should leave the history to the historians. She has to make a final choice in the direction of peace with her past, and stop seeing the historical problems as contemporary issues. In contrast to this principle, Armenia applies to policy of imposing 1915 Relocation, which is known as emigration too, as genocide to the international society. This policy aims to provide pressure on Turkey by accusing with genocide and trying to set the grounds for territorial and reparation demands. There has been almost a century after the Events of 1915. After these events during the First World War, a new political regime has been established, Turkish Republic has taken place in this framework and her borders are demarcated with the international treaties. Thus, no conflict related to those days can be valid today. If such a revisionist idea is proposed, previous problems and demands will refresh in the Balkans, Middle East and the Caucasus; in other words, the existing international system might be questioned. The events of those years became history; and analyze and judgment of them belong to historians.

According to the texts mentioned above, if Armenia complies with the mentioned principles, it is clear that Turkey will normalize the relations with Armenia in correspondence with her ‘willingness to develop good relations with all its neighbours’, that’s the land border will be opened and diplomatic relations will be established.


The ministers of foreign affairs of the two countries met in Brussels on December 5, 2003 in the framework of Euro Atlantic Association Council. According to Anadolu Agency’s news report on this issue[28] the two ministers discussed the recent situation in Georgia, stability issues in the Caucasus, improving relations with NATO and Europe, and providing more substance to the activities related to the Partnership for Peace.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Gül, stated that Ankara supported the efforts to resolve the problems that existed between Azerbaijan and Armenia and that the time was ripe for taking the necessary steps towards confidence building measures. He added that Turkey was ready to contribute to these efforts and to undertake the role of a catalyst. Gül spoke of the same issues to the Azerbaijani Minister of Foreign Affairs Guliev.

In this news report, there is no information about the crucial issue of what the ministers discussed regarding the relations between Turkey and Armenia. The Turkish side did not issue a statement probably due to the deliberative nature of the process and the lack of solid results. Nevertheless, the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oskanian, during his statement to the press, focused on bilateral relations and pointed out that the Brussels meeting was qualitatively different from the two previous meetings and that the parties were closer to taking the first steps in the relationship between Turkey and Armenia. He added that although it was to soon to make clear statements, the first positive result, though small in nature, regarding the Turkish-Armenian border would be achieved in a few months time.[29]

According to the minister, there is a possibility of opening up the Turkish-Armenian border in the coming months. The reasons of why the border is not opened are not explained because there are expectations for the incoming months. These developments might be related to the Karabagh Problem judging by the fact that the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents accepted to start negotiation after a break of one and a half years. In this context, Turkey might open the border in order to encourage Armenia if the parties make progress in the resolving of the Karabagh Conflict. Such a progress may create a positive atmosphere for the other problems between the two countries.


The Swiss parliament recognized the so-called Armenian Genocide on December 16, 2003 by a decision with 107 votes for, 67 votes against and 11 votes abstaining.[30]

A decision recognizing the so-called Armenian Genocide was tried to pass at the parliament by the Armenian minority, which has influence in Switzerland regardless of their number, with the help of separatist Kurdish groups and contributions of some politicians for some time.  The Swiss governments had refused such a decision as they take into account the bilateral relations with Turkey. The attempts in 1995 and 2000 were fruitless; the vote on December 13, 2001 was refused only with 3 against votes. A proposal for the recognition of the so-called Armenian Genocide and notification of Turkey about it, which was prepared by 115 of 201 parliamentarians, was not voted due to the government’s expression of negative opinion[31].  However, it was clear that such a decision would be realized sooner or later since almost half of the parliament is in favour of it.
Meanwhile, the Geneva Canton had recognized the so-called Armenian Genocide on December 10, 2001. The Vaux Canton adopted a similar decision on September 23, 2003; and this decision is commented as having symbolic importance in some of the Armenian media since the treaty dismembering Armenia had been signed in that city[32]

The Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, Micheline Calmy-Rey was to make an official visit to Turkey on October 6, and she was to visit ‘The Kurdish Regions’ other than ?stanbul and Ankara according to the Swiss media.[33] However, Ankara cancelled the visit making out the decision of Vaux Canton.[34]
While the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried not to exaggerate the cancellation of the visit,[35] the media argued that Turkey has disregarded and even insulted to Switzerland;[36] thus, an anti-Turkish atmosphere is created in the public opinion.
Then, news that M?T (National Intelligence Service) informed Swiss intelligence about Minister of Foreign Affairs Calmy-Rey’s meeting with a high level authorized PKK member, and thus President Couchepin demanded explanation from her[37] resulted in the claims that Turkey spied in Switzerland.[38]  The Federal Crown Authorities initiated investigation.[39] As a result, the Federal Prosecutor V. Roschacher declared that there is no evidence that a member of the federal government and a Swiss citizen with Kurdish origin is exposed to spy activity.[40] However, this did not change the anti-Turkish atmosphere.
In these conditions, a decision recognizing the so-called Armenian Genocide in the Swiss Parliament, where half of the members supported the Armenian view, is not surprising.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a declaration about the decision of the Swiss parliament and stated that the decision is censured and renounced sharply, the events should not be distorted and presented as genocide on behalf of a single party, it is surprising to see that they try to mislead the public opinion; and the Swiss government has gone into heavy burden in terms of the negative consequences of this decision taken by neglecting the relations between Turkey and Switzerland; and the emotions and ideas of the Turks living in the country.[41]

The mentioned decision, seemingly soft, has two risks:

The first one of the risks, which is also expressed by the Union of Switzerland and Armenia,[42] that any act claiming that 1915 Expedition and Relocation might require punishment. A case submitted to the court by the Armenians against the Turkish associations, which claimed that the events do not mean genocide, had been refused previously since the parliament did not have such a decision then[43] Such a case is not likely to be refused anymore. Thus, the decision of the Swiss parliament is not only unfair, but also against the right to free thought and expression

The second risk is that this decision might be prejudication to other countries. The decisions recognizing the claim of Armenian Genocide taken in the recent years in Italy and France did not influence the bilateral relations in spite of the sharp Turkish protests. In case, Switzerland also does not face problems in her relations with Turkey, it might lead other countries to recognize the Armenian genocide claims.

[1] Ermeni Ara?t?rmalar?, Vol 3, No. 10, p. 17.
[2] Armenian Policies must be based on principles of Armenian-centrism, Yerk?r, September 5, 2003.
[3] Ermeni Ara?t?rmalar?, Vol 3, No. 10, p. 15.
[4] Turkish Embargo of Armenia, Armenian Mirror Spectator, September 3, 2003.
[5] Takings and Losses of Open Border, Economists present their outlooks, Azg, September 19, 2003.
[6]   See Sedat Laçiner, ‘Türkiye-Ermenistan ?li?kilerinde S?n?r Kaps? Sorunu ve Ekonomik Boyutu’, Ermeni Ara?t?rmalar?, No. 6, pp.35-65.
[7]   Ermeni Ara?t?rmalar?, No. 11, p. 18, footnote 32.
[8]   Hürriyetim, September 8, 2003.
[9]   Ibid.
[10] Yerk?r quoting Marmara, September 29, 2003.
[11] Asbarez, September 16, 2003.
[12] RFE/RL, September 23, 2003.
[13] Asbarez, September 9, 2003.
[14] Panarmenian, September 7, 2003.
[15] Golos Armenii and  Hürriyet.
[17] Anatolian Agency, September 26, 2003.
[18] RFE/RL, September 26, 2003.
[19] Azg Daily, October 7, 2003.
[20] Medimax News Agency, October 6, 2003.
[21] Asbarez , October 6, 2003.
[22] Medimax News Agency, November 24, 2003.
[23] Azg Daily, 425 Kas?m 2003
[24] Armenpress, 4 Aral?k 2003 ve RFE/RL  3 Aral?k 2003
[25] Noyan Tapan, 1 Aral?k 2003
[27] Booklet.
[28] Anadolu Agency, December 5, 2003.
[29] Medimax News Agency, December 6, 2003.
[30] Hürriyet and Vatan, December 17, 2003.
[31] See, Ermeni Ara?t?rmalar?, No. 3, pp.13-17; No. 4, p. 19; No. 5, pp. 17-19.
[32] Yerkir, September 24, 2003.
[33] Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 30, 2003.
[34] Sabah, October 2, 2003.
[35] Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 1, 2001 (Swiss play down Turkish Rebuff), SwissInfo, October 1, 2003.(La Diplomatie suisse adopte un profile bas)
[36] Neue Zurcher Zeitung, September 30, 2003 (Turkey snubs Calmy-Rey), Swissinfo, October 1, 2003 (Turkey snubs  Swiss,  Swiss protest about Turkey snub after Armenian genocide decision), Agence France Presse, October 1, 2003 (Turkish Cancellation of swiss trip an “affont”)  
[37] Hürriyet, October 25, 2003.
[38] Swiss?nfo, October 26, 2003 (Swiss investigate alleged case of Turkish espionage,  Micheline Calmy-Rey et les  espions turcs,  Micheline Calmy-Rey espionnée par les services turcs),  Agence France
Presse, October 26, 2003  (Turks spied on Swiss foreign minister over Kurd link)
[39]Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 27, 2003 (Swiss investigate alleged case of Turkish espionage)
[40] Agence France Presse, October 31, 2003.
[41] (Press Releases, No. 214, December 16, 2003)
[42]Association Switzerland-Armenia, Bern, Press Release,, December 16, 2003.
[43] Ermeni Ara?t?rmalar?, No. 4.

* Director of AVIM -
- Review of ARMENIAN STUDIES, Number 5, Volume 2 - 2003
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