ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–President Abdullah Gul has dismissed further talks with the US administration on easing tensions over a congressional panel vote approving the Armenian Genocide resolution, saying the ball is in the US court now to work on ways to restore ties.
Gul, speaking to a group of journalists aboard a plane en route from Cameroon to Turkey late on Wednesday, said he had already discussed the matter with US President Barack Obama, referring to a phone conversation they had right before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted on a resolution on March 4. “We spoke once already, and I won’t speak once again. We have already said what we have to say and done what we have to do. The rest is up to them,” Gül said.
Turkey recalled its ambassador in Washington and canceled senior-level contacts with the US following the vote by the US House committee. Ankara resents the US administration for not doing enough to block the vote — apparently out of a belief that this could pressure Ankara to ratify two protocols pending in Parliament to normalize ties with Armenia — and wants a clear and solid message that it is opposed to such congressional moves to judge history.
Only a week after the US vote, the Swedish Parliament endorsed a similar resolution with a 131-130 vote, prompting Turkey to withdraw its ambassador in Sweden and cancel a scheduled visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish premier raised the stakes on Tuesday, when he said in an interview with the BBC that Turkey could deport some 100,000 undocumented Armenian immigrants in response to the resolutions passed in the US and Sweden.
Gul said Erdogan’s remarks were “interpreted differently” and added that he believed that the prime minister meant to underline that there was no hostility toward Armenians.
“The prime minister meant to underline a positive thing that Turkey does,” he said. “These people are working in Turkey and help their families [in Armenia]. I believe he said those things to show that we have no feeling of enmity toward them, that we do not discriminate against them.”
“Humanitarian and political issues should be separated from each other,” Gul said, and underlined that Erdogan was very sensitive about humanitarian issues. “Sometimes remarks could be understood differently,” Gul added. The president also questioned the number of Armenian illegal immigrants, saying it is not 100,000. He said earlier that there were about 40,000 Armenians illegally residing in Turkey. Turkish-Armenian groups say the number is much lower, about 10,000-12,000.
Erdogan was criticized by rights groups, which say his remarks amount to using Armenians illegally residing in Turkey as a political bargaining chip, stating that they could be expelled when things go wrong in the political sphere. Undocumented Armenian immigrants, mostly women from the impoverished countryside, work as cleaning ladies and in other low-skilled jobs in Istanbul, where many settled after an earthquake in their homeland in 1988.
Gul also responded to questions on Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and dismissed suggestions that there was a slowdown in the process. He said the process was in a “routine” phase, where EU experts inspect the compatibility of Turkish laws with EU standards and that technical accession negotiations are being opened on policy chapters one by one. He said the main challenge was the improvement of standards in Turkey. “Once we catch up with EU standards, it will only take five minutes to open and close the negotiating chapters,” he said, emphasizing that once Turkey meets the EU’s political and economic standards, those skeptical of Turkey’s accession will automatically change their mind. “It is also true that we are taking the accession process slowly in order not to scare the EU,” he added.
He also dismissed suggestions that Turkey’s ambitious democratic initiative was put on hold and said reforms have already improved standards in Turkey.
He also warned Israel, saying that even its closest ally, the United States, is disturbed these days by Israeli policies. “If even the US is disturbed, one needs to think about it,” he said.