BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The wily Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu used every diplomatic trick to take maximum advantage of his presence in Yerevan during the Black Sea Economic Cooperation conference (BSEC) last week.
Davutoglu and his diplomatic team had initially launched a disinformation campaign by announcing that he might not participate in the conference because of other commitments, thus giving the impression of not being eager to travel to Armenia. Later on, he conditioned his attendance on the positive outcome of the meetings between the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. To reassure Pres. Aliyev of Azerbaijan that Turkey was minding the interests of its junior brother, the Turkish Foreign Ministry falsely tipped off the press that Armenia had agreed to withdraw from two regions around Karabakh (Artsakh).
Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s real intent in unleashing a charm offensive during his Yerevan trip was to preempt the anticipated worldwide campaign against Turkey during the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015. He wanted to impress the international community of his country’s willingness to reconcile with Armenia, while helping to advance Turkey’s application for European Union membership.
In response, Armenian officials did everything possible to lessen the success of the Turkish charm offensive. Armenia’s strategy was to keep Davutoglu’s Yerevan trip within the confines of the BSEC conference rather than engage in bilateral Armenian-Turkish relations, and exclude any discussion of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols and the Artsakh conflict.
It is therefore not surprising that there was no meeting in Yerevan between Armenia’s President and Turkey’s Foreign Minister. The only official encounter was with Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, who also met with several BSEC participants as host of the conference.
To be sure, Davutoglu faced some obstacles during his stay in the Armenian capital. He had to enter the Marriott Hotel, the venue of the conference, through the back door to avoid young political activists protesting his visit. Meanwhile, Nalbandian issued a series of terse statements before, during, and after the BSEC conference, warning Turkey that Armenia would not accept any preconditions, such as a partial withdrawal from the Artsakh area, in return for establishing diplomatic relations and opening the border between Armenia and Turkey.
Nalbandian’s resolute stand forced Davutoglu to back down, fearing that his trip to Armenia would be characterized as a failure. At the risk of alienating Azerbaijan, the Turkish Minister acknowledged that he had not come to present concrete proposals on Armenian-Turkish relations, and had not asked Armenia to withdraw from two regions around Artsakh. After the conference, Davutoglu changed his tune, insisting that his only purpose for coming to Yerevan was to overcome the “psychological barrier” between Armenia and Turkey and initiate renewed dialogue and trust.
In his stated quest for improved relations, Davutoglu held a meeting with former Defense and Prime Minister Vazgen Manukian, during which he belittled the Genocide as “certain past events” and urged everyone “to move forward.” When Manukian recounted the deaths of his four uncles during the Genocide, Davutoglu promised to say a prayer during his next visit to their birthplace — Moks, South of Lake Van. Yet audaciously he advised Armenians not to forget Turkish victims of World War I. He also suggested that Diaspora Armenians return to their former homeland, present-day Turkey. The most intriguing aspect of the meeting with Manukian was Davutoglu’s revelation that one of the buildings in the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Ankara had belonged to an Armenian — thus raising the possibility of a lawsuit by the former owner’s heirs.
Foreign Minister Davutoglu made one last attempt at undermining the preparations for the Armenian Genocide Centennial, by telling Turkish reporters on board his flight that the “deportation” of Armenians in 1915 was “inhumane.” By claiming that Turkey had never supported this move, he condemned the “deportation” as a “totally wrong practice done by [the Ottoman-era rulers under the Committee of the Union and Progress].”
Davutoglu also revealed that he has been meeting with Diaspora Armenians during his trips abroad, but had not publicized these encounters concerned that “extremist Armenians would cause problems.”
The Turkish charm offensive left a good impression on those who are hell-bent on Armenian-Turkish reconciliation and have no qualms in equating the executioner with the victim. The United States and Canada were the only two countries that officially welcomed the Turkish Foreign Minister’s visit to Armenia, urging further dialogue between the two sides.