BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
A deadly incident with potentially serious consequences took place on the Armenian-Turkish border in the night of July 31.
Armenian and Turkish sources have provided conflicting versions of this event. They agree, however, that a Turkish shepherd was shot dead after crossing into Armenian territory.
Kars Governor Eyup Tepe claimed that without warning “Armenian soldiers” opened fire on 35-year-old Mustafa Ulker, as he was trying to retrieve his “sheep” from the Armenian side. The Turkish Governor accused Armenians of using “excessive force,” alleging that “the shepherd did not have a gun in his hand.” Another local Turkish official, Osman Ugurlu, identified the intruder as a Turkish citizen of Azeri origin who was armed only with a knife and was shot in the back.
In a diplomatic note of protest delivered to Armenia, the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated: “We strongly condemn the shooting of an innocent citizen for a simple border infringement apparently made very innocently. There is no valid explanation for the disproportionate use of Armenian force in such an ordinary event.” In a separate public statement, Ankara called on Armenia to show “good sense” in its relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, warning Yerevan of the dire consequences of wrong moves that could endanger regional stability and peace.
Armenia disputed the Turkish version of events, stating that two Turkish young men had crossed the border at 3 a.m., to steal sheep. When Russian soldiers guarding the Armenian frontier ordered the intruders to go back, the Turks mocked them and refused to retreat. The border guards then fired two warning shots in the air at which point one of the Turks opened fire on them. The Russian troops responded, killing one Turkish intruder, according to the Armenian Border Department of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation.
Turkish sources have repeatedly stressed that the shepherd was shot by Armenians, despite Ankara’s awareness that Russian troops are the ones guarding Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran, in line with the Moscow-Yerevan agreement of 1992. Instead of blaming the Russians, the Turkish government insists on holding Armenia responsible for the shepherd’s killing, turning it into an Armenian-Turkish incident rather than a Russian-Turkish quarrel.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a restrained statement, expressing regret for the loss of life and hoping that such incidents will not recur in the future. It is clear that Yerevan does not wish to inflame tempers and trigger a more serious incident with unintended consequences.
It is understandable that Turkish leaders would want to exaggerate the significance of this relatively minor border incident in order to distract attention away from Turkey’s multitude of domestic and foreign troubles, in particular:
• On-going mass protests in Turkey, challenging Prime Minister Erdogan’s despotic rule.
• Arresting 3,000 demonstrators, injuring 8,000, and killing five others as a result of the “disproportionate use of force” by Turkish police.
• Announcements placed in major American, British, and German newspapers, denouncing Erdogan’s “Nazi-like” actions. The Turkish Prime Minister’s threatened lawsuit against The (London) Times for publishing a full-page paid letter, signed by dozens of prominent Western intellectuals and artists, would more widely expose his intimidating tactics.
• Letter addressed to Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul by 46 Members of the US House of Representatives, asking him to condemn the recent anti-Semitic statements of Turkish leaders, including Erdogan, who had referred to Zionism as a “crime against humanity” and blamed the recent Gezi Park protests on Jewish instigators.
• Serious internal feuds with Kurdish groups, opposition political parties, and high-ranking imprisoned military leaders.
• Repeated military intrusions into Iraqi Kurdistan.
• Strained relations with Egypt’s new rulers after the overthrow of Pres. Mohamed Morsi, Erdogan’s fellow Islamist.
• Frictions with Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Iraq, and Israel, and hostilities with Syria.
• The bombing of the Turkish Embassy in Somalia last month by an al-Qaeda-linked group.
With all these problems swirling in and around Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s announced policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has turned into “zero neighbors without problems.”
At a time when Armenians are planning worldwide commemorations of the Genocide Centennial, Turkey can ill afford to add to its host of troubles a border clash with Armenia, which would only serve to publicize Turkey’s long list of past and present crimes!