ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Reactions inside Turkey to its rapprochement with Armenia have been mixed since the two countries issued a joint announcement on April 22 that they have agreed on a “roadmap” to normalizing their relations, the Turkish Today’s Zaman newspaper reported Thursday, implying that the Turkish-Armenian dialogue may hit a wall due to domestic controversy.
Zaman said there are differing views as to whether or not Turkey is “slamming the breaks on Armenian rapprochement,” adding that the answer to that question depends on whom you ask in the Turkish capital. “Most of the time, the response is understandable not straightforward,” it said.
Is Turkey slamming the brakes on Armenian rapprochement? Yes and no, depending on whom you ask in the Turkish capital, and most of the time, the response is understandably not straightforward as the decades-long issue has too many dimensions.
According to Zaman, a high-ranking member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party and the chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission, Murat Mercan said that Turkey “should ease off the gas and start contemplating hitting the brakes,” in talks with Armenia if negotiations on both the border opening and the resolution of the Karabakh conflict “is deemed to not be working.”
Zaman reported that Turkish opposition party leaders on Tuesday blamed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for giving in to pressure brought to bear by the US and the European Union.
In a speech delivered to the Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentary group, CHP leader Deniz Baykal apologized to Azerbaijanis on behalf of Erdogan. “The AK Party is here today, but it may not be here tomorrow. However, Turkey will always be on the side of Azerbaijanis,” Baykal is quoted by Zaman as saying.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bah?eli joined Baykal in criticizing the government for making an agreement with Armenia without first securing a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, Zaman reported.
Columnist Hasan Kanbolat, an expert on Caucasian politics, however, disagrees. He explained to Zaman that the opening with Armenia has reached a point where backpedaling is no longer possible. Kanbolat believes the ongoing diplomatic process will stay on course despite the public backlash, which he thinks could have been handled much better.
“I think stability and security in the Caucasian region has become a transatlantic issue and both the US and the EU want the problems resolved,” Zaman quoted him as saying.
Kanbolat said that the following the Russia-Georgia war last year, the West has tried to nudge both Armenia and Georgia to accept the protective custody of NATO and even of the EU. He noted that Turkey has little room to maneuver under the present circumstances. “Even that maneuverability will be limited to conjecture,” he stressed.
Commenting on his recent fact-finding mission to Azerbaijan, Yilmaz Ates, deputy chairman of the CHP, told Today’s Zaman that he found Azerbaijan “fuming” over the prospect of Turkey opening its border with Armenia.
“They are very frustrated with the Turkish government because they claim Ankara has kept Baku in the dark on the content of secret talks being held since 2004 through a Swiss intermediary,” Ates noted, saying Azerbaijani officials felt they had been betrayed by a friend.
Ankara has long claimed that Azerbaijani officials are well informed about the talks and have been kept abreast of the latest happenings. Both President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan have repeatedly made assurances that Turkey would never agree to any settlement with Armenia without resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.
According to Zaman, pledges of solidarity from Turkey’s leadership do not seem to be working well to alleviate the concerns of Azerbaijani officials. At a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev warned Turkey, “We have the right to re-establish our policy in accordance with the regional realities, and we shall exercise our right.”
“Moscow handed the details of secret talks between Turkey and Armenia over to Azerbaijan,” Ates was quoted by Zaman as saying. Ates conjectured that the details were turned over to the Russians by Armenia. “We constantly heard from Azerbaijani members of parliament who said, ‘Turks should have let us in these secret talks and not gone behind our backs’,” Ates said, recalling his tour of Baku.