David Hovhannisyan, former ambassador and member of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), has said Turkey and Armenia should not abandon the protocols signed in Zurich in October 2009 because they provide a good basis for normalizing relations between the two estranged neighbors.
“The protocols were signed as a result of months of frantic diplomacy between the two countries. At the end, there were these two very precious documents. The protocols are not bad at all,” he said pointing out that after the ratification of the protocols, there will be cooperative agreements between Turkey and Armenia in many areas including trade, environment, culture and security.
“So these protocols are a good base from which to move forward in normalizing relations. I don’t think we need to forget about them or think about something else,” he told Today’s Zaman for Monday Talk.
The process of official dialogue between Turkey and Armenia after the signing of the protocols last year has been stalled because, although the protocols called for the reopening of the border and re-establishing diplomatic relations, they have not been ratified by either nation’s parliaments due to disagreement over some issues.
The issue of Armenia’s withdrawal from the area surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh is of importance for Ankara, which has frequently signaled that this step would ease the way for opening the border with Armenia. However, the protocols do not make any reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but say both countries should have the protocols ratified by their parliaments within a “reasonable time frame.”
‘The protocols were signed as a result of months of frantic diplomacy between the two countries. At the end, there were these two very precious documents. The protocols are not bad at all. After the two parliaments ratify the protocols, there will be cooperative agreements in many areas between Turkey and Armenia including trade, environment, culture and security. So these protocols are a good base from which to move forward in normalizing relations. I don’t think we need to forget about them or think about something else’
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan after Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan in 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
We asked our questions to former Ambassador Hovhannisyan during the July 8 conference “Turkey-Armenia Policy Discussions,” in which he participated, at Kültür University in İstanbul.
You believe even if the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia has been stalled and the protocols signed between them are practically dead, that they should not be abandoned. What are your reasons for that conviction?
The protocols were signed as a result of months of frantic diplomacy between the two countries. At the end, there were these two very precious documents. The protocols are not bad at all. After the two parliaments ratify the protocols, there will be cooperative agreements in many areas between Turkey and Armenia including trade, environment, culture and security. So these protocols are a good base to move forward from in normalizing relations. I don’t think we need to forget about them or think about something else.
But they were not ratified.
The reason for not ratifying them is internal, because of domestic problems. What we need to do is to continue our discussions and widen the circle of people and civil society [groups] who are involved in the process. In this way we can understand how we see the other side’s viewpoint and expectations for the future, not only in regards to Turkish-Armenian relations but the world.
You have served in TARC, which was the first of the reconciliation efforts. What is different today, compared to those days when you were sitting around a table and trying to reconcile?
Many things are different. At that time, it was very difficult to meet and speak about reconciliation. The Armenian members of TARC were labeled as betrayers of Armenia’s national interests. Now there are a lot people who meet from both sides, and nobody accuses them of betrayal. The environment is quite different. That is why I see the attitude of the politicians as so anachronistic. The world is different, it has changed.
What needs to be done to push politicians in that direction?
First, as people, we need to understand what our past is about. We need to recognize it. Rapprochement between the two nations is possible only after the recognition of the genocide. States are driven by interests, but people need values. In order to live in a more stable and secure environment, we need to understand our past from different perspectives. This understanding will bring our values closer to each other. Then, based on our mutual understanding of history, we can create a common future.
An article written by you indicated that ‘the new generation dominant in the political elite of Turkey may help improve relations with Armenia.’ Would you elaborate on this idea?
‘US still supports ratification of Turkey-Armenia protocols’
How would you evaluate US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to the region in the context of Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan’s relations?
There are three important points. The first one is that she emphasized that the solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be based on three principles of the Helsinki declaration: We need to reject the use of force, respect territorial integrity and recognize the right to self-determination. The second point is that she repeated the support of the United States for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and the importance of the ratification of the signed protocols. And the third point is that she went to the memorial for the victims of the genocide. Even though it was a private visit and she did not represent the United States there, it was a very significant move for Armenians in Armenia and abroad. But most importantly, Secretary of State Clinton emphasized that the United States is still active in the region after the ongoing debate in the world over the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. She has shown that the United States is still involved in the Caucasus.
Do you see a solution any time soon to the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh?
I don’t think we can achieve progress soon. Diplomats should continue to work on the details as the devil is in details.
Do you see any progress ahead regarding Armenian and Azerbaijani relations?
I am more optimistic about this. The channel of communication always must be open for that. We will be pushed to work together.
And the future of Turkey-Armenia relations?
I am optimistic about it.
Do you see opening of the border on the horizon?
Yes, probably after elections in Turkey, there will be movement in that direction.
We are in a transitional period in the world. Because we are changing from a post-industrial society to an information society, information is being exchanged with great speed. This situation has changed our perceptions of everything including the problems [we face]. But our leaders are still describing issues with old terms. However, the new generation of the political elite has a new understanding of the world. I have observed this in the Turkish leadership.
What about leadership in Armenia?
Our biggest problem in Armenia is management. We have many problems including being a new state without state traditions, etc. But, the main problem is management. We are now discussing this issue in Armenia. [We don’t want] an administration like that of the Soviet period or like in Western societies, but an innovative and flexible way to govern the country.
During the panel discussion, some participants suggested that the Turkish people do not know about the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. What do you think the Turkish people need to know about the Nagorno-Karabakh issue?
I don’t think they have a lack of information. But one thing has been forgotten: All states are established on the basis of the right to self-determination. Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan do not feel secure. Don’t forget that Armenians were displaced by violent means from many cities in Azerbaijan. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh have a right to self-determination.
There has been news about the renewed Madrid Principles, but Armenia and Azerbaijan do not seem to be ready to accept them.
[The] official position of Armenia is that the renewed principles are acceptable, but they need to work on the details. This is the official Armenian position. I think that the devil is in the details. And there are many details that are not clear. If you remove troops from some regions, you are playing with security, and you need more troops to protect the frontline. If we really want to solve the problem, we need a 100 percent consensus on all points of the document. I doubt that the Minsk Group co-chairs agreed on all points. This document is semi-ready, not complete. Diplomats should continue to work on it. After studying conflicts, I discovered two ways to solve a problem.
‘Transformation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is possible through regional unity’
What are they?
One alternative is a democratic solution. There is the example of Quebec. They had a referendum and less than 1 percent of [the Canadian] people wanted to keep Quebec in Canada. This was a demonstration of a transparent, democratic society. Unfortunately, our society is not democratic and has many problems. We cannot do that for Nagorno-Karabakh because nobody would trust the results of the other side’s voting.
You were talking about two ways of handling a conflict to solve it.
Yes, the other one is the transformation of the conflict. How do you transform a conflict in the way it was done by the chief architects of European unity, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Charles De Gaulle? We need to start to cooperate in the region. We need to understand that if we agree to delegate part of our sovereignty, we can solve our problems, like the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. And Turkey can play a very important role in this scheme.
[PROFILE] David Hovhannisyan
Currently the director of the Center for Civilization and Cultural Studies at Yerevan State University, he was a member of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), which was established in 2001 at the US State Department’s initiative and concluded in 2003. He served as Armenia’s ambassador to Syria in 1992 until 1998, when he returned to Yerevan and became ambassador at large at the Foreign Ministry until his retirement in 2004. Prior to his appointment to Syria, he served as the editor-in-chief of Armenfax, the first independent Armenian news agency. An expert in Islamic studies, he now teaches and writes columns for various publications.
Would you elaborate on that? How could Turkey play a role here?
Turkey is a huge country with a great economy and a young population. I am optimistic about it. If we create something like the European Union, who knows, maybe we will one day merge with the European Union, although this prospect is far away right now. But we can create our own EU.
But some observers say that opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia would prevent a solution to the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. What would you say about that?
I don’t agree with that. Not only opening of the border, but normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia would create a very promising environment for a solution. Turkey can have a positive impact on regional affairs. The Turkish-Armenian rapprochement would have a positive impact on all regional issues. Relations [between Turkey and Armenia] are important for regional security. They are critical for the whole region. Normalization of relations would open many channels in the area of movement of goods, people, information, etc. This exchange would play a positive role in the region.