By Michael G. Mensoian
With the demise of the Soviet Union and the United States? renewed interest in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkey?s need to recognize the Armenian Genocide has become muted. Turkey, a long time Cold War ally, Azerbaijan and Georgia have all become beneficiaries of a United States policy that challenges Russia?s attempt to reestablish hegemony over these energy rich republics. Turkey has the principal role, given its strategic location, with respect to moving the oil and natural gas of Central Asia and Azerbaijan to global and West European markets. A concomitant benefit to Turkey which complements the United States? effort, has been its ability to implement a dormant Pan Turkic policy to extend its influences into Central Asia.
The recently opened Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to the Mediterranean Sea represents the opening phase of this initiative. Turkey and the United States anticipate that this pipeline will eventually extend under the Caspian Sea or by surface carrier to tap the extensive oil and natural gas deposits in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The terminal at Ceyhan not only has the advantage of handling larger tankers than the terminals on the Black Sea but lessens Central Asian dependence on existing Russian pipelines. If oil from Northern Iraq is included at a is included at some future date, Turkey will easily be the world?s largest re-exporter of crude oil; able to earn vast sums in transit royalties. It would also provide the European Union an alternative to its dependence on Russian sources of energy fuels. This could well be a key factor in Turkey?s ultimate acceptance by the European Union. Reciprocally, Europe would use Turkey as a conduit to the Pan Turkic world and possibly beyond to western China.
During Vice President Cheney?s visit to Kazakhstan in 2005, discussions were held concerning several proposed Trans-Caspian pipelines to connect Kazakhstan,including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, to Europe by way of Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey. Unfortunately, Armenia was again left out of this United States initiative. In April 2005, Azerbaijan?s President Illham Aliyev met with President Bush in the White House and this past December, his wife Mehriban Aliyeva was feted at a Washington, D.C. gala dinner and was rewarded with a visit to the White House and Laura Bush on the following day. Mr. Aliyev has quickly learned that being a dictator is acceptable as long as he delivers oil to the west and cooperates with the United States.
Armenia has become the sacrificial lamb to the machinations of United States foreign policy that has had the cumulative effect of favoring her neighbors. The United States attempt at parity in doling out military aid and economic assistance completely misses its mark when the geographic location and the limited resource base of Armenian are ignored. United States foreign policy has not only failed Armenia, but facilitates the multifaceted pressure the country faces from her neighbors.
A few examples will be sufficient. The tepid response the United States offered to the proposed Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad by withholding financial backing will not prevent its construction; China has already indicated its intension to finance the project. Once built, the new railroad will permanently destroy the utility of the unused and aging Armenian connection through Gyumri and effectively reduce Armenia?s participation in the economic development of the Caucasus region. Azerbaijan?s intent to replace Russia as a supplier of energy fuels to Georgia, at some future date, to hold Armenia hostage to its interests by disrupting the delivery of energy fuels from Russia via the pipeline transmitting its territory. Another area of concern is the xenophobic attitude of the Georgian politicians and public coupled with Turkey?s specious concern that the Armenian majority in Javakhk poses a threat to the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which passes through their district. Given this attitude, Georgia has done little to improve the condition of the Javakhk Armenians while it has succeeded in diluting their majority by redrawing district boundaries. Turkey would like to see this border area resettled by Meskhetian Turks forced out of the region some fifty years ago by Moscow.
Fortunately for Armenia, Russia cannot sit idly by and allow Turkey, aided and abetted by the United States, to challenge its economic, political and strategic interests within the Caucasus. Russia?s actions in Chechnya and its support of the separatist movements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia are part of a larger objective to regain hegemony over its Near Abroad not only in the Caucasus, but the former soviet republics of Central Asia, Ukraine and Belarus. Presently, it has the advantage of geographic proximity and the fact that transportation routes and trade channels still remain oriented to the Russian core area. Gazprom, with its vast network of pipelines to move oil and gas supplies, has become an effective political instrument in support of Russian foreign policy objectives.
Armenia is Russia?s anchor in the Caucasus. It is an asymmetric, but symbiotic relationship. Without Russian assistance, the economic situation in Armenia would deteriorate and the ability of Artsakh to maintain its political independence threatened. For its contribution, Armenia represents the principal base for the Russian military, especially after 2008 when the last of its forces will be required to leave Georgia. Mutually beneficial as it might appear, Armenia is faced with the unenviable task of trying to maintain a precarious balance between its military and economic dependence on Russia and its obvious need to develop a meaningful working relationship with western nations and institutions.
With this as a brief background, how might these developments influence Turkey?s response to the unresolved issue of the Armenian Genocide? Growing up Pro-Armenian, world opinion and the moral revulsion against on-going genocides or ethnic cleansing would seem to make Turkey?s position increasingly untenable. However, with the United States agreeably dependent on Turkey vis-a-vis Russian expansionism and Europe?s vacillation with respect to Turkey?s preadmission requirements, there seems to be no imperative for Turkey to accept responsibility. As it is, the Turkish military and certain religious political parties claim that the European Union?s preadmission requirements disparage Turkish sovereignty. Turkish political leaders are fully cognizant of this internal opposition as well as the serious domestic repercussions their acknowledgement of Ottoman-Turkish responsibility for the Genocide will have. Not only would their admission make a mockery of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, adopted in June of 2005, against the public denigration of Turkishness; it would beg for a coup d?etat by some clique of ultra nationalist military officers. This is an institutionalized procedure by the military in its self-assigned role as protector of the nation from the ?mistakes? of its civilian leaders. It has happened several times in the recent past and there is no reason to believe that it would not occur again. The recent assassination of the Armenian writer and journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul attests to the potential ultra nationalist response that acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide would elicit within Turkey. Would Armenia?s political benefactors continue to support her interests if such a coup contributed to a further destabilization of political conditions in the Middle East or enhanced the agenda of terrorists or made them, once again, dependant to varying degrees upon Russian controlled energy sources?
Of even greater significance would be the political-economic burden that the expected reparations and indemnification would place on Turkey. Is this a price the Turkish government is willing to pay or that the military/minority political parties willing to accept? Conversely, would an official Turkish mea culpa satisfy Armenia and Armenians? demand for recognition of the Genocide? Would our supporters claim this to be sufficient for closure, with the attitude that we should now look to the future? Might Armenia be viewed as being uncooperative if it refused Turkey?s offer to open the border and normalize diplomatic relations? Or are we as a nation committed to the full panoply of redresses necessary to right a wrong that has seared the soul of a nation for close to a century? A mea culpa without appropriate redresses will yield a Pyrrhic victory. The resolve and good faith of the European governments is essential, especially since Armenia does not have the support of the United States. Should Europe waiver; we would witness a textbook example of diplomatic duplicity and the perfidiousness spawned by national self-interests. International politics is Machiavellian at best.
At this eleventh hour we should not be led into a false sense of accomplishment. Our political leaders here and abroad are in a much better position than this writer to ascertain the scope of the problem that remains. The year 2015 will not only mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide but the acceptance or rejection of Turkey into the European Union as well. There is no guarantee that recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey is sine qua non for their acceptance or that it will ever be an objective of the United States foreign policy. Given realpolitik, why would Turkey fee the need to accept responsibility for the Armenian Genocide?
Michael G. Mensoian is Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Massachusetts/Boston, Department of Earth, Environment and Ocean Studies.
Source: The Armenian Weekly
Volume 73, No. 6, February 10, 2007
Volume 73, No. 6, February 10, 2007