By Erik Davtyan (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On January 16, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan rejected his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invitation to take part in the events commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli. Earlier this month, Erdogan sent out invitation letters to 102 heads of state to attend the events. Every year, Turkey celebrates March 18 as the anniversary of the Gallipoli victory over the Allies, but this year Turkish authorities decided to celebrate it on April 24 when Armenians all over the world will commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, President Sargsyan in his response stressed that the invitation serves “a simple-minded goal to distract the attention of the international community from the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.”
Armenia’s president underlined that “it is not a common practice for Armenians to be hosted by the invitees, without receiving a response to our invitation.” This response was stipulated by the fact that Erdogan had not answered Sargsyan’s official invitation to commemorate the Centennial of the Genocide this year in Yerevan. During his visit to Ankara in August, 2014, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian had handed Sargsyan’s invitation to Erdogan, but no answer has been received till now. During the next two weeks, Sargsyan’s response to the invitation provoked some criticism in Turkey. On January 31, Ibrahim Kalın, a spokesperson of the Turkish president, said that “it is impossible to admit remarks by Sargsyan aiming at the Turkish president’s invitation to Armenia, which are against diplomatic practices.” The same opinion was shared by Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the 15th meeting of the Armenia-EU Cooperation Council in Brussels, Foreign Minister Nalbandian reaffirmed Sargsyan’s position, adding that it is inappropriate to organize such an event in Turkey on April 24 and that it is unbelievable that anybody can perceive this as a proper step. Nevertheless, the idea to commemorate the battle was welcomed by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. During his visit to Turkey, Aliyev said that “the choice of the date was very important.”
Erdogan’s invitation was unanimously criticized in Armenia. The head of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, turkologist Ruben Safrastyan believes that this step aims at undermining Armenia’s initiative to invite heads of states to Yerevan on April 24. According to the expert, the Turkish President wants to draw the international community’s attention to the Gallipoli victory, rather than the Armenian Genocide. The same view was shared by another turkologist, Ruben Melkonyan. In his interview to Armlur.am, he qualified Erdogan’s step as a falsification of history and a counter step against the events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Shortly after Erdogan’s statement, the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France made a respective statement, qualifying the step as a part of the Turkish policy of denial, aimed at diminishing the international resonance of the Centennial events in Yerevan.
Erdogan’s invitation was not the last message issued to Armenia. On January 20, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu made a statement on the commemoration of the 8th anniversary of the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. He hoped that Armenia and Turkey will begin addressing “the great trauma that froze time in 1915” and underlined that “Turkey has transcended this critical threshold and relinquished the generalizations and stereotypical assertions of the past.” Davutoglu ensured that the parties will manage to give “the due recognition to the Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey” and expressed hope that the two nations will be able to contribute to a new beginning, demonstrate the wisdom to understand each other and contemplate a future together.
This step by the Turkish authorities provoked a second wave of complaints in Armenia. In an interview to Armenpress news agency, turkologist Hakob Chakryan said that Davutoglu had previously used this approach many times, however this one was, in fact, stipulated by internal criticism in Turkey. Some experts, especially Safrastyan, qualified the statement as “the continuation of the official policy of Turkey regarding the Armenian Genocide.” On this occasion, the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Relations of the National Assembly of Armenia, Artak Zakaryan, blamed Turkey for continuing a policy of denial regarding the Genocide and mentioned that unlike Davutoglu’s statement, the first attempts to initiate the signing of an agreement were always carried out only by Armenia. Zakaryan believes that Turkey is not ready to bolster the mutual trust, to break the stereotypes and to hold a dialogue with Armenia.
By Erik Davtyan (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In late August and early September, Armenia and Turkey entered a short period of activated bilateral relations that was generally stipulated by Armenia’s participation in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inauguration and an exchange of messages between foreign ministries of the two countries.
On August 28, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian attended Erdoğan’s inauguration in Ankara. During his meeting with representatives of Armenia’s youth on August 24, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan had already announced the official invitation from the Turkish side, adding that “the participation will probably be at the level of Foreign Minister.” The last meeting between Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers took place on December 12, 2013, in Yerevan within the framework of the 29th meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The Armenian delegation’s presence during the Ankara event received considerable attention and public scrutiny in Armenia. Nalbandian’s visit to Turkey took place on the eve of preparatory works for the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
During a meeting with students of Yerevan State University on September 1, Nalbandian described the visit as an opportunity to hand Erdoğan an official invitation from President Sargsyan to attend the commemoration ceremony of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, which will take place on April 24, 2015 in Yerevan. In an article published in the French newspaper Le Figaro, Nalbandian stated that “Turkey should reconcile with its own past,” hoping that Armenia’s official invitation “will not be a missed opportunity and that Turkey’s President will be in Yerevan on that day.” Armenian authorities perceive the visit to Ankara as a necessary step towards establishing a firm dialogue between the two states.
Nalbandian’s was highly controversial in Armenia, demonstrating that Armenian-Turkish relations constitute one of the most debated issues in Armenia’s foreign policy. The Prosperous Armenia party argues that since Armenia has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, the country should not send representation at the level of the Foreign Minister. Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Giro Manoyan stated that Nalbandian’s visit to Ankara was unwarranted due to Erdoğan’s strictly anti-Armenian statements during his recent electoral campaign in Turkey. Sharing the same view, the vice-president of the Armenian National Congress party, Levon Zurabyan, stated that “this gesture is intended to start a diplomatic process with Turkey,” leading to the implementation of the Zurich protocols signed by the Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers in 2009.
Nevertheless, some Armenian analysts believe that the visit was a positive step. The vice-president of the Caucasus Institute, Sergey Minasyan, says the visit indicated that the “Armenian side proved that Armenia is ready to launch initiatives in Armenian-Turkish relations.” Commenting on Armenia’s participation in Erdoğan’s inauguration, turkologist Vahram Ter-Matevosyan shares the viewpoint that Armenia needs to open its border with Turkey, hence any steps that do not damage Armenia’s national interests and national security should be taken to change the situation.
The reactivation of relations between Armenia and Turkey was also stipulated by statements given by Turkey’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, shortly after the formation of the new government headed by Ahmet Davutoğlu. On September 1, in an interview to Azerbaijan Press Agency (APA), Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey and Azerbaijan “will unite their efforts and forces in all issues,” underlining that Turkey “will fight together with fraternal Azerbaijan against the so-called Armenian Genocide.” Shortly after the appointment, the Turkish Foreign Minister blamed Armenia for the failure to reestablish Armenian-Turkish relations, which obtained a corresponding reaction from Armenian officials. Appearing on Arajin News in Armenian Public Television on September 10, Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan stated that “Turkey consistently implements a policy of denial regarding the Armenian Genocide and continuously makes failed attempts to deny and falsify historical facts. This very approach of the Turkish side continues to be an obstacle to the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations”.
By Stephen Blank (04/23/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
At a recent meeting with Russian President Putin, Prime Minister Erdogan appealed to Putin to include Turkey in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and spare it the troubles of negotiating about EU accession. As Turkey had recently reopened accession talks with the EU, this supposed jest did not go over well in Europe. But Erdogan and his government’s seriousness about joining the SCO is not open to question. Erdogan throughout 2013 reiterated his support for Turkey’s membership in the SCO. Likewise, Foreign Minister Davutoglu spoke of Turkey’s “shared destinies” with other SCO members when Turkey received the status of a dialogue partner of the SCO in 2013.
By Mina Muradova (04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The conflict between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamic Hizmet movement’s leader Fethullah Gülen has spread to Azerbaijan. A scandal erupted in Turkey in December 2013, when police arrested 52 suspects on various corruption charges, including the sons of three government ministers and the general manager of the state-owned Halkbank. The operation detained people close to the Turkish Prime Minister.
Erdogan termed it a plot by the Hizmet movement and its exiled leader Gülen to overthrow the government. It was considered a response to the government’s decision last November to close in 2015 the dershane, a network of private tutoring centers, most of which are run by the Gülen movement. Educational centers reportedly provide enormous financial resources to the group but also help it recruit new members and allies in government.
In late February, both government and opposition media reported that a similar “parallel structure” existed in Azerbaijan. The diplomatic missions of both countries reportedly provided the government with a list of local Gülen followers. In early March, emails showing ties between Azerbaijani officials and Gülen were leaked to the media. One of them was related to Elnur Aslanov, an official of President Ilham Aliyev's Administration.
“The Turkish government is concerned that the Hizmet movement is expanding in Azerbaijan through its wide network of educational establishments and businesses, as well as by placing figures loyal to the Hizmet movement in high-level posts in government,” the Musavat daily reported on February 28.
In Azerbaijan, Gülenists have been presented as a moderate socio-religious movement, but indifferent to politics. Local authorities had concerns about this but tolerated the movement thanks to its high quality educational system, including 13 prep schools, 11 high schools, and the Qafqaz (Caucasus) University that were considered as the main part of the Hizmet Movement. In 1992, Azerbaijan became the first country outside of Turkey where the movement opened its schools. Last year, the education institutions were transferred to the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, but preserved curriculum, management and teacher staff with no changes.
Most people cannot afford to pay the fees, so it is mainly the children of businessmen and the elite who go there. This raises suspicions that the schools are raising a new "golden" generation with Gülen’s values.
In early March, the names of officials linked with Gülen started appearing in the media. The news portal Minval called Aslanov a "patron of the Azerbaijani branch of Gülen followers."
In an interview with APA News Agency on March 1, Aslanov said that “slanders against me and a number of senior officials, who are always committed to the statehood course of the national leader Heydar Aliyev and loyal to President Ilham Aliyev, the attempts to link us with Nurcular sect are the results of deformed imagination and groundless." Aslanov stated that the period of “political myths” ended in Azerbaijan long ago, and that society is able to differentiate between tales and reality.
Aslanov was sacked on March 17 after a decision by President Aliyev, but the document did not name a reason for his dismissal. He headed the political analysis and information department in the President's administration since 2007, and is the son of Rabiyyat Aslanova, a ruling party MP, and reportedly has ties to the influential "grey cardinal" Ramiz Mekhtiyev, head of the President's Administration. He was responsible for supervising the Center for Strategic Studies, some leading pro-governmental media outlets, and the pro-governmental youth organization Ireli. Two days later, Aslanov's department was closed and merged with the Department of public-political issues.
Some media reports have termed the developments Ali Hasanov’s victory over political rivals. Before Aslanov's dismissal, Ali Hasanov, who heads the Department for public- political issues in the presidential office, called for public vigilance. At a religious affairs conference in Baku on March 7, he stated that some religious movements and missionary organizations are trying to establish themselves in Azerbaijan and to create an extensive network in order to realize their interests. Hasanov said that “the representatives of those trends should know that attempts to adapt the state policy to their interests will fail.”
The issue has become highly controversial in Azerbaijan. Some political observers noted that Aslanov and others implicated by the leaked emails probably had nothing to do with Gülen.
According to Arif Hajili, a high-ranking member of the opposition party Musavat, "if a letter addressed to Gülen is a reason for firing, it is very strange because before there were a lot of publications about governmental officials linked to Kurdish PKK that created problems in relations with Turkey, but no measures were taken. Here, a person was sacked just based on an email."
Arif Yunus, a political analyst and the author of a book on Islam in Azerbaijan, termed the email "rubbish" because it was written with several Turkish grammar mistakes as well as errors from a religious point of view. "I don't believe that Aslanov is a Nurchu (a Gülen follower). It is a result of razborka (battle in Russian slang). I mean it is a power struggle between groups inside the government … It is impossible to trust letters fabricated in a computer. I can't say what is the reason for the struggle between Aslanov and Hasanov, but the campaign against the Gülen movement has been used for fighting against political rivals," Yunus said in an interview to Meydan TV.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.