About the same time every year in Washington, a guessing game starts to spin over April 24, the traditional date of commemoration of the tragic events of World War I for Armenians. Whether there will be a resolution passed in the American Congress recognizing this day as a genocide or whether the president of the United States will avow the day as such, the tension rises, especially between the Armenian and Turkish diasporas, as well as in trilateral Turkish-Armenian-U.S. relations.
However, “the situation this year is much different than the past,” according to one high Turkish diplomat because of the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia.
The normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, which started with “football diplomacy” more than a year ago, has reached some successes with the signing of the protocols by the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia in front of the Minsk Group representatives last October. Since then, the protocols, in accordance with the Armenian constitution and likewise by Turkey, have been waiting for ratification in both countries' parliaments.
The protocols were already submitted to the Armenian Parliament by President Serge Sarkisian to formally be ratified last week after the Armenia’s constitutional court found the protocols to be in conformity with the constitution, even though the Turkish government saw the preambles to the court's decision as impairing the spirit of protocols.
Nevertheless, after Armenia's move on the ratification process, the pressure has mounted on the Turkish Parliament to reciprocate. Turkish officials insist that the ratification process would move forward if there is progress on the Karabakh issue. However, since the mentioned issue is not referenced as a pre-condition in the protocols, Turkey has little to make a solid argument. The same Turkish official, who is well positioned to know the developments first hand, stated that “even though the Karabakh issue is not on the protocols, it is a huge psychological concern that the Turkish side has to see some progress to move forward.”
There are several factors for Turkey's plight going forward to April 24:
1. Mr. Vigen Sarkisian, deputy chief of staff to Armenian President Sarkisian, stated repeatedly during a speech last Friday at a meeting organized by the Russia/Eurasian Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, that Armenia does not recognize the Karabakh conflict as a pre-condition for the protocols.
2. President Sarkisian will guarantee the ratification of protocols in the Armenian parliament if the Turkish Parliament does so, as Vigen Sarkisian pointed out. Therefore, while Turkey is unable to push the Armenian side to show goodwill or to make progress to end the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh – although the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan was reaffirmed by the United Nations in several resolution (#822, #853, #874 and #884) – Turkey, itself feels compelled to display progress on the ratification process, since the Armenian side is seemingly moving on in its parliament.
Bülent Alirıza, director of the Turkey program at CSIS, noted Turkey will not move on the protocols without movement on Karabakh. He said this was recently confirmed by Murat Mercan, chairman of the Turkish Parliament's Commission of Foreign Affairs, who openly stated the commission which he chairs does not have any timetable or expectations to move forward on the ratification process unless there is such movement.
3. On the American front, Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said a week ago he intended to call a committee vote on March 4 on the non-binding resolution urging President Barack Obama to describe the 1915 tragedy during the late days of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.
Following this half-already-expected and timely development, contrary to what Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu found a surprising timing a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Feridun Sinirlioğlu, a Turkish foreign ministry official, came to Washington to hold talks at the U.S. State Department and expected to state that the vote at the commission will further damage the Turkey-Armenia reconciliation process that was already damaged due to the recent decision by the Armenia's constitutional court.
4. The head of European and Eurasian Affairs, Mr. Philip Gordon, contrary to the U.S. State Department's attitude in the past, did not oppose outright the “intention” of Berman to bring the resolution to the Foreign Relations Sub-Committee in early March. Mr. Gordon, as a co-author of a book on Turkey, also stated a couple of weeks ago the Armenian constitutional court's decision was a step forward for the reconciliation process, as opposed to the fierce outcry from Turkey.
5. According to one White House reporter in Washington, an official from the White House stated recently that during the meeting between Obama and Erdogan in the Oval Office in early December, Erdogan was told that the normalization process has to go forward, otherwise April 24 might be a difficult time for especially Turkey this year.
6. As if all these developments were not enough, Vigen Sarkisian, during the same speech at the CSIS, stated although “the deadlines are not good for diplomacy for it limits the flexibility of the countries," so far, about all the progress between the two countries relating to the normalization process has been achieved due to different deadlines, such as the dates of the football games or the last April 24, which urged Turkey to finalize a road map just two days prior to Obama's commemoration statement.
Therefore, Mr. Sarkisian argued on behalf of the Armenian president that the deadline is very useful so far for the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia and went on to state that April 24 was an important “flag-post” for measuring progress, meaning another deadline for Turkey to show that they are proceeding on the ratification process. However, he also added that domestic political considerations in Turkey make it highly unlikely that there will be any progress on the protocols in Parliament between at least March and May of this year.
A young diplomat Vigen Sarkisyan's performance while elaborating Armenian's position was pretty well at the CSIS, displaying the confidence that the Armenian side possesses going forward to April 24.
Davutoglu argues in his book titled "Strategic Depth", pg 31: "if the tactical steps are not being harmonized toward to a strategic drift, that would change significantly the meaning and calibre of the whole strategic drift in time." (translation by myself)
Did Mr. Davutoglu take the tactical steps cautiously so far and know where this process is going? Will Turkey be blamed as a spoiler for it puts forward the Karabakh conflict as a pre-condition for the normalization process? What happens if the genocide resolution passed in the American Congress and US President Obama recognizes it as such on April 24 because the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia is stalled?