Interviewer: Please identify yourself
John Evans: John Evans, I was previously US ambassador in Armenia. I wanna thank the Rumiforum for bringing everybody today and thank you sir for a very intelligent and balanced treatment of this complicated problem. There are lots of things that one could talk about today but you raised one particularly urgent question, which is what next? And as I hear you speak and I’ve heard many Armenian commentators also, neither side is very happy with these protocols and one can say that maybe Turkey was naïve to think that Armenia would cease looking for universal recognition of the genocide but I think one could just as easily say that the Armenians were naïve to think that there wasn’t basically some linkage with Nagorno-Karabakh. So one can point fingers at either side and both sides, when they look at the actual language can find difficulties. I think it’s useful to make a distinction between the simple legal question of diplomatic relations and the question of reconciliation, which is a much bigger, more complicated and more difficult task. Reconciliation between societies, between nations is one thing. The simple fact that diplomatic relations does not say, “I agree with you” and we had for God’s sake diplomatic relations and even an alliance with [IB]. And a modern example is Russia and Japan which enjoy diplomatic relations although they terribly disagree about the, whether you call them the Kura islands or the Northern territories. I think what has happened here is that because there’s a lack of trust between the two sides and there are some desires to gain an advantage, more was put into these two protocols than the traffic will really bare. And the simplest thing of all occurs to every professional diplomat and that is simply to have an exchange of notes without, really without any of these other things and I think that if the protocols now come crashing down one way or another or they may not because what’s interesting is that at each of these tension points last April 22nd then the end of August which is right before the six weeks needed before the football game in Bursa and then October 10th. At each of these moments, the two sides have gone forward but if the protocols come crashing down for one reason or another, what I would suggest is that both sides forget for now, given the election timing and so on, about the more, shall we say the more ambitious agenda and just establish diplomatic relations, which does not imply losing any position on either side. After all, Turkey has a lot of strains in its relations with Athens but has enjoyed diplomatic relations all these years admittedly within the context of NATO. But I’m just wondering if you see any prospect of that very simple solution at present?
Interviewee: Thank you, yeah. What you’re proposing ambassador is a very pragmatic step, establish diplomatic relations, I presume it would also entail opening the border and because once you do this, you argue, it doesn’t mean that you have solved the problems, you have a process of reconciliation that can run parallel to that. Let’s not put basically diplomatic relations, let’s not take diplomatic relations hostage to the reconciliation process. And one could argue that this is basically a very pragmatic rational step to be taken after all, you gave the example of Athens, Ankara and Turkey and Greece had diplomatic relations despite the fact that they had territorial dispute over the [IB], the fact of Cyprus etcetera, more importantly with Syria. For a very long time Syria had territorial ambitions over Turkey. Most of the Syrian official maps showed [IB] Alexandria as Syrian province yet Turkey had diplomatic relations with Syria. The problem, it seems to me at this point is political will. These rational decisions, rational proposals are there and they sound very rational. The question becomes, what is feasible for Erdogan? Because what will happen now, the minute he has, let’s assume that he will follow this policy, open the border with Armenia or establish diplomatic relations, the opposition will say, “Wait a minute, aren’t you the person who were just four months ago in Azerbaijan saying that there should not be opening of the border or not compromise with Armenia without a progress in Nagorno-Karabakh? Where is progress in Nagorno-Karabakh? What did we get?” He can simply not afford that kind of narrative coming from MHP at an election season. If he was stronger, if this was Erdogan in August 2007 after having won 47% of the vote, if this was Erdogan agreeing to the [IB] plan in 2004 and saying, “We will be one step ahead of our, of the countries that we’re negotiating with,” he would do it. But right now, he doesn’t feel that he has this kind of comfort, this kind of cushion to win an election, an actually victory against MHP. And in my opinion, the whole Azeri dimension comes second to the domestic political dynamics in Turkey. He will use Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan as one example, as one element, but deep down the real, the real challenge that he’s facing is that the minute he says yes to opening the border and diplomatic relations, he will not, he will be losing this reputation for being a politician who has strong nationalist credentials and who remains loyal to his word because after all he is the same person who created all these obstacles for himself and I think what you’re arguing to conclude is very logical. You can have diplomatic relations that doesn’t mean that reconciliation, the psychological dimension should be, should come before diplomatic relations but I think such pragmatic proposals need to pass the test of political feasibility right now in Turkey and the political feasibility is simply not there.