Turkish – Armenian series Part I:  relations on political and cultural basis

Dimpool Analysis Team


13 March 2012

Drawing by Firuz Kutal
Drawing by Firuz Kutal


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International relations  involve wars, agreements, conflicts, treaties, resolutions, rebellions, peace, cooperation etc. It means that international politics is really dynamic and multi-dimensional, therefore it has complexity all the time. Every state has different interests, capabilities, ideologies which is influential to change their practices or policies.These differences cause to direct them towards distinct attitudes in the international environment. Hence, states prefer to make a conflict or establish a harmony with others by doing a cooperation. However, they cannot approach to rational practices at all times, because of their desires, interests or pain and they construct an order which is appropriate for their existence.

In international arena, there are many conflicts among states, generally, they try to protect their security and status, because the environment is very complex. New states or new neighbours can be a reason  to be part of conflict and sides choose their applications to preserve their rights and sovereignty. There is an obvious situation in relationship between Armenia and Turkey has remained tranquil and shaking since Armenia declared an independent state in 1991. Two countries challenged each other to change or at least normalize their relations in foreign affairs; but this process is difficult because countries try to protect their own interests at the state level. 1915 events are also key factor for Armenians, and recovering from that pain is hard for the Armenian people. Therefore another dynamics became need to implement affairs for both countries  with non-official diplomacy, this condition created civil society (NGOs) which has got a key role to focus on track two diplomacy and NGO activities.

This paper will explain Turkish-Armenian dispute very briefly, then how civil society played a significant role in the creation of relations between two communities. Additionally, the articles which were collected through the literature research would be used for elaborating role of civil society. It will reach the conclusion that individuals beliefs, values, and perceptions are at the center of creating any kind of enmity/amity patterns and civil society is effective to change or normalize hard affairs. 


Turkish-Armenian Relations on Political and Cultural Basis

According to Alazar Barkan, Many conflicts, or probably all conflicts, have a historical context which is similar with Turkish-Armenian relations.The Armenian-Turkish controversy is part of Ottoman period.[1] Turkish and Armenian nationalism has always damaged their peaceful existence in the region.[2] According to American diplomats, Armenians during the 1920s were sore discrimination in employment and travel issue,thus, today both countries compose their policies considering what they lived in the past. Turkey has began to behave in mistrust and suspicion since Kemalist policies were constructed. This kind of relationship continued and found a place for itself as a conflict, for instance, in Turkey, there is prejudgement against Armenian identity as’foreigner’ or ‘component of threat’ in state and society level.[3] Relationship between Turkey and Armenia is like a deadlock, because both countries have demands, for instance, still, the official stance of the Republic of Armenia is that a genocide in1915; and that this genocide should be internationally recognized.[4] On the other hand, Republic of Turkey is denying that genocide occured. In 1915, 800 Armenian community leaders were executed and between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million Armenians was counted as death after deportation.[5] When Armenia’s declaration of independence, both countries closed their boundaries and relations became a deadlock. However, Turkey recognized Armenia as a neighbour country, but diplomatic ties were not established.[6] On the other hand, diplomatic ties are necessary in order to establish peace building and economic implementations.

After Armenia’s independence declaration, it announced genocide assertions together with pretension for territories in Turkey’s Eastern Anatolia in declaration of independence and constitution. In 1991, Turkey recognized the independence of Azerbaijan which country has issues with Armenia because of Nagorno-Karabakh.[7] Nagorno-Karabakh issue began in 1988, Armenia assumes that this region belongs to Armenia and their the strongest argument is population’s majority in the region, however Azerbaijan denies this condition as a reason, it highlights territorial space.  During the conflict, over 200.000 ethnic Armenians deported out of Azerbaijan and over 200.000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were deported out of Armenia. Then many retaliations began in both countries as embargo and occupation. At the same time, Turkey applied a trade embargo against Armenia in 1993, it was seen by the international community as result of Turkey’s relationship with Azerbaijan.[8] So, their closer relationship caused to be in tension with Armenia. “Therefore the unresolved Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh still risks undermining full adoption and implementation of the potential package deal between Turkey and Armenia on recognition.”

On the other hand, there are some developments for relations as optimistic approaches and affairs have been gaining momentum. Firstly, in 2007, Akhtamar Church was restored to reopen and it was perceived as willingness between Armenia and Turkey. In the next chapter, we will see this achievement is the result of a NGOs’s.At the same year, Hrant Dink was murdered in Turkey  who is Armenian journalist in Agos Newspaper, after his death, many groups gathered for demonstrations to voice for ‘justice and truth’. Dink became a symbol for human rights, justice and freedom. This event indicated a prospect to normalize relations. In the streets, more than a hundred thousand protesters shouted their slogans: “We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians”, still, Dink’s court case continues and protesters take place in demonstrations. It shows a unity for both groups without othering and these unity comes togetber with civil society. On the other hand, some ultra-nationalist groups advocates that the situation is exaggerated. In September 2008, decision-makers decided to make a football dipllomacy to show how relations can be normalized , and consequently, football was practiced to try to integrate both countries’ citizens. This football diplomacy emerged a “will” in order to normalize relations between two countries and international community supported their practice. President Abdullah Gül visited Yerevan and it created different aspects from the media and public opinion, but mostly, journalists determined positive views after this invitation. This visiting was reflected as ‘establishment of new dialogue channels’. According to TESEV’s report, Turkish intellectuals launched a signature campaign on the internet about apologising to Armenians for events of 1915.

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Actually, after demonstrations and signature campaigns, groups in Turkey developed their  understanding of civil society, many groups increased which are influential to create awareness or encourage to act towards peace approaches as civil society. The main important point is preventing misperceptions or misunderstandings, because perceptions provide to feel fear, fear results in conflict.

There are new steps to stand together, for example, during the Russia-Georgian War, PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Moscow in 12 August 2008.[9] Turkey had a suggestion to establish the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform and it was accepted. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia also would be able to participate. Related with paper, Turkey and Armenia improved civil society understanding with mutual visits of activist, experts, academicians, journalists etc. This means that both sides emerged awareness to normalize relations and it was necessary, because this awareness animated a possible reconstruction in relations.  New developments were implemented at state level and also non-state actors arised in Turkey. These attempts are aiming to remove prejudgments  and provide to become closer at public level, [10]that becoming closer contributes to move state level. There is another positive policy-related development which is changed the Foundation Law, it caused to lift obstacles relevant for the property rights of Armenian minority-owned foundations.

On the other hand, there is a need to determine hate crimes in Turkey which involve prejudgment, racism, fear against “others”, taking sides, discrimination etc.[11] For Armenian relations, journalists choose to use particular headlines which include derogatory style. If we look at samples from a media level, “These Armenians do not grow to be a man”, “seed of Armenian”etc. All of these things cause fray relations and high nationalist acts. However, this kind of non-ethical practices will be prevented by civil society as we will see next parts. Both sides have strong nationalism, according to Büşra Ersanlı, nation/nationalist experiences or ideas became close to political sphere and nationalist thinkers were developed necessarily.[12]Turkey and Armenia indicated their nationalist potential in all fields, for instance, cultural products. According to Benedict Anderson,  there are many cultural products such as poem, prose, music, visual arts and groups announce their desire with these cultural tools.[13] They are perceived as patriotism, however they caused to aggrieve “other” groups because of language. Civil society began to change these perceptions or induce cultural products to not to use with discrimination by a chance for reconstruction. This paper will show shift to civil society and its influence in Turkey. Civil society projects involve businessleaders, youth groups, cultural activities, NGOs, women associations etc.

After problematic events, countries found their position in discussion, so discussions endengered unfavorable approaches in foreing relations and also domestic level with Armenian minorities who live in Turkey, sometimes these approaches conduced structural violence as disadvantages or inequal opportunities. Problematic experiences constituted constant misperceptions and doubt,  for example, Turkey has fear of attack or fear of division which are very unsettling, therefore misperceptions remind her apprehension. Second track diplomacy or track three diplomacy (civil society acts) finds its importance about misperceptions and approaches, it is responsible for reproducing relations. Dialogue in state level is failed because of states’ sovereignty stance in the international arena. However, both countries should benefit from their sources, products, economic cooperations which are important for modern developing countries.

At this point, both potential countries should open their borders in order to interact in economic, social, cultural and political areas and every publication or small steps will be encouraged to engage in cooperative interactions. Regional development requires cooperation to overcome world economy system against economical difficulties to increase regional capacity, that is the issue from the regional perspective. International Crisis Group suggests that with the opening of the border, it is highly probable that the costs of production in the construction sector would be decreased as the Turkish companies enter Armenian market.In addition, it will prevent Armenia’s isolation economically.


[1] Türkkaya Ataöv, “Removing Misconceptions About Turkish-Armenian Relations”,Perceptions, Vol. 2, No.2, 1997 (June-August).

[2] Soner Çağaptay, “Who is Turk? Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in the Modern Turkey”,İstanbul Bilgi University Publications,pp. 15, 2006.

[3] Günay Göksu Özfoğan-Ohannes Kılıçdağı, “Turkish Armenians: Issues, Demands and Suggestions for Solution”, TESEV Publication,pp.9,2011.

[4] Rachel Goshgarian, “Breaking the Stalemate: Turkish-Armenian Relations in the 21st Century”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4, (Winter2005).

[5] David L. Philips, “Hopeful Signs for Turkey, Armenia”, Council on Foreign Relations, 2005.

[6] Aybars Görgülü, Sabiha Senyücel, Alexander Iskandaryan, Sergey Minasyan, “Turkey-Armenia Dialogue Series : Breaking The Vicious Circle, TESEV Publications, 2009.

[7]Aybars Görgülü, “Towards a Turkish-Armenian Rapprochment”, Insight Turkey,Vol. 11, No. 2, 2009.

[8] Rachel Goshgarian, “Breaking the Stalemate: Turkish-Armenian Relations in the 21st Century”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4, (Winter2005).

[9] Agenda For Armenian Foreign Policy 2011, published by Analytical Centre on Globalisation and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC).

[10] Dr. Filiz Cicioğlu, “Turkish Foreign Policy on Armenia and Cyprus and Nongovernmental Organizations”, Akademik İncelemeler Dergisi, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2010.

[11] Hate Crimes on National Press, published by Foundatİon of Social Change.

[12] Büşra Ersanlı, “Nationalist Theories; POlicy and Relations in Eurosia”, Türkiye Günlüğü, No. 75, 2009.

[13] Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities”, page:157.


* Tugce Ercetin is a volunteer expert of Dimpool – Web Based Policy Center. Currently, she is an MA student on international relations.

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International relations  involve wars, agreements, conflicts, treaties, resolutions, rebellions, peace, cooperation etc. It means that international politics is really dynamic and multi-dimensional, therefore it has complexity all the time.Every state has different interests, capabilities and ideologies." />