Turkish officials are in a mad rush. Informed by Washington insiders that President-elect Barack Obama intends to carry out his promises to Armenians, the Turkish government is anxious to conclude an agreement with Armenia in order to block the incoming administration and/or Congress from taking a stand on the Armenian Genocide.
For years, Ankara repeatedly rejected Yerevan's offers to normalize relations without preconditions. Hoping that Armenia would buckle under intense economic pressure, Turks placed strict demands for lifting the blockade and establishing diplomatic relations. Armenia had to refrain from efforts for genocide recognition, accept Turkey's territorial integrity, and relinquish Artsakh (Karabagh) to Azerbaijan.
A few months ago, the two sides appeared to have reached an arrangement whereby Pres. Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia would agree to Ankara's request to form a joint study group on the Armenian Genocide, as part of a larger inter-governmental commission that would deal with a host of bilateral issues, on condition that Turkey would first establish diplomatic relations and opens its border with Armenia.
Soon after, Pres. Abdullah Gul of Turkey made an unprecedented trip to Yerevan at the Armenian President's invitation to watch a soccer match between the national teams of the two countries. Both leaders received high praise and encouragement from the international community for their "football diplomacy."
Relations between the two countries seemed to be on the mend, until Turkey's leaders, misjudging Pres. Sargsyan's eagerness to have the Turkish border opened, demanded additional and unacceptable concessions from Armenia. They asked that Armenians initially withdraw from a small area on the periphery of Artsakh and announce the formation of the study group on the genocide prior to the convening of the wider inter-governmental commission.
In making these demands, the Turkish leaders were trying to accomplish two contradictory objectives. On the one hand, they were pressuring Armenia into making as many concessions as possible. On the other hand, they desperately want to reach a quick agreement with Yerevan before Pres. Obama enters the White House next month.
When Armenia rejected Turks' excessive demands, Turkish authorities decided to switch tactics and attempt a more effective approach: Create the impression in Washington that Armenians and Turks are making good progress in resolving their differences, even though in reality they are not!
To implement this new policy, Ankara persisted in placing a positive spin on all official contacts with Armenia. For example, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian's trip to Istanbul on November 24, to chair the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) conference, was repeatedly mischaracterized by the Turkish side as a visit to discuss with Foreign Minister Ali Babajan the improvement of relations with Armenia.
Also, Turkish officials and media have been repeating ad nauseam that Armenia's President would be visiting Turkey shortly, thus giving the false impression that the two sides are about to resolve their differences. In reality, Pres. Sargsyan is not expected to go to Istanbul until October 2009, when the Armenian and Turkish national soccer teams meet again.
Yet another falsehood spread by the Turkish media, for the sole purpose of manipulating American and international public opinion, is that Armenia has accepted to participate in a joint study group on the Armenian Genocide, even after Pres. Sargsyan's announcement that such a commission was "absolutely unnecessary." Armenia's President expressed his concern that such a study would actually "mislead" the international community.
In another diversionary tactic, Turkish authorities announced last week that they are considering the accreditation to Armenia of their current Ambassador to Georgia, who would continue to be stationed in Tbilisi. This is a clever attempt to claim that Turkey has taken a major step in establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia! Meanwhile, Turkish Airlines announced last week that it is planning to start charter flights to Armenia -- another attempt at creating a false impression of the ostensibly improving Armenian-Turkish relations.
In support of their government's propaganda, Turkish newspapers have been publishing interviews with Armenians and Turks who are engaged in a variety of joint cultural and business activities and predicting that Armenia would have a thriving economy once the border with Turkey is opened. The Turkish press does not interview, however, Armenians who demand justice for the crimes committed by the Ottoman Turkish government during the Genocide.
It is regrettable that certain individuals, driven by their narrow self-interest, have made statements to the Turkish media that help reinforce the false impression that Armenians and Turks are getting along perfectly well, and outsiders like the United States should not take any initiatives that would ruin this budding friendship!
The fact of the matter is that Armenians worldwide will continue to view Turkey with deep misgivings as long as the Turkish government pursues its morally bankrupt policy of making demands rather than amends.