How to explain the reasons why the Turkish government, once more in limbo, has cornered itself in despair over how to handle the 100th Anniversary of the Great Armenian Tragedy, which almost everyone today agrees amounted to genocide?
Yes, it is true that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last year — a day before the symbolic date of the genocide — on April 23 issued a written statement that mentioned condolences for the victims.
But to the experienced observers of Ankara, it told much more about a preemptive diplomatic strike — to prevent US President Obama from using the G-word — rather than sincerity.
Besides, the text, which was prepared in restrained language, was a hotch-potch blending issues of the suffering of the World War I victims — implying soldiers, etc. It was a faint-hearted attempt to confront the shameful reality of history.
So, no surprise, after all, when Erdoğan months ago declared that the commemorations of the Battle of Gallipoli would be held, not according to tradition, namely on March 18, but on April 24, the very day the arrest and deportation campaign against Ottoman Armenians began.
This only confirmed that Erdoğan was much more determined to let the centenary of suffering go by, rather than achieving a bold closure.
With many Western governments now hesitating to take part in the Gallipoli event this Friday, or choose to be represented at a higher level at the commemoration ceremony in Yerevan, it remains to be seen whether Ankara will face another diplomatic fiasco, due to this erratic thinking.
I would argue that if the accord to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia, had been ratified between 2009 and 2011, namely in a period when Turkish society to a great degree was “ripe” to accept warming up the contacts, Turkey today would have been much less in despair of confronting the bitter facts of history.
The protocols were a huge step to build a future as well as facing the history by a larger-scale debate between two peoples.
The process of normalization was meticulously designed, and strongly endorsed by then-President Abdullah Gül, Minister of Economy Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, then-foreign minister.
It had followed the historic visit to Yerevan by Gül, and raised huge expectations for Turkey’s advances into the EU as a member, eventually dragging along Armenia as well in the future.
We now know that the person who demolished the process in one swipe was Erdoğan, then-prime Minister. When in May 2009 he paid a visit to Baku to repair relations with Azerbaijan, he surprised everyone, including the Turkish delegation.
When he took the floor there, Davutoğlu was sitting in the front row.
At one point, mentioning the normalization with Yerevan, Erdoğan suddenly blasted: “There is a relation of cause and effect here. The occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh is the cause, and the closure of the border is the effect. Without the occupation ending, the gates will not be opened.”
Sources later told me that Davutoğlu was totally perplexed, asking his staff sitting next whether or not they had been informed beforehand about Karabakh being put into this context. None of them had known. It was a cold shower, signaling failure ahead.
“It was Erdoğan who finished the normalization process,” said Suat Kınıklıoğlu, who was then a deputy of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and part of its foreign policy team, in a series of tweets recently.
“Protocols, which were some of the most successful products of our foreign policy, were thrown by Erdoğan into the dustbin. He demolished the process because Gül was in charge of it.
“And Baku was also influential in this. Erdoğan and İlham Aliyev had met then for two hours, with no minutes taken, and he goes to the Azeri parliament and delivers the talk that ends the protocol process.”
Kınıklıoğlu also added that Gül is “still very angry about it, because he knew it all.”
As my sources told me, a powerful process that would help Turkey deal with the shame of history and raise its influence in the Caucasus was wasted, with Moscow, also with Baku, against Turkish interests.
So, anyone seeking a response as to why Ankara is adding more to its loneliness on April 24 should look into how Erdoğan has handled this date.
Not only that. The failure of Turkish-Armenian normalization was the beginning of the end for Ankara’s “zero problem neighborhood” policy.
There seems very little doubt who was the architect of that failure.