The Turkish prime minister appeared determined to solve pending questions and “successfully complete what we started.” Referring to Turkey’s overture to Armenians and Kurds, he said, “in this process of democratisation all issues are of equal weight, but it is impossible to solve all of them at once. We and others must slowly digest them.”
Last April Turkey and Armenia had announced that they had signed two protocols on establishing diplomatic relations and a series of gradual steps to improve relations. The agreement must be ratified by their respective parliaments before they come into force. However, both sides face strong internal opposition.
A sore point is Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave Azerbaijan, scene of a bloody war in the 90s, which led Turkey to close its borders with Armenia in solidarity with Azerbaijan, an ally and fellow Muslim country fighting Armenian separatists.
However, the hot issue between the two neighbours remains Turkish persecution of Armenians. A first wave took place in the late 19th century by order of Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid II; the second occurred during the First World War.
According to the Armenians, one million and half Armenians “disappeared”, deported or eliminated, by order of the Turkish government. Turkish historians claim that only half a million died during military operations. The word “genocide” is the core issue.
Anticipation is growing that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan might visit Turkey on 14 October for the return match between Armenia and Turkey, in the qualifying round for the World Cup.
Sargsyan said he would not attend the match, even though Turkish President Abdullah Gul travelled to Yerevan for the first match, unless the border was open or clear signals sent that it would soon be open.
He has not yet announced his decision, but all indications suggest that he will be firm on the request. An open border remains crucial for Armenia because it needs access to the outside world to counter the country’s crippling economic crisis.
“I too want to see the issue solved; otherwise the profound enmity between the two people could continue,” Sargsyan said on several occasions, conscious of strong internal opposition, especially in the Armenian Diaspora.
For this reason, on 1 October he will tour France, the United States, Lebanon and Russia and meet fellow Armenians, listen to their objections, explain the current process and try to convince them of the importance of the two protocols on diplomatic relations and bilateral relations.
For Armenians living in Turkey, the protocols are an indispensable step to improve relations between the two peoples and end mutual prejudices.
“It is a great revolution in attitudes,” said Alber Keshish, who teaches at Istanbul University. “It is a great opportunity to appease minds, heal wounds, open up to dialogue and build friendly relations,” said Aykun Kasakian, a student who often travels to Armenia and watches both Armenian and Turkish television, and can thus testify on how the mass media feed unfriendliness and ignorance between the two peoples.
Many say they have good relations with their neighbours. “Let the border open. The two nations need some fresh air. The doors have rotted. We are not anachronistic. Those who oppose open doors on nationalist grounds harm humanity and their own nation,” said young Armenians who were born and bred in Turkey, who still live, study and dream there. However, it is also what Armenians in Armenia say.
As world leaders talk strategy, present and past, to find reconciliation and a solution to this festering conflict, new generations, who live already side-by-side without forgetting the painful past of their families, have already torn down the wall of hatred and distrust, nurturing great hope in renewal and peace.