Tag Archives: armenian-turkish relations

Politics of Filmmaking

When scanning the screening schedule of the 2011 Golden Apricot Film Festival, currently taking place in Yerevan, I noticed that several  joint Turkish and Armenian productions were to be shown.

For instance, one of the films being screened was shot by two Turks in Gyumri, with an all-Armenian cast, while another by an Armenian director is set in Istanbul. There’s even a French production made by an Armenian director about the perils of street dogs in Istanbul (he could easily have made that same film in Yerevan). I counted five co-productions altogether and just as many if not more Turkish films. There are still other films set in Turkey being screened made by European directors. It seems the Golden Apricot Festival has become a venue for promoting Turkey and its artists.

So why is this so peculiar? It’s an international film festival, and naturally films from around the world are going to be screened, including those made by Armenia’s historic foe. What’s wrong with that?

The screenings of such Turkish/Armenian joint productions — most if not all of which are produced by both the Golden Apricot FCD and the Turkish foundation Anadolu Kultur —  insinuate that all is getting well between the two neighbors, when in fact that is the farthest from the truth. The Golden Apricot Film Festival, being one that craves foreign submissions, attracts both local Armenians and filmbuffs from around the world alike. So when you see a film that has been produced by artists from countries that have deep-rooted animosity toward one another, it’s natural for someone to think that some barriers between the two peoples are being broken. Why?

Professional filmgoers pay attention to several criteria when viewing a film, and even beforehand. They want to know first of all where the film was produced, the year it was made, and the nationality of the filmmaker. They look for actors that the filmmaker uses repeatedly in other films and reoccurring themes that are being employed for settings and situations. And filmmakers, amateur or professional, are paying attention to other nuances, like the effects rendered from the use of lighting, camera angles, the representation of the actors, even the positioning of the camera in relation to the ground. When a filmgoer sees a modern film that impressed him made by a Japanese director, he is more apt to seek out movies made by that filmmaker’s contemporaries in his own country in order to compare cinematic styles, plots, and so forth. The nation the filmmaker represents has relevance to the overall impact the film conveys, because the impressed filmgoer will want to naturally seek out the works of other directors from the same country.

The filmmaker therefore is a representative of his own country, whether he wants to be or not. Even a filmmaker who isn’t making films in his home nation any longer  is still considered to be a representative of his own people. This doesn’t apply to painters for instance, where the viewer is captivated by the use of color, shape and design, then associates the artist’s name to it, with his or nationality being an afterthought. A filmmaker is an unofficial spokesman of his country’s artistic development and even tolerance of such development. He makes it obvious to the world where he’s from and is proud to represent his country and its bold achievements in the international community of the arts.

So when you have Turks and Armenians coming together to make films as joint productions you have to wonder what that’s all about. It’s obvious that these artists are trying to show the world that the two peoples can indeed live peacefully side by side, using the spellbinding medium of film. Thus, in doing so they are making social and political statements, whether intentionally or not.

And their efforts, whether they realize it or not, could be viewed as being a method for persuade people to forget the past, to ignore issues that have yet to be reconciled and are still fuming to this day, even almost a century later, and to look ahead. They chose to ignore the glaring fact that Turkey restricts Armenia’s economic growth and trading potential by refusing to open their mutual border. That Turkey refrains from unconditionally developing diplomatic relations by making specific demands of Armenia’s foreign policy is also to be overlooked. Turkey’s utter rejection of the Armenian Genocide is certainly another giant obstacle to overcome. These filmmakers, along with their producers, are essentially alluding that art knows no hate and antagonism — it can only bring harmony and admiration, even between enemies. That notion applied to Armenian-Turkish relations is not only credulous, it is downright negligent as well.

These Turkish/Armenian film productions are all fine and good — by all means, let people from the two countries get together and use the magic of filmmaking to promote brotherly peace. But make no mistake — their collaborations cannot dispel the lingering, obstinate Turkish antagonism that persists and is thwarting any hopes of reconciliation between the two nations. The hostile policies on Armenia set by Turkey’s leadership and lawmakers need to change before the two sides can earnestly talk about meaningful artistic collaborations.

There needs to be mutual trust; nevertheless I don’t believe that the forum of a film festival can be used to develop reconciliation between the two peoples that are steadfastly at odds. Ultimately I think it’s Turkish society that needs to pressure its government to open the border and instill a peaceful coexistence with Armenians.

That certainly can’t done by a few film producers, and the unabashed promotion of Turkish culture and values by the Armenian side seems over the top and unnecessary. It’s relatively obvious that Armenia has long been ready for an open border.

Should Armenia Have Withdrawn Its Signature?

Should Armenia Have Withdrawn Its SignatureA week after President Serge Sarkisian announced that the National Assembly would put the ratification process of the Turkish-Armenian protocols on the backburner, harsh criticism is coming to light from the opposition and even former government heads.

The comments I’ve read that are perhaps most troubling come from former Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian, who seems convinced that Armenia is now doomed in its new position, claiming that Turkey has more ammunition to meddle in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

In a statement that appears on the Civilitas Foundation web site he expresses the following:

I am astonished by two things, however. First, the government is openly acknowledging that for one whole year they watched as Turkey placed preconditions before them, Turkey exploited the process for its own benefit, and they not only tolerated this, but continuously insisted that this is not happening and that this whole process is a big success and an unprecedented diplomatic victory.

Second, if there were half a dozen possible exit strategies from this situation – from doing nothing to revoking Armenia’s signature – the government has chosen the option least beneficial to us… The Armenian side did that which is most desirable for Turkey: neither ratified the protocols nor revoked them thus giving Turkey the opportunity to continue to remain actively engaged in the Karabakh process.

Criticism by former heads of government is a normal thing, but Oskanian seems a bit too emotional in his text and offers no new approaches for how to move forward. He advocates that the government acknowledge its mistakes (he instead craftily used the phrase “avoid accepting the truthfulness of the criticism”) first, in language akin to a naughty child being scolded by his mother.

The Armenian National Congress last week said:

“By suspending the ratification process and at the same time expressing readiness to continue it, the regime is, in effect, acknowledging that it has found itself in deadlock … and is trying to save face before the domestic public and the international community with deficient, unprincipled and inconsistent actions.”

The last part is a bit perplexing to me. Just how was suspending the ratification process “deficient, unprincipled and inconsistent?” Would that action have been described that way had Levon Ter-Petrosian been in Sarkisian’s position and done the same? Who can say whether the situation would have been any different?

I think that it was a wise decision for Yerevan to at least suspend the ratification process. But I disagree with the former Foreign Minister—the worst thing the government could have actually done was to relent to Turkey’s preconditions and open the border on Ankara’s own terms. It would have been better perhaps as the opposition points out for Armenia to withdraw its signature in light of the circumstances, but you can take that sentiment a step further and say that Armenia should never have signed the protocols to begin with, and none of the opposition forces should have ever allowed that to happen when they had plenty of time to stop it. Instead, they remained divided and disorganized.

By suspending the ratification process Yerevan casts Ankara in shadow of doubt, making the Turkish side look totally uninterested in opening the border at all—this is fairly obvious by now to the international community, and for me at least it was a long time ago.
Also regarding speculation being expressed in the media, I don’t see how the OSCE would allow a Turkish diplomat to become a member of the Minsk Group given that the reconciliation process is frozen, and how Armenia would ever go along with Ankara becoming a player in the peace negotiations to begin with. Then again, I am not a political analyst nor am I a politician looking for a future role to play in government.

Oskanian, the Congress and other opposition parties can say what they want, but rather than simply cast blame, let them propose new initiatives in the National Assembly for the governing authorities to consider moving forward. You see both sides criticize each other separately in press conferences and written statements, but very rarely do you see them engage each other in the public eye through debate and an exchange of ideas.

The Sarkisian administration and the opposition need to see eye to eye on the future steps towards reconciliation, because the longer they ignore one another, the ever more confused and disillusioned the public will be. Without some practical consensus on the Turkish-Armenian state of affairs the Armenian position will never appear to be very strong. The Armenian government needs to weigh the position of its foes on this issue before it makes any more decisions.

Photo credit: Andrew C.

Renewed War Over Nagorno-Karabakh?

I just read the following report on RFE/RL about the escalation of chances for war breaking out again between Azerbaijan and Armenia/Nagorno-Karabagh over control of the self-declared republic. Here’s a segment of the article:

Renewed War Over Nagorno-Karabagh?The likelihood of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh has increased as a result of the U.S.-backed rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey, according to America’s top intelligence official.

“Although there has been progress in the past year toward Turkey-Armenia rapprochement, this has affected the delicate relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and increases the risk of a renewed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair warned late Tuesday in written testimony to a U.S. Senate committee.

Blair also warned of broader security and stability threats persisting in the South Caucasus. “The unresolved conflicts of the Caucasus provide the most likely flashpoints in the Eurasia region,” he said. “Moscow’s expanded military presence in and political-economic ties to Georgia’s separatist regions of South Ossetia and sporadic low-level violence increase the risk of miscalculation or overreaction leading to renewed fighting.”

The United States has strongly supported and at times mediated in the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement that began nearly two years ago and led to the signing last October of two “protocols” envisaging the normalization of relations between the two historical foes.

I don’t know if this is something to worry about. Sure, Ilham Aliyev likes to spew war rhetoric ever now and then, threatening to pummel Armenian forces and take back control over Nagorno-Karabakh, but no one ever took it seriously–at least not Moscow, Paris or Washington. But Dennis Blair begs to differ. He must know information that no one else does–perhaps not even Yerevan–even something that hasn’t been revealed in his written testimony.

Is this for real?

Turkey’s Parliament Receives Protocols

On Wednesday, the protocols were formerly introduced to the Turkish parliament for deliberation and anticipated approval. Anticipated primarily by the West I should add. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised that the parliament would not ratify them.

Hetq reported Deniz Baykal, who is the leader of Turkey’s Republican party, stating the following:

“We believe Turkey’s problems with Azerbaijan have gone beyond being a problem of discourse and have headed in a more serious direction. I see who is right and who is wrong regarding this issue. Turkey failed to manage the process of opening its border with Armenia and is now faced with grave problems.”

The article then points out that:

The main opposition party leader criticized the recent signing of two protocols between Turkey and Armenia, which call for the opening of the border, closed since 1993, and the restoration of diplomatic relations.

Mr. Baykal added that the main opposition party will not sacrifice Turkey’s friendship with Azerbaijan because of the bad policies of the government.

Meanwhile, Armenia claims that its National Assembly will not deliberate on the protocols until Turkey’s parliament ratifies them.

questionSo judging by this information, Turkey’s friendship with Azerbaijan is far more important than the budding one with Armenia. This was already assumed before the protocols were signed with similar statements made in the Turkish Press, including those previously stated by Prime Minister Erdogan. So why were the protocols signed, what did the signing actually accomplish? That Turkey is indeed a peace-loving, yet hypocritical nation?

Given the recent developments in the ongoing plight to accept the “gestures of goodwill,” you have to wonder what the point to this hype is. I find it hard to believe that the Turkish parliament will indeed reject the protocols since Turkey indeed has lots to gain from an opened border with Armenia and “free” commerce, not to mention a possible stronghold on Armenian’s far from stable economy. There’s also the paranoid, nevertheless legitimate fear of Pan-Turanism taking root once the border opens.

I really don’t think that Turkey—including its hardliner politicians—give a damn about how the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict will play out in the end, yet Prime Minister Erdogan claims the opposite. He’s shown his deceitful side several times in the past so I can’t really believe his words until the Turkish parliament ends up rejecting the protocols, but again, I doubt that will actually happen.

Yet let’s consider that I am wrong and the protocols are not ratified. Again, what was the point of signing them in the first place—a simple, feeble demonstration of good will? Was President Sarkisian simply gambling by agreeing to the protocols knowing quite well that they wouldn’t be approved, or was he indeed sincere about implementing them? And what was all that congratulating about on President Sarkisian’s part every time Turkey scored during the football match on October 14? (Armenia lost 2-0.) Armenians didn’t take too kindly to his behavior. Was that part of his chess-like charade, assuming there is one?

Personally I stopped caring about this process the day the protocols were signed. I realized then and there that I did all I could in the effort to stop the protocols from being signed by repeatedly writing about the dangers for Armenia on this blog and in other articles. And after judging the rather weak protests that have been ensuing in Armenia against the protocols during the last four weeks, I became even more indifferent.

I join millions of others wondering what the end-result will be from all this, without really caring that much about the outcome. Armenian citizens who are opposed to an opened border under the current circumstances should be more vocal about their beliefs, and their silence is convincing me that nothing about this process really matters.