Tag Archives: turkish-armenian 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.

Armenia Suspends Protocol Ratification Process

FlagsWell, President Serge Sarkisian did it–he suspended the Turkish-Armenian protocol ratification process indefinitely. He pointed out the fact during his televised speech last night that Ankara is simply not ready to devote to ratifying the protocols and forming constructive relations with Armenia.

It makes no sense for Yerevan to continue talking about ratification any longer. However, he was smart to announce that Armenia remains committed to “normalization” and will not withdraw its signature from the protocols, much to the chagrin of some of the opposition parties (one of which several weeks ago conceded that it would indeed go along with the ratification of the protocols assuming Turkey ratified them first–I won’t name which party because it should be obvious).

And what is strange is that the US and France praised him for it. Philip Gordon,  US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, today said “We applaud President Sargsyan’s decision to continue to work towards a vision of peace, stability, and reconciliation.”

This obviously means that the US and France–and probably Russia, no word yet about what Moscow thinks–are also not happy with how Turkey has been behaving since the protocols were signed last October, by insisting that ratifying the protocols/opening the border be contingent upon a Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement in Azerbaijan’s favor. They are also undoubtedly fed up with Turkey causing a scandal every time an international lawmaking body decides to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

The Obama administration has spent a lot of time on the protocols and making sure they not only get signed but are ratified without preconditions from either side. President Obama met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for nearly an hour during the arms conference last week and also spoke with President Sarkisian separately, discussing rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia during some of that time. I am sure Erdogan mentioned that he didn’t want President Obama to use the “G-word” on April 24, but no one can say whether the president outright promised he wouldn’t.

Anyway, the point is that Turkey has placed both President Obana and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a “jack-ass’s place” as the Armenian saying goes. They undoubtedly are not pleased with Ankara’s adamant stance about having a Karabagh peace deal signed first and willingness to compromise, and despite Secretary Clinton’s previous comments that the most recent Armenian Genocide resolution will not make it to the House floor, President Obama may be peeved enough to use the “G-word” as I and millions of other Armenians round the world are hoping for in his April 24 address. The Turks are not going to close the Incirlik air base because they simply can’t defy the US, and fears that Turkey will pull out of contracts to buy new F-35 fighter planes from the US are also unfounded since too much has been invested in the development program by Turkey. The Turks are not about to renege, and they need to buy their Patriot missiles and helicopters from somewhere. In 2009 Turkey bought $7 billion worth of military equipment from the US, and they will likely spend that much this year.

Quite honestly, I will be surprised if President Obama doesn’t use the “G-word” on the 24th. In previous years it was understandable–wars were being raged with Turkey’s support, the Turkish lobby has always been strong, Turkey has always been a valuable NATO ally, and so forth. Now, in light of recent events there doesn’t appear to be any excuse. This year, Turkey had the golden chance to reconcile with Armenia, fully supported by US, Europe and even countries in Asia like Japan, and Ankara blew it. Not one country can say that Armenia is at fault. And Turkey finally has to understand that it must face up to its own history, not to mention play ball with Armenia.

By late tomorrow evening Yerevan time the current official US position on the Genocide issue will be clear. Let’s hope it is pro-Armenian for a change.

Sarkisian, Erdogan Don’t See Eye to Eye

Seems there’s nothing positive that can be said about the Sarkisian-Erdogan meeting in Washington, DC that took place on April 12 on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit hosted by President Obama.

Both leaders have been tight-lipped about their meeting and their own separate sit-downs with President Obama, and there really isn’t a lot of information available regarding what was said. RFE/RL however wrote this:

According to the Turkish daily “Sabah,” Erdogan told Sarkisian that the existing “political atmosphere” does not bode well for their ratification by Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. He blamed it on recent decisions by U.S. and Swedish lawmakers to recognize the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

“If the protocols are brought to the agenda of the parliament while U.S. and Swedish parliaments are taking decisions on the issue, they will be rejected,” he reportedly said. “Sabah” also quoted Erdogan as also linking protocol ratification with decisive progress in international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

Sarkisian, Erdogan Don't See Eye to EyeI think it became clear last autumn when Turkish leaders started insisting that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be settled first before the protocols be ratified that Ankara was backtracking from its commitments for establishing formal diplomatic relations. Perhaps they thought that Yerevan was so desperate it would cut a quick and dirty deal with Azerbaijan just to get the Turkish-Armenian border opened, or else they wanted to show just who’s the boss to foreign powers with interests in the region. Lately, the Turks have been indicating that they want direct involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and have some role in the Minsk Group. But I don’t understand why Turkey would think that Armenia would unquestionably go along with its preconditions.

Meanwhile, Yerevan is playing hardball, insisting that there is no way worldwide Armenian Genocide recognition efforts can be suppressed. The Armenian leadership is still adamant that no preconditions can be attached to ratifying the protocols, namely regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. It’s also absurd that Turkey actually thinks Armenia would sever ties with the Armenian Diaspora, its main support base, just because it wants that to happen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Sarkisian in their meeting on April 13 that the US was still pressing for normalization of relations without preconditions.

Quite honestly, I believe this whole charade between Turkey and Armenia that’s been playing out for well over a year now has been a grand chess match. And eventually, it was going to end in a stalemate. I don’t think Sarkisian really had any intentions to open the border at all costs and by whatever means necessary, as he led many to believe last year. He was simply trying to prove to the world that he was indeed a legitimately elected, relevant president and was willing to appease his neighbors, but not to the point of selling out his nation’s geopolitical and strategic interests. Many in the diaspora and Armenia who were taken aback by the protocols last August, myself included, started to panic. Maybe that’s what Sarkisian wanted–the protests in the diaspora served an effective way to ruffle Turkey’s feathers and see how it would react. And as we remember, it went on the offensive.

Now it’s a question of who is going to look more noble in the eyes of the world when this impasse is declared deadlocked–Erdogan or Sarkisian. President Obama’s address to Armenian-Americans on April 24 will be telling.

Rumors Spreading About a Sarkisian-Ter-Petrosian Alliance Against Kocharian

There is unsubstantiated speculation that President Serge Sarkisian may join political forces with Levon Ter-Petrosian in a political alliance to thwart any chance of Robert Kocharian’s return to power. Although Kocharian has repeatedly denied intentions of returning to political life, there are indicators that suggest otherwise.

On Tuesday at the Armenian National Congress rally in Yerevan, Ter-Petrosian made mention of a “seance” recently being held in Dubai– Kocharian had assembled various oligarchs there to hold a secret meeting. But Ter-Petrossian didn’t elaborate on the details.

However, according to rumor he purportedly told his supporters that it was necessary to get rid of Sarkisian for making perceived foreign policy blunders, and that he needed their backing to overthrow him once the time came. Among them was Hovik “Moog” Abrahamian, the president of the National Assembly and a member of the Republican party of which Sarkisian is of course the leader.  Purportedly, Abrahamian, who is rumored to be backing Kocharian, agreed to lend his support so long as he in the mix of things became President of Armenia for at least four days, as the president of the National Assembly is second to the throne until a new president is elected according to the Armenian constitution.

Since these revelations were brought to light several of Abramahian’s relatives working as public servants were dismissed from their positions in various administrative and governmental departments, like the Customs House where one of them had a senior position, according to a source which I can’t reveal.

Kocharian’s press office released a statement in reaction to Ter-Petrosian’s speech on Tuesday which has appeared on various news sites in Armenian. A1 Plus managed to translate it into English. Here’s an excerpt.

Ter-Petrosyan and the Armenian National Movement diverted me a lot. They are involved in a strange activity. They decide that I dream about returning to politics and then start fighting against my return. After a while, they find out that I haven’t returned, are shocked and say their actions stopped me. Each of my trips or speeches becomes an occasion to break into an outrage.

I would advise those men not to be so tense, or else they may acquire an aging hemorrhoid by not being accustomed to the overload.

The last statement alone just shows how precarious Kocharian’s intentions and even emotional stability are. The disastrous events of March 1 are still fresh on people’s minds; no one can dare forget about what happened and how it was covered up. If society ever allows him to take power again, there’s something dreadfully wrong.

But if there is a power struggle, it will most likely mean a war between oligarch clans. Serge has already announced his intentions to run for president in 2012, so he’ll be ready to put up a fight to thwart any attempts at being overthrown. There have already been clashes reported in the news between the Republican party and Prosperous Armenia–which is backed by Kocharian–over who has the most clout on the Yerevan city council. These clashes of course were denied in news reports but nevertheless, the news is out there and there’s no reason to doubt it. Now it’s just a question of where allegiances truly lie.

Another separate rumor claims that if Serge does not cut a deal to appease Turkey and Azerbaijan in a supposed, behind-the-scenes package deal to ratify the protocols and agree to a final Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement, he will be forced to resign by the foreign powers that be. That would leave room for Kocharian to potentially take power again, or else Ter-Petrossian somehow since there’s no one else powerful enough and supported internationally to take the reins at the moment.

I think it’s safe to say that no one can accurately forecast what’s really going to happen in the near future, but one thing’s for sure–all this speculation is certainly intriguing.