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Cablegate: Parliamentary Hearings On Turkish-Armenian

VZCZCXRO4881
PP RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHYE #0008/01 0041457
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 041457Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6829
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 1408
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 0624
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0496
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 0539
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0126
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 YEREVAN 000008

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CARC, AND EUR/SE (PAUL MALIK)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TU AM
SUBJECT: PARLIAMENTARY HEARINGS ON TURKISH-ARMENIAN
RELATIONS: A VENTING SESSION OF WIDE-RANGING VIEWS


YEREVAN 00000008 001.2 OF 004


-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) On December 19-20, the Foreign Relations Committee
of Armenia's parliament held public hearings on
Turkish-Armenian Relations titled "Issues and Perspectives."
Viewed as a positive step to discuss the delicate issue of
improving Turkish-Armenian ties, the hearings quickly morphed
into a public vent session where a diverse range of
officials, opinion makers, and analysts voiced sometimes
forceful views on the topic. While disagreements remained on
many subjects, including the genocide question, territorial
issues, and Armenia's treaty obligations, there was unanimity
on one issue: Armenia continues to perceive Turkey as a
threat. End summary.

---------------------------
ATTENDANCE AND ATMOSPHERICS
---------------------------

2. (SBU) The Speaker of Parliament and Armenia's Foreign
Minister opened the hearings, which were attended by
journalists, academicians, think tank analysts, NGO
representatives, parliamentary staff, marginal politicians,
and a handful of representatives from the opposition Heritage
party and pro-government Armenian Revolutionary Federation
(Dashnaks). Some figures from the Armenian Diaspora also
attended. After the hearings' much-heralded opening session,
no Armenian officials attended the hearings, apart from a few
parliamentarians. Surprisingly, not even the MFA's Turkey
desk attended (as a speaker duly noted). Although 20 Turkish
representatives were invited, none of them showed up.

3. (SBU) With the exception of one especially charged session
where ultra-nationalistic views were expressed, the hearings
proceeded calmly. Devoid of interactive floor discussions,
the hearings took the form of a series of monologues, where
40 speakers spent between five and 30 minutes, one after
another, sharing their views. Only FM Vartan Oskanian's
speech was followed by a question/answer session, and
spontaneous discussions mainly took place in the corridors.
Hearings materials included, among other things, a chronology
of Armenian-Turkish ties beginning with Turkey's recognition
of Armenian independence in December 1991, and a list of
countries that have recognized as well as condemned the
alleged Armenian genocide.

-----------------------------------------
HEARINGS SEEK UNDERSTANDING OF VIEWPOINTS
-----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) MP Samvel Nikoyan, secretary of the ruling
Republican Party faction, told poloffs that the purpose of
the hearings was for Armenia's parliament to better
understand the viewpoints of different segments of Armenian
society, coordinate common approaches, and present these
approaches internationally. He regretted the absence of
Turkish representatives, especially parliamentarians, since
he thought they were freer than GOT officials to express
Turkey's own set of diverse views on Turkish-Armenian
relations.

-----------------------------
NO PRECONDITIONS TO RELATIONS
-----------------------------

5. (SBU) In their opening remarks, which were aimed at
creating a dialogue on ways forward in Turkish-Armenian
relations, FM Oskanian and Speaker Tigran Torosyan
nonetheless criticized Turkey for imposing preconditions for
normal ties. Torosyan said the two countries should instead
work together on joint principles of cooperation and leave
other issues for future consideration. Oskanian reiterated
the GOAM's official position that Turkey and Armenia must
establish diplomatic relations and work toward an opening of
their border before other issues can be addressed. Oskanian
emphasized that this was not a precondition, but rather the
"zero" starting point for any two nations' relations.
Oskanian regretted that two neighboring countries which share
a common past were wasting valuable time that could instead
be used to create a new history of relations.

YEREVAN 00000008 002.2 OF 004

6. (SBU) FM Oskanian and other speakers spoke in detail about
each of the three preconditions they see having been set by
Turkey before normalizing relations: solving the
Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) issue in favor of Azerbaijan;
recognition of Turkish borders through a one-sided
ratification of the Kars Treaty; and an end to efforts to
gain recognition of the genocide. On NK, most agreed that it
contravened international legal norms to mix third country
interests into the relations of two independent states.
Regarding the Kars treaty, FM Oskanian said that since
Armenia had inherited the ratified treaty from Soviet Armenia
and had taken no action to annul it, the treaty remained
valid. On genocide recognition, he said that whatever the
Armenian Diaspora chose to do abroad, it was Armenia's
official position not to get involved in such efforts (a
broad assertion not borne out by statements made by several
other speakers).

7. (SBU) According to Haik Demoyan, director of the Genocide
Museum, and many other speakers, Turkish preconditions for
normalizing relations constituted ultimatums in Armenian
eyes. Coupled with the closed border, one could view the
situation as being akin to military confrontation. Demoyan
declared that Turkish authorities could not yet accept the
genocide, out of fear that it would overturn the country's
perpetuated legend of a strong and just state, and fear that
doing so could create a national crisis. Demoyan said he saw
this in the faces and tears of the few Turks who visit the
museum.

------------
BORDER ISSUE
------------

8. (SBU) Virtually all presenters agreed that the opening of
borders with Turkey was important for Armenia. Gayane
Novikova from the "Spektrum" Research Center nevertheless
cautioned that the opening of the border would do more
short-term harm than good to the Armenian economy, since
Turkish goods would flood local markets and overrun local
production. She also worried about the cultural expansion of
Turkey. Manvel Badeyan, a prominent businessman and
Republican Party MP, echoed the concern, asserting that
Armenia had little to gain since it had nothing to export to
Turkey. He also said it was a myth to expect transportation
costs for exports and imports across an open border to fall
significantly. Other speakers criticized the government for
its lack of serious study concerning the impact of an open
border on the Armenian economy.

-------------------------------
EU REP SAYS COMPROMISES ARE KEY
-------------------------------

9. (SBU) Peter Semneby, the EU's Special Envoy for the South
Caucasus, was the only representative from an international
organization who spoke at the hearings. Stressing the
importance of normalizing relations, he said the EU was the
best example of compromises between countries, and encouraged
Turkey and Armenia to move in that direction. They should
work to overcome the past, without forgetting it, and take
gradual steps to achieve progress in their relations. He
encouraged bilateral and multilateral meetings between
Yerevan and Ankara, suggested creating an open forum for
permanent contacts under the auspices of a European body, and
offered EU assistance in all areas.

----------------------------
REACH OUT TO TURKISH SOCIETY
----------------------------

10. (SBU) According to Vahan Hovhannisyan (Dashnak party
leader, Deputy Speaker of the parliament, and a current
presidential candidate), Armenia should start communicating
with Turkish society, which he said was hungry for truth
about its past. He contended that Armenia could never get
along with a despotic neighbor that deprived its citizens of
access to its history. As long as the organizers of the
genocide were revered as heroes, Turkey's 70 million
population would never be ready to accept the genocide and
other historical facts, he said. The idea of reaching out to

YEREVAN 00000008 003.2 OF 004


Turkish society was echoed by others. Artak Shakaryan from
the National Academy of Sciences' Institute on Eastern
Studies passionately harangued the GOAM for its passivity
toward Turkey. He argued that new global communications
could be harnessed to soften Turks' negative perceptions of
Armenians, and urged the use of the internet, blogging,
Turkish language websites, public diplomacy, and working with
Turkish students in the West.

--------------------
GREEN LIGHT FOR NGOS
--------------------

11. (SBU) FM Oskanian, Speaker Torosyan, and other speakers
expressed the necessity of a Turkish-Armenian dialogue on all
levels. According to Karen Bekaryan, an expert from the
Foreign Relations Committee who also leads the prominent NGO
"European Integration," the hearings gave civil society
representatives the green light to start working with their
counterparts in Turkey without fear that their work would be
viewed as contravening GOAM policy. Tevan Poghosyan, the
head of two separate think tanks in Yerevan, reflected on the
warm relations between Armenians and Turks he has witnessed
at international events, and offered the assistance of NGOs
as interlocutors in advancing people-to-people contacts.

----------------------------------------
TURKEY'S EU MEMBERSHIP: YES BUT NOT YET
----------------------------------------

12. (SBU) Virtually every speaker who touched on the issue of
Turkey's EU membership agreed that an EU neighbor would be
beneficial to Armenia. However, there was unanimous concern
that Turkey should enter the EU only after it recognized the
genocide and affirmed its European values, including
guarantees for the rights of its religious and national
minorities. Several speakers, including FM Oskanian, argued
that Turkey would never repent for its past atrocities of
Armenians if it were admitted to the EU without first
embracing EU values.

------------------
FORCED COOPERATION
------------------

13. (SBU) Artur Aghabekyan, a Dashnak party member and the
former deputy Defense Minister, talked about ongoing
cooperation between Turkey and Armenia within the NATO and
OSCE frameworks. Both Armenia and Turkey, for example, have
obligations under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe
Treaty. Aghabekyan stated that while Turkey takes full
advantage of the provisions within this treaty to regularly
inspect Armenian armed forces, Armenia has inspected Turkey
only once. On Armenia's positive experience within the NATO
Partnership for Peace program, Aghabekyan regretted that the
closed border with Turkey limited greater opportunities for
Armenia to increase its NATO ties.

-------------------------------
TURKEY BASHING AND HIDDEN AGENDAS
-------------------------------

14. (SBU) According to Ruben Safrastyan, head of the
Institute on Eastern Studies at the National Academy of
Sciences, Turkey's stance towards Armenia belies a hidden
agenda. He alleged Turkey is using the blockade to weaken
Armenia, promote out-migration, and create such national
discontent that political forces would come to power in
Yerevan who would be willing to accept Turkish preconditions.
He also posited that Turkish National Security institutions
controlled debate on the genocide issue in Turkey, and
therefore the issue lays outside the purview of politicians
or civil society.

---------------------------------
TREATY OF SEVRES - STILL DREAMING
---------------------------------

15. (SBU) Ara Papyan, Armenia's former Ambassador to Canada,
analyzed all of the treaties that regulate Turkish-Armenian
relations (Sevres, Kars, Moscow, Lausanne, and
Alexandropoulos), and found that only the treaties of Sevres

YEREVAN 00000008 004.2 OF 004


and Lausanne remain legally valid. According to Sevres,
Armenia's legal borders should encompass the current Turkish
territories delineated in President Woodrow Wilson's
arbitration decision. (Note: storm of applause followed
his presentation. End note.) During a different session,
Papyan noted that according to archival documents, the damage
Turkey caused to Armenians during the period 1914-1919 is
estimated at about USD 41.5 billion.

------------------
MORE RADICAL VIEWS
------------------

16. (SBU) Another presenter whose speech was greeted with
cheers was the ultra-nationalist Armen Aivazyan of the Ararat
Center for Strategic Research. By far the most radical
speaker at the hearings, Aivazyan even used the occasion to
blame the Dashnak organizers of the hearings for their
"pro-Turkish" sentiments. He also blamed the authorities for
having forgotten the "Armenian Issue" (the issue of returning
Armenian historical lands), and accused Armenia's
post-independence presidential administrations of conducting
flawed foreign policy. He called on the authorities to
develop repatriation programs, and to recall from Turkey all
Armenian citizens, whom he claimed were living as "hostages"
there.

--------------------
CULTURAL DESTRUCTION
--------------------

17. (SBU) Samvel Karapetyan of the Research of Armenian
Architecture NGO that specializes in documenting Armenian
historical monuments, gave a photo presentation on the
Armenian patrimony in Eastern Turkey allegedly destroyed by
the Turkish authorities. He asserted that while Turkish
authorities destroyed the majority of historical monuments
between the 1940s and 1960s, destruction of monuments
continues even today. Karapetyan argued that such
reconstruction projects as Akhtamar Churchwere mere
window-dressing aimed to placate Europe.

--------------------------------------
EXECUTIVE BRANCH EXHAUSTED ITS ARSENAL
--------------------------------------

18. (SBU) In concluding remarks, Armen Roustamyan, chairman
of the Foreign Relations Committee, noted that the
authorities in Turkey and Armenia are deadlocked on
normalizing ties, and it was up to parliamentary diplomacy to
get the process moving again. He promised that the hearings'
materials would be published in book form by March, and that
a special subcommittee would be formed to continue work on
these issues. Together with the Foreign Ministry, his
committee planned to develop a concept paper on
Armenian-Turkish relations which would envisage future
actions by parliament, the government, and Armenian society.
The sub-commission will include MPs and independent experts.

-------
COMMENT
-------

19. (SBU) Despite the awkward format, some nationalistic
chest-thumping, and dreamy rhetoric, the hearings represented
a moderate step forward in Armenian society's discussion of
relations with Turkey. The fact that the parliament took the
unusual step to hold these hearings, and open them to society
at large, is significant. Although many speakers expressed
views we would regard as out of touch with current political
reality, this kind of debate needs to happen here if
Armenians are going to deal more realistically with their
regional circumstances. In that respect, any discussion is
better than none at all.
PENNINGTON

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