Back 10 - Next 

Levon Ter Petrossian (president 1991-98) on Turkey

Levon Ter-Petrossian
Levon Ter-Petrossian

Levon Ter Petrossian, born in Aleppo in 1946, comes from a family of genocide survivors. A graduate of the Oriental Studies Department of Yerevan State University, Ter Petrossian was to become an eminent expert on Oriental studies. In 1966, he was arrested and detained for a week by Soviet Armenian authorities for active participation in protests commemorating the genocide.

Having worked in the Ancient Manuscripts Institute of Armenia (Matenadaran), he found himself as of 1988 leading the Institute's "Karabakh Committee". The Committee soon transformed into the Armenian National Movement. Its objective was twofold: Armenian independence and the liberation of Karabakh. When Armenia declared its independence, it was no surprise that Ter Petrossian the leading light of the national movement was elected the country's first President, winning 83 percent of the vote.

Throughout his presidency (1991-1998), Ter Petrossian attempted to establish relations with Turkey. His position was that while Armenia could not forsake the memory of the 1915 genocide, it should not make international recognition a foreign policy issue, either. Both Armenia and Turkey, he therefore argued, should refrain from making diplomatic relations subject to any preconditions.

As Ter Petrossian told the Turkish Ambassador in Moscow in 1991:

"Armenia is changing, and in this new world we should be neighbour states with new thinking. We want to become friends. We are ready for any type of mutually beneficial cooperation. Armenia has no territorial claims towards Turkey."[21]

In 1995, during an international conference commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the genocide, he said:

"Today, Armenia and Turkey, as neighbouring states, have to establish mutually beneficial trade and economic links. We have to overcome historical controversies and re-establish the mutual trust between our peoples through friendly relations […]."[22]

From 1998 until 2007 Ter Petrossian stayed out of politics: he made few appearances and made no public statements or interviews. When he returned to politics in September 2007 to participate in the 2008 presidential elections it was clear that his views on establishing relations with Turkey had not changed.

In a major foreign policy speech during the presidential campaign, Ter Petrossian criticized the government's policy towards Turkey, underlining the importance he himself placed in Turkey's EU accession:

"Isn't it clear that Armenia can neither facilitate nor delay Turkey's accession to the European Union? What business then did we have sending out letters to Brussels with demands to halt EU-Turkey negotiations or make the recognition of the Armenian Genocide a pre-condition for Turkey? […] Isn't it obvious that Turkey's accession to the EU is in Armenia's best interest in all respects economic, political, and security? What is more dangerous Turkey as an EU member, or Turkey that has been rejected by the West, and has turned therefore to the East? Or, what is more preferable: Armenia isolated from the West, or Armenia that shares a border with the European Union? Our country's foreign policy should have answered these simple questions long ago.

What should Armenia's authorities have done, rather than creating obstacles to Turkey's accession to the EU? They should have done exactly the opposite of what they did. Namely, they should have demonstrated goodwill, and not tried to obstruct that process in any way. Moreover, they should have urged Brussels not to misuse the question of Genocide recognition, referring the resolution of that complicated problem within Armenian-Turkish relations to the parties themselves.

It is time to finally understand that by presenting ultimatums to Turkey or pushing it into a corner, no one can force it to recognize the Armenian Genocide. I have absolutely no doubt that Turkey will do so sooner or later. Yet it will happen not before the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, but after the establishment of an atmosphere of good-neighborliness, cooperation, and trust between our countries. Consequently, emotions aside, these relations must be built on the basis of the reality that Armenia considers the events of 1915 to be Genocide, whereas Turkey does not. The well-known offer to form a commission of Armenian and Turkish historians is unacceptable and offensive to us, first, because it casts doubt on what is for us a national conviction, and secondly, because the fact that the Genocide has been recognized by the legislatures of a number of countries makes the establishment of such a commission irrelevant and obsolete."[23]

Ter Petrossian was reacting to statements made by government representatives and to a negative PR campaign that targeted him for being a "pro-Turkish" politician. His speech was followed by new personal attacks, notably by Hayots Ashkharh (Armenian World), a pro-government newspaper:

"Levon Ter-Petrosian is trying to 'naively' state that only if we establish 'kind-friendly relations and atmosphere of trust' with our neighbors, will Turkey definitely recognize Armenian Genocide. A question arises here how is Levon Effendi going to establish the 'kind-friendly relations and atmosphere of trust' with our neighbors, when for Turkey the pre-condition of friendly relations is our giving up the 'Genocide allegations.'"[24]


[21] Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Russian newspaper), 14 May 1991

[22] Levon Ter-Petrossian, Select Works, Yerevan, 2006, p. 480 (ESI translated)

[23] Levon Ter Petrossian's speech, entitled 'History, Ideology, Typology', at Liberty Square, 8 December 2007

[24] Armen Tsaturyan, "Levon Effendi and the Recognition of the Armenian Genocide", Hayots Ashkharh (Armenian World), 11 December 2007

 Back 10 - Next