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Robert Kocharian (president 1998-2008) on Turkey

Robert Kocharian
Robert Kocharian

Robert Kocharian, the second President of Armenia, began his political career in Nagorno-Karabakh where he was born in 1954. An engineer by training, he actively participated in the Karabakh movement since the late 1980s, becoming one of the movement's key figures first heading Karabakh's defence and security structures, then moving on to become its Prime Minister and President. In 1997, Kocharian became the Prime Minister of Armenia. A year later after a series of disagreements with Kocharian and other cabinet members on the Karabakh issue President Levon Ter Petrossian resigned his post. In the elections that followed, Kocharian secured the Presidency.

Kocharian revised Ter Petrossian's policies vis--vis Turkey, adopting a more hawkish stance and decided to introduce international recognition of the Armenian genocide as the cornerstone of Armenia's foreign policy agenda. He spelled out his adopted policy line during the UN General Assembly in September 1998, on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the UN Genocide Convention.

Kocharian was to continue Ter Petrossian's policy of establishing relations and opening the border without preconditions but was also intent on having the international community recognize and condemn the Armenian genocide. According to Ruben Safrastian, Director of Oriental Studies Institute at the Academy of Sciences in Armenia:

"After 10 years of re-evaluation of our approach, now I think that it was politically wrong [to make concessions]. It gave no results. And what happened in 1998-2000 regarding the toughening of the position towards Turkey was logical as we got nothing in front of our concessions."[25]

Kocharian believed that Turkey's policy of indexing relations with Armenia to Azerbaijan was unacceptable. The difference between Kocharian's and Ter Petrossian's approach lay in the following, according to Gegham Manoukian, ARF member and director of the "Yerkir Media" TV company:

"All of Ter Petrossian's conciliatory actions towards Turkey have remained unreciprocated. Even at a time when he closed the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party in Armenia, the Turkish position remained unaltered. Armenia could have made further concessions towards Turkey, make pressures on the Armenian diaspora, and there were not to be any results. From 1990-98 Armenia did not make any step against Turkey, it made only concessions. … So it was clear that that policy had no perspectives. Kocharian's coming to power was a turning point in Armenia's policies toward Turkey. … Until 1998 there was very little talk in international forums about the fact that Armenian-Turkish borders were closed and that there were no relations between those two countries. After 1998 we saw the reverse process."

In a CNN Turk interview with Mehmet Ali Birand, Kocharian said that genocide recognition does not entail any territorial claims by Armenia:

"As for our relations with Turkey, we understand that relations between our two states will not lead to any new legal status after the Genocide is recognized. That's not what we're talking about. Today, we are concerned with reclaiming justice. For the Republic of Armenia, for me, personally, this is more a moral issue. I know that in Turkey some think that now, if the Genocide is recognized, then Armenia will definitely present Turkey with territorial claims… For Turkey, recognition of the Armenian Genocide will not necessarily lead to legal consequences regarding the Republic of Armenia."[26]

In 2005, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan sent Kocharian a letter proposing the establishment of a historians' commission to study the events of 1915. Kocharian answered with a counterproposal to establish diplomatic relations and launch an intergovernmental commission. As Kocharian wrote:

"Your suggestion of discussing the past cannot be effective if it does not include a discussion of the current situation and the future of relations between our countries…The political atmosphere should be prepared for the dialogue. To move mutual relations forward is the duty of the politicians. We cannot leave this responsibility to the historians….We can establish an intergovernmental commission to study every problem between our countries and begin the discussions without any precondition."[27]

In a 2007 interview with Le Figaro, Kocharian acknowledged that the prospect of EU membership makes it a more attractive partner for Armenia; and that Turkey's EU perspective is a potential catalyst of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.

"The EU membership process would require serious reforms for the transformation of the Turkish society. This would mean a progress in the direction of a more predictable Turkey, more open, more tolerant towards minorities, more inclined to re-evaluate its history, etc. Besides with the Turkish membership we would have a border with the EU, something which is obviously very positive. But we do not want an EU membership as 'a credit'. Let us not forget that negotiations have started with a country that keeps its borders closed to its neighbor, let alone the unresolved problems in the relations with Cyprus."[28]


[25] ESI Interview with Dr. Ruben Safrastyan, Director of the Oriental Studies Institute, Academy of Sciences of Armenia, 17, June, 2008

[27] Robert Kocharyan Letter to Prime Minister Erdogan, April 26, 2005

[28]        Robert Kocharian, ''La Turquie doit demander pardon'' (Turkey Must Apologize), Le Figaro, 19 February 2007.

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