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Serzh Sargsian (president since 2008) on Turkey

Serzh Sarkisian
Serzh Sarkisian

Like his predecessor Robert Kocharian, Serzh Sargsian, Armenia's third president, was born in Nagorno-Karabakh. Like Kocharian, he was born in 1954. Having graduated in philology from Yerevan State University, Sargsian was an active member of the Communist party in Karabakh since the late 1970s. In 1988, he became involved in the Karabakh national movement. After heading the Karabakh defence forces, he became the Defence Minister of Armenia. Since 1993 Sargsian has held top ministerial positions in every Armenian government and is the longest serving top official in the history of the Armenian Republic. After the sudden death of Prime Minister Andranik Margarian in the spring of 2007, Sargsian became Prime Minister and leader of the governing Republican Party. In 2008, he was elected President.

Sargsian's presidency opened new prospects for Turkish-Armenian relations. Sargsian has shown more initiative than his predecessor in pursuing dialogue with Turkey. In principle, however, his positions do not differ greatly from Kocharian's. Genocide recognition is still on Armenia's foreign political agenda. Like Kocharian, Sargsian has stuck to the "relations without preconditions" approach vis--vis Turkey.

On 23 June 2008, during a meeting with members of the Armenian diaspora in Russia, Sargsian made a groundbreaking statement in favour of engaging with Turkey. (Talks between Armenian and Turkish diplomats had already been under way for months.) As Sargsian put it:

"Armenia's position is clear: in the 21st century borders between neighbouring countries must not be closed. Regional cooperation could be the best means of supporting stability. The Turkish side offers to form a commission that would study historical facts. We don't oppose the creation of such a commission, but when the border between the states is open. Otherwise, it could become a matter of delaying the issue for years and a means of abuse. In the near future I am intent on taking new steps furthering the Armenian-Turkish relations. Most probably, I will invite the Turkish President Abdullah Gul to Yerevan so that we could together watch the football match between Armenia and Turkey."[29]

Sargsian's press secretary later clarified that "the creation of such a commission would be logical only after the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border between our countries. Otherwise, it could become a tool for dragging out and exploiting the existing problems."

Media outlets sympathetic to Levon Ter Petrossian were to attack Sargsian relentlessly over his speech. Anna Hakobian and her Haykakan Jamanak colleagues accused the new President of genocide denial and treason. Haykakan Jamanak soon linked Sargsian's foreign policy to the domestic political situation. Commenting on Sargsian's first 100 days in office, Hakobian wrote that the president is "rejected by everyone. And that is the reason that he is trying by all means to establish relations with Turkey. Serzh Sargsian thinks this might help distract the international community and Armenian society from Armenia's domestic problems and to focus their attention, say, on the real possibility of opening the Armenian-Turkish border."[30]

After Gul's visit to Yerevan the opposition press, aggrieved at what they believed was a policy of appeasement towards Turkey, dubbed Sargsian "Serzhik Efendi".[31] But Serzh Sargsian stuck to his position. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he reiterated his stance, with a note of optimism:

"We wish to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries without preconditions, to open the borders, and after that we can discuss on the intergovernmental level the whole range of issues existing between neighbor states. We do not put the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey as a precondition for the establishment of bilateral relations. We wish to establish relations but not at any cost. In the past the European nations did not create any commissions for the establishment of normal relations either. Such a step could also mean an attempt to mislead the international community, especially when the process could last for years."[32]

Meeting with the Iranian Armenian community Sargsian argued against those who attack him that the rapprochement with Turkey is being preceded at some cost:

"The Armenian-Turkish relations are being discussed in Armenian, Turkish and international media at length. Sometimes, suppositions or prognosis or good wishes are being presented as facts. The truth is we are ready to establish normal relations with Turkey without preconditions. Up to date Turkey has not been ready to do it. Now it looks like there are come possibilities of exiting that unacceptable situation when neighboring states do not even have diplomatic relations. But here, in this hall, I want to say once again that to establish relations with Turkey does not mean to abandon the Genocide issue."[33]


[30] Anna Hakobyan, "Until August 1 and afterwards", Haykakan Jamanak, Editorial article, July 8, 2008

[31] Nikol Pashinyan, Haykakan Jamanak Editorial, October 29, 2008

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