YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — An ethnic Turk leading a major German political party urged Turkey to unconditionally establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia as he ended a visit to Yerevan on Monday.
Cem Özdemir, the co-chairman of the Alliance ‘90/The Greens party, also predicted that Ankara will eventually recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
“I think Turkey will do that sooner or later,” Özdemir told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “It’s a matter of time. I don’t know when it will happen. But I’m sure one day it will happen.”
“I don’t see a reason why Turkish leaders could not show that courage,” he said. “It’s not about the past. It’s about the future. Addressing the past opens the path towards the future.”
Underlining his own recognition of the Armenian genocide, Özdemir laid flowers at the genocide memorial in Yerevan at the start of his trip on March 12. President Serzh Sarkisian praised his stance on the issue when received the German Greens leader later on that day.
While allowing greater public debate on the sensitive issue and offering first-ever condolences of descendants of the genocide victims, the current Turkish government stands by its predecessors’ strong denial of a deliberate Ottoman government effort to wipe out the Armenian population of the crumbling empire. Ankara has caused outrage among many Armenians by scheduling this year’s commemoration of a Turkish victory in a First World War battle for April 24, the day that will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the genocide.
Özdemir criticized the timing of the official Turkish ceremonies to remember the Battle of Gallipoli but expressed confidence they will not deflect international attention from the genocide centennial. “It won’t work because Turks remember that [the Gallipoli ceremonies] never took place on April 24,” he said. “It is the first time that they will take place on April 24.”
Özdemir, whose opposition party controls 10 percent of seats in the German Bundestag, also stressed the importance of normalizing Turkey’s relations with Armenia. “My message to President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, if I have a chance to talk to him, would be: open the border with Armenia — that would be a gesture on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide — and name the border after Hrant Dink. That would be another gesture to remember Hrant, who served all his life to bring Armenians and Turks together,” he said, referring to the prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist assassinated in Istanbul in 2007.
“And then of course, after the border is opened, a lot of things would be much easier,” the German politician went on. “Turks and Armenians would meet each other. The Turkish economy could invest in Armenia. It would also help Armenia to move closer towards Europe.”
Successive Turkish governments have made the normalization of their relations with Yerevan conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would satisfy Azerbaijan, Turkey’s main regional ally. They have accepted Baku’s claims that an open border would only encourage the Armenians to maintain the Karabakh status quo.
Özdemir insisted, however, that a Turkish-Armenian normalization would only facilitate a Karabakh settlement. “I personally believe that it would make it easier to negotiate between Armenia and Azerbaijan once Turkey could be an honest broker,” he said. “You can help bring the two sides together if you have diplomatic relations with both countries.”