Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DLFAPA, FACPsa.

From history to realpolitik in Armenian-Turkish relations 
ݝbrahim Kalın


BBC covered the story as a "landmark visit to Armenia." CNN called it "football diplomacy."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy applauded the visit as "courageous and historic."
Back home, President Abdullah Gül was criticized for going too soft on the Armenian issue. No matter how one describes it, Gül's visit to Yerevan last week, the first of its kind, could be the beginning of a new era in Turkish-Armenian relations.
The Russian-Georgian war once more revealed the fragile nature of the Caucasus region. While the Western bloc and Russia battle over their spheres of influence in the world system, Turkish-Armenian relations have become critical again. While Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Armenia in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the two countries have had no diplomatic relations since then. In addition to the baseless Armenian genocide claims, Armenia invaded about 20 percent of Azerbaijan in 1993, and this led to the closure of the Turkish-Armenian border soon after. Now, landlocked Armenia is stuck with a small population and a smaller economy. If Armenia wants to prosper, it has to review its geo-strategic and geopolitical priorities.
A new geo-strategic approach to the region means opening new lines of communication with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Improving relations with Turkey, the largest economy of the region besides Russia, would benefit Armenia more than Turkey. Armenia has a chance to become part of the world's largest energy corridors. But it cannot claim its share unless and until it adopts a more rational policy toward its two neighbors: Turkey and Azerbaijan. (For more on this, see the new SETA brief on Gul's visit at
A new geopolitical approach means reviewing Yerevan's global priorities. Armenia is in a delicate situation: On the one hand, it has very close ties to Russia. In some ways, Russia uses Armenia as a little outpost in the Caucasus. On the other hand, the Armenian diaspora has a palpable presence and influence in the USA. The paradox is that the American-Armenian community refuses to have any relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and a strategic ally of the USA. They accuse Turkey of denying the "Armenian holocaust." They think pressuring Turkey on genocide claims will give them some leeway. Well, this is simply bad logic. Turks and Armenians are too alike -- they will not give in to psychological pressure.
Last week, I had a chance to sit down with Professor Vamık Volkan in Washington, D.C. Volkan is the number one world expert in political psychology and has done work on many hotspots and troubled areas around the world. He agrees that it is time to move from history and emotions to realpolitik in the Turkish-Armenian relations. Volkan hailed President Gül's visit as a courageous and timely step. He added that high-level talks with a strategic outlook can bring about a breakthrough. "We need a new key to sort out some of these problems," he said. The new key Volkan speaks about is buried not in history but in the realpolitik of today.
In the short term, no breakthroughs should be expected in the Armenian genocide claims or in the Armenian invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh. What may happen, though, is that some of the psychological barriers can be removed and some strategic talk can begin. This is something Yerevan appreciates more than the Armenian diaspora. As in other diasporas, the Armenian diaspora communities are more adamant about genocide claims than the home country, Armenia. The issue is not simply about the checkered relationship between the two countries. It is also about the "genocide business" and the fact that the Armenian diaspora finds a unifying cause in it.
Turkey and Armenia stand to gain from developing a regional perspective. Just as President Gül accepted the invitation from his Armenian counterpart, Yerevan should accept Turkey's gesture to start a new period. Regional stability, security, economic cooperation, cultural interaction and diplomatic relations can set the Turkish-Armenian relations on a new course. And it should. Turkey should separate Yerevan from the selfish priorities of the Armenian diaspora. It should follow a proactive policy and move toward opening the border between the two countries and give real people, not just the elites, a chance to work and live together. The Caucasus crisis presents daunting challenges. But it may prove to be an opportunity for Turks and Armenians to start on a new page in the current maelstrom of international relations.
Copyright © Vamık D. Volkan and Özler Aykan 2007.
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Editor: Ö–zler AYKAN
Last modified on: Apr 20, 2016