Former Turkish President: “What happens if we compromise with the Armenians and end this issue?”

Today’s Zaman daily in Turkey recently published a story about Turkey’s ex-president Turgut Ozal’s “pro-Armenian policy” with reference to his former assistants and friends.

Vehbi Dincerler, 71, a former education minister and a state minister in Ozal's Cabinet, cited his leader’s words on recognition of the Armenian Genocide:

“Ozal said: ‘Let's take the initiative and find the truth. Let's pay the political and economic price, if necessary.' However, the military strongly opposed such an approach,” Dincerler said.

Hasan Celal Güzel, who served in Ozal's government, said the military establishment perceived Ozal's moderate approach and policies on the Armenian and Kurdish issues as concessions. After Ozal's death, his policies of compromising with the Armenians were abandoned.

Ozal was the president of Turkey between1989-1993. (He died while in office in 1993 from a heart attack, the official reports said; many, including his family, however, accuse Turkey’s special task forces of killing Ozal.)

“…Ozal came up with the idea that Turkey could reconcile and make peace with the Armenians, who had earned the title ‘millet-i sadıka' [loyal nation] during the Ottoman era. He wanted to open the door for a return of Armenians to Turkey. No one has made a move since. Had he not died, he might have solved this issue,” Guzel told Today's Zaman.

The collapse of the Soviet Union happened at the time of his tenure, and it was Ozal who initiated the formation of a block of six Turkic countries – Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – under the aegis of Ankara.

The politician, indeed, periodically would resort to shocking revelations and provoke tension among the Turkish establishment.

At the beginning of the Karabakh war he publicly stated that official Baku’s reaction to the Armenian nation’s demand of self-determination for the people of Nagorno Karabakh was ill-conceived.

“An act of goodwill by our brothers, namely, satisfying such [Nagorno Karabakh’s] demand would be accepted with great enthusiasm by Armenians and soon Armenia itself would become a Turkic state,” he said.

The president was referring to not only the significant increase of Armenia’s Azeri population, but also merging of Armenians in a Turkic environment conditioned by transparency of borders and Turkish economic expansion.

In 1991 during a reception at Madison Hotel in New York, Ozal said in front of diplomats and journalists after a meeting with representatives of the Armenian lobby: “What happens if we compromise with the Armenians and end this issue?”

Former Turkish Ambassador to the United States Nuzhet Kandemir publicized this suggestion, which was of great speculation in the Turkish press.

Years later Istanbul-based Marmara paper cited Kandemir as saying: “Ozal was fond of expressing extraordinary ideas from time to time to stir a discussion. The Armenian genocide issue was one such idea. Later we talked it over with the president and talked him out it.”

But in 1991 the audience was shocked at Ozal’s words, as was the Turkish public; the Turkish foreign ministry officers and Ambassador Kandemir were horrified.

Back then Kandemir responded (extract from a newspaper): “With due respect Mr. President, it’s not an issue that can be solved hastily. We have to think it over and be very careful.”

And now, two decades later, Today’s Zaman has published a new article.

Dincerler told the newspaper that during his term as prime-minister and then president Ozal sought to learn what Armenians wanted from Turkey through Americans. “In 1984 he ordered his advisors to work on possible scenarios about the economic and political price Turkey would have to pay if Turkey compromises with the Armenian diaspora, an early Turkish acceptance of the term “genocide.” Another scenario was also prepared. This plan sought to gauge the political cost of a Turkish acceptance of genocide within 20 to 30 years if Turkey is forced to accept it one day,” writes Today’s Zaman.

Another, even more sensational, statement has been made by Suleyman Roman, who worked with Ozal in the 1980s on several projects.

He told Today’s Zaman that the former prime-minister and president was planning on returning some lands to Armenians in Van. He added that Ozal could not make concrete progress in the project, facing strong opposition.

Obviously, even if the Turkish leader did say something like that, it wasn’t in the context of territorial concessions, but in a format of changes and amendments in the legislation forbidding Armenians to purchase “their own accommodation” in their historical motherland.

The former president viewed the prospect of recognizing the Armenian Genocide as a non-committal political gesture that would free the country of the tough pressure on the part of Armenian lobby and would be perceived by the world community as an act of goodwill.