ArmInfo’s interview with turcologist Artak Shakaryan
by Ashot Safaryan
Would you comment on the latest developments in Turkey regarding the corruption scandal and resignation of high-ranking officials? Erdogan seems to be gradually losing power, doesn't he?
In fact, the current and the following years will be rather complicated for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Local elections are scheduled for March 30, presidential elections for August 30, and parliamentary elections will be held in May 2015. Turkey and Erdogan are preparing for the elections. Over 10 years in the prime minister's office Erdogan had a key partner – Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan was strengthening the positions of Gulen’s supporters, and most of them held key posts in the law-enforcement structures and other important sectors. However, Erdogan has recently started trying to weaken Gulen’s role in the domestic political processes in the country. He realized that Gulen’s supporters were becoming uncontrolled. Gulen’s supporters, in turn, were displeased with the growing authority of Erdogan and his actions during last year’s developments around Gezi Park in Istanbul. The Prime Minister decided to close the preparatory schools training future students. Those schools were the main income source for Gulen’s supporters, and they decided to take retaliatory measures, which resulted in the notorious corruption scandal.
Does Gulen enjoy foreign support?
Gulen’s supporters are first of all representatives of small and medium-sized businesses. Gulen’s ideology is very popular at schools. There are such schools in Central Asia, Azerbaijan. Russia also had such schools, but most of them have already closed. Gulen lives in the United States. Erdogan is trying to persuade everybody that it is the U.S. that has put Gulen against him. I think one should not completely rule out this version because the person, who has been living in the U.S. for about 20 years and has had an immense influence on Turkey’s policy, could not help catching the U.S. special services’ interest.
Has Gulen’s movement got a political figure to compete with Erdogan?
The thing is that Gulen has failed to create an alternative to the incumbent prime minister or, to be more accurate, an alternative to the ruling Justice and Development Party. At the local elections Gulen’s supporters are trying to cooperate with the opposition People’s Democratic Party to make things lively for Erdogan, but in fact, the People’s Democratic Party is Gulen’s opponent and their interaction is impossible within the long-term outlook. Such cooperation is out of question at both presidential and parliamentary elections. President Abdullah Gul has quite close relations with Gulen’s movement and Gulen may support Gul when it comes to the point. The first discord between the President and the Prime Minister arose during last year’s developments around Gezi Park. I think we are going to witness interesting developments in the near future.
You have repeatedly stated that on the threshold of the Armenian Genocide centenary the Turkish authorities will intensify their work with various structures of Armenian Diaspora in order to avoid an undesirable scenario for themselves. What can you say about that process now?
Indeed, Ankara is unprecedentedly active. Since September 2013 NGOs have actively been exchanging views through forums and workshops covering the issues of the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian-Turkish relations. There are a lot of experts from Armenia and Diaspora among the participants. We have also been invited but we have refused to take part in such events. I am convinced that in 2014 and 2015 the exchange of cultural programs and “handshakes” will be intensifying. The problem is that our Diaspora is not a single body and it is not clear whether a particular organization has the right to make statements on behalf of the whole Diaspora. It is much easier for Ankara to work with isolated structures of Diaspora and present their stance as the stance of the whole Diaspora. That is a real danger. Ankara’s policy to imitate a dialogue with Armenia and Armenians worldwide is also a threat.
What can you say about official meetings between Yerevan and Ankara?
I think there will be no contacts outside the agenda of the Zurich protocols. Official Yerevan has repeatedly and unambiguously stated that it is ready to normalize relations with Ankara only after ratification of the protocols. This reduces Ankara’s opportunities to maneuver.
How much will Armenia's accession to the Customs Union strengthen the country's positions in relations with Turkey?
I don't think Turkey will open the border with Armenia after the latter's accession to the Customs Union. There are no economic or political reasons for that. I believe that the talk about opening of the border is a disguised attempt to justify Armenia's accession to the Customs Union.
The Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources has recently said Iran intends to transport its gas to Europe via Turkey. May Armenia be finally ousted from the energy projects in the region?
The strategy of Ankara and Baku pursuing Armenia's ousting from energy projects in the region has always worked and will always work seriously damaging Armenia's economy. Yerevan has faced a deadlock: Georgia successfully cooperates with the Turkey-Azerbaijan tandem, as that cooperation meets its economic interests and helps in confrontation with Russia. As for Iran, this important regional actor, despite its friendly relations with Armenia, cannot refuse the exports of energy resources to Europe, especially after easing of international sanctions. Despite its big desire to see Armenia as a strong partner, Iran cannot objectively do anything to that end.