Accéder au contenu principal

Armenia, Israel and wild Turkey - Part 1

The dramatic deterioration of the Turkish-Israeli alliance after the publication of the UN report on the flotilla incident displays some quite interesting features both from an Armenian standpoint and from a more comprehensive one. We are not dealing here with Turkey’s usual blackmail policy toward anyone who dares to thwart its will but with the difference between Armenia and Israel regarding these blackmails and with the present prospect of Turkey’s foreign policy.

The Mavi Marmara episode :  the end
 of a"strategic partnership"
Yet, from a geopolitical point of view, Israel and Armenia seem to share some common characteristics: they are small countries with few natural resources and with reduced populations located in a globally hostile and complex environment. Accordingly, they are forced to stand by global players if not superpowers. In this comprehensive framework, Armenia had to put aside the genocide issue, to downplay its reluctance toward Turkey and was pushed by a conjunction of interests to embark upon a gesture of goodwill which led to the so-called “football diplomacy” and eventually to the protocol agreement signed in October 2009 under the patronage of usual worldwide overlords.

Starting from a far different history, Israel used to consider Turkey as a factor of moderation, secularity and stability in the Muslim world. This fantasy was supported by the strong Turkish communication policy which permanently recalled advantageous events such as its welcome of fleeing European Jews during WWII[1] while it kept silent about opposite signals, for instance how it looted and penned its domestic Jews and Armenians in concentration camps during the same period under the notorious Varlik Vergisi regime[2]. Therefore, starting from mere commercial agreements, Israel progressively reached tactical and military agreements which finally led to a strategic partnership, mainly directed toward their supposed common foes, Iran and Syria. Obviously, this partnership was consolidated under the favorable aegis of the United States from the 90s to the 2000s.

Yenikoy Surp Asdvadzadzin Church:
an building to be given back to the
Turkish Armenian community
For both Armenia and Israel however, the honeymoon period has come to an end. Regarding Armenia, the process was quite mild: using various alibis – such as the opposition of the CHP and other nationalistic factions, the Artsakh[3] conflict with Azerbaijan – the Turkish Parliament refused to ratify the protocols with Armenia. These protocols were eventually removed from the agenda of the Parliament, thus ending this controversial episode. In order to distract the International community from this setback, but also to control the possible damage of some recent US Court decisions about the Armenian looted assets[4], the Turkish government spread around that it will return a minor fraction of these assets[5] to its religious minorities, a decision that was critically assessed by the supposed heirs of this restitution[6].

Regarding Israel, the visible beginning of the end of the “strategic partnership” may be dated back to the famous Davos summit, in January 2009, when Recep Erdogan publicly insulted Shimon Peres, calling him a child-murderer in reference to the Palestinian conflict. The situation clearly aggravated in May 2010 when Israel blocked the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship, allegedly sent to deliver some “humanitarian” aid to the Gaza strip but actually operated by Turkish Islamists and maybe by their secret services too. In this operation, Israeli forces injudiciously killed nine Turkish citizens, triggering Turkey’s hysteria. Since then, the Turkish triumvirate – Gül, Erdogan, Davutoglu – endlessly demands apologies from Israel, something that Tel-Aviv cannot and will not accept. These last days, the UN report on the Mavi Marmara incident just strengthened Turkey’s intransigence and Ankara eventually expelled the Israeli ambassador and cut any political, military or commercial relations with the Jewish State. Some Israeli passengers transiting by Istanbul were even briefly retained and Turkey even alluded to a possible military intervention when it mentioned that its future “humanitarian” ships toward Gaza would be escorted by some military vessels. 

Armenia forced to play politics, not Israel

The ratification of notorious protocols
between Armenia and Turkey
In this succession of events both the form and the substance are interesting. Let us start with the form: Actually, a first point which is worth examining is the comparative responses of Armenia and Israel when faced with the very same and authentic Turkish brutality and arrogance. The contrast between the Armenian moderation and the Israeli anger is really striking. Since the signature of the protocols Armenia, upon which the agreement had been forced, has played it quite cleverly, using both political and juridical arguments. On the one hand, it constantly said that it would place the protocols on the Parliament’s agenda as soon as they were ratified by Turkey. On the other hand, the Armenian government seized the Constitutional Court which confirmed the protocols’ validity but which denied any strong impact of these protocols on both the Artsakh conflict and the Armenia-Turkey border[7]. The apparent Armenian goodwill put the pressure from the International community on Turkey and Ankara finally but discretely dismissed the protocols which were once signed in style.

The situation is clearly different for Israel on which Ankara’s demands for apologies and compensation progressively became an ultimatum. Recently, Ahmet Davutoglu even dared to reject the US mediation in this dispute. Facing this intransigence, Netanyahu’s government didn’t try at all to mitigate its position or to play smart politics. It just launched communication campaigns, mainly toward the United States’ decision-makers, through the pro-Israeli Medias and its usual AIPAC-like lobbies. In an unprecedented move, Avigdor Liebermann, the hardliner Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs even mentioned that its country could help the passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution in the US Senate and could even “be supporting Armenia in its dispute with Turkey over control of Mount Ararat”, an alleged demand that official Armenia itself has refused to formulate up to now.

Military capability determines political attitude

Elbit 450:  an advanced Israeli drone boughr by Azerbaijan
Clearly, the Israeli stance is backed by its actual military capability and its technological advance, even more than by its strong leverage on the US policy. Its nuclear weapons aside, Israel has developed an impressive military industry which has produced high-tech weapons and equipped even some Western powers. With companies such as Elbit, TAT Technologies, IWI or IMI, Israel is able to provide its army with light weapons but also with Merkavas tanks, F-16-like aircrafts or even advanced missiles or drones. Thanks to its electronic industries, it is also regularly selected to reengineer military equipments, including in Arabic countries or … in Turkey. Israel is now the fourth international weapons provider and its exports amounted to 5.7 billion dollars in 2007. Obviously this capability is built upon a strong scientific community which places the country at the topmost level of relevant rankings[8]. In this context, an unlikely clash in the Eastern Mediterranean See between Israel and Turkish vessels would probably prove disastrous for the latter, providing the fact that some of the Turkish warfare technologies were bought in Israel.

Armenia admitted owning Russian S-300
In contrast, Armenia which shares a ground border with Turkey is far from having the same assets as Israel. Since the fall of the USSR, Armenia started a reconversion of its economy which was then mainly based on heavy industry. If Yerevan made some barely disputable choices – such as reviving agriculture – it largely neglected its scientific and technological potential to base its growth on real estate construction and on trade. As a result, Armenia’s military and technological capability is quite substantial but strongly dependent on its big Russian supplier, not to mention the Russian units which protect the Armenia-Turkey border. The recent announcement by Armenia than it operates S-300 missiles[9] and that it could even purchase S-400 missiles exemplifies this dependence[10]. Therefore, though Israel also depends on foreign suppliers for its security, Armenia is by far more dependent and accordingly needs to play politics more than the Jewish State. However, this constraint can turn out to be an advantage: with its quite smart position, Armenia succeeded to appear as the Good and to hinder Turkey’s regional schemes. On the contrary, Israel with all its military assets is now seen as the Villain by most of the players, however Ugly Armenia’ and Israel’ common foe - Turkey - may seem.

Pdf version of this article is available  Scribd 

[1] A fact which is now seriously questioned by Turkish scholars. See for instance Ayse Hür in Taraf, December 2007, “Türk Schindleri Efsaneleri” (in Turkish, “The Turkish Schindlers Myth”). Another strong opposite signal never mentioned by Turkey’s communication policy is the strong anti-Semitic mood of its population. Thus, Mein Kampf is known to have been a bestseller for years. It is sold in cheap paperback editions.

[2] It is a remarkable evidence of continuity that the deportees were sent to Askale (Armenian plateau), i.e. exactly where the Armenian intellectuals had been sent and killed at the beginning of the Armenian Genocide 27 years earlier.

[3] Formerly termed Nagorno-Karabakh under the Soviet period.

[4] In December 2010, Armenian Americans filed a suit against two Turkish banks and the Republic of Turkey for the alleged seizure of their ancestors’ properties, located on the present US military base of Incirlik. After having been noticed twice, including through the US Department of State, Turkey and the banks refused the service of the lawsuit (06/20/2011). They were thus given granted two months by the Court to answer the complaint, but they did not, risking to be ruled against it in absentia. The Court granted them an extension to September 19 to prepare for court proceedings and they finally replied these last days.

[5] Only those stolen after 1936, i.e. during the Varlik Vergisi period, are encompassed by this measure. The gigantic spoliation during the Genocide and before is of course not addressed by this decision.

[6] Aram I, the Armenian Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia issued a critical open letter to Erdogan. Check Armenian Weekly.

[7] For a more detailed analysis, check “Constitutional Court Limits Protocols’ Damage to Armenian National Interests”, Harut Sassounian, Asbarez, January 2010.

[9] Armenia confirms possession of S-300 missiles,, December 2010.

[10] An opinion which is altered neither by the notable shot down of an Azeri drone by the Armenian forces in Artsakh, neither by the marginal display of first-ever Armenia-made drones during the military parade that came with the 20th anniversary of independence.