Broken Olive Branches

The Turkish-Armenian treaty fails to address the issues most threatening to peace

A stern looking Armenian minister shook the hand of his smiling Turkish counterpart as cameras flashed and onlookers cheered: Such is an apt summary of last Saturday’s signing ceremony of the Turkish-Armenian peace treaty at the University of Zurich. Its aim was no less than to end a century of enmity and open up the borders between the two countries. Despite all the spectacle, however, the treaty still has a long way to go; it still faces the difficult task of being ratified by both parliaments. And, realistically, the chances of it doing so are unlikely—and for good reason. While an admirable gesture, the treaty fails to seriously address the problems at the root of the Turkish-Armenian conflict.

Certainly, a peace between the two countries would be ideal. Both countries have been at it for decades. Armenia has been pressuring Turkey for years to acknowledge the Armenian genocide that occurred during the Ottoman rule during the First World War, while Turkey continues to maintain that the massacre doesn’t fall into the category of genocide. Relations between the two countries took another ugly turn when Armenia invaded territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan back in 1993. Turkey, Azerbaijan’s ally, has since closed its border with Armenia.

Yet as it stands, the treaty leaves these main issues unresolved. While the agreement ensures that diplomatic ties will be established and borders opened, no mention can be found of either genocide or Azerbaijan; any peace it achieves will thus be unsustainable.

Current events reveal just how pressing the ignored issues are. During his tour of Armenian communities that took him to Paris, Beirut, and Moscow, Armenian President Serkh Sarkisyan was met by angry protesters and crowds calling him a traitor. And Facebook groups abound in which Lebanese-Armenians call for the closing of the Armenian parliament in order to prevent the ratification of the treaty.

True, the treaty does propose the creation of a historical commission that will look into the events of WWI. Yet Armenians fear that the events will be watered down, and they have legitimate right to be suspicious. Even the U.S. and Turkey went through a rough patch last year because of the issue, and Turkish officials are still reluctant to call the massacre a genocide. The patching-over of such a gaping huma-rights issue with something as insubstantial as a “commission” promises no real redress for Turkish wrongs.

On the other side, Turkey is still waiting for Armenia to withdraw its troops from the Azerbaijan territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. The dispute was not addressed by the treaty, despite the delay of the signing ceremony itself due to protests that such remarks were supposed to be part of the Turkish minister’s address; even hours before the signing of the treaty, these unresolved issues threatened to derail the peace process. And the Turkish prime minister still continues to threaten the closing of the country’s borders if Armenia doesn’t peacefully withdraw its forces, even though the treaty dictates the opening of the border within two months.

With such elephants still in the room, it would have been wise to delay signing the treaty until the problems have at least begun to be discussed. Until that time, any signing can only be premature, an empty gesture rather than a real political solution. In its current condition, the treaty resembles a band-aid trying to close a punctured artery: an admirable gesture, but a misguided one. And, if there’s any time to really address these issues, it’s now—left unresolved, they threaten to create deeper faults that might require another century to bridge.

Elias A. Shaaya ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Eliot House.

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