Interview with Ruben Safrastian

„It is impossible to set up barriers between us
and our neighbors in the 21. century“

YEREVAN, November 13 (Noyan Tapan). The Head of the Turkey Department of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the RA National Academy of Sciences, candidate of historical sciences Ruben Safrastian comments on the outcomes of the recent elections in Turkey, assesses their impact on the country’s domestic and foreign policies, including on Armenian-Turkish relations.

NT: What has conditioned such an outright victory of the „Justice & Development“ party?
RS: The victory of the „Justice & Development“ party is conditioned by the widespread discontent with the political elite that exists in modern Turkey. Only 10% of former legislators were returned to Parliament following the latest parliamentary vote, which means that 90% of the elected members are totally new people. „Justice & Development“ has only a one-year-long history, i.e. the party’s members are not identified with the current political elite. The Republican People’s Party, which represents the purest Kemalists, also entered the future Parliament by surmounting the 10% hurdle. It, too, had for many years been detached from power. So, these two parties, in fact, do not bear any responsibility for the current political and economic situation in Turkey. The results of the elections clearly show that there is a widespread discontent with the political elite in Turkey and the policy it has followed over the last decade.

NT: And what are the reasons for such a widespread discontent with the political elite in Turkey?And what are the reasons for such a widespread discontent with the political elite in Turkey?
RS: I think there is an ongoing structural crisis in Turkey, and its essence is as follows: the Turkish political system cannot serve and ensure further economic growth. Either this totally corrupt political system must collapse and be supplanted by a new political system, or it will remain in power and Turkey will continue to roll back economically. In fact, these elections came on the heels of the persisting crisis. We had first witnessed the change of the political elite start as new political forces came into politics. On the other hand, it is remarkable that the first one-party government has been set up in Turkey during the last decade and a half. Analysts expect this government to be capable of paving the way for the country’s economic growth and putting an end to the continuing economic crisis.

NT: Why wouldn’t the former authorities, known as pro-Western, foster economic growth in the country by their activities?
RS: The political elite has been engaged in intrigues, corruption features large in the country. Now, many of the ministers representing these very pro-Western parties are on the run. That is, the pro-Western political elite failed to create a political system that would meet the interests of Turkish economic development, and it is no coincidence that an outflow of foreign capital from Turkey started during recent years, still ahead of the crisis.

NT: Why do you think that the new authorities will manage to create appropriate conditions for economic growth?
RS: First, it will be a one-party government and it will enable both the Turkish Big Business and foreign investors to work more confidently. It is remarkable that Sakip Sabanci representing the Turkish majority welcomed the party’s victory immediately after the results of the elections had been announced. It was no coincidence. The „Justice & Development“ party leadership had held meetings with representatives of the Turkish Big Business and Western circles over recent months. The party had enlisted the support of both the Western Big Business and the Turkish military, which gave it the green light.

NT: What are the main provisions of the „Justice & Development“ program?
RS: As a matter of fact, „Islamist“ is merely a word. The main goal of the party is to become a type of European Christian-democratic party in Turkish conditions, i.e. not a politicized Islamic, not a radical Islamist party, but a kind of Christian-democratic party, which constitutes a part of the entire political system. The „Justice & Development“ party’s being welcomed by the Turkish military is conditioned also by its program and statements. According to the party’s program, Turkey must continue the policy of integration into the European Union. Turkey, maintaining its peculiarities as an Islamic state, becomes a part of the modern-day West. That is, to maintain traditions but economically become a part of the West.

NT: What is the party’s stance on the foreign policy affairs and, in particular, on the developments in the Caucasian region?
RS: On the one hand, it is declared that Turkey must continue its cooperation with the allied United States and work towards joining the EU. On the other hand, Turkey should not forget about the Eurasian direction either. Abdullah Gül, the party’s second person, stated that Turkey must carry out a more active policy in the Caucasus. In regards to Armenia, he formulated a totally new approach, which is not typical of the Turkish elite: „There are problems with Armenia that must be solved through developing economic relations.“ That is, no pre-condition is set. Taking into account the fact that Turkey has differences with Armenia, it is a totally new approach that coincides with Armenia’s approach. I think that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs must immediately respond to this approach. I consider it to be wrong that a few months ago, after meeting Ismail Cem, Minister Vardan Oskanian attached particular importance to the „New Turkey“ party, saying that we link improvement of our relations with our neighbor with the victory of pro-Western forces in Turkey. Meanwhile, Ismail Cem’s party polled a mere 1% of the vote. Of course, pre-election statements are one thing and real politics is a quite different thing. I find it difficult to say what the development of events will be. Here many things will depend both on the political situation and geopolitical relationships, as well as on Armenia’s policies: will Armenia be able to take advantage of this tendency or not?

NT: A number of observers fear lest broadened economic relations with Turkey should threaten Armenia, and first of all its economic security.
RS: Every state, cooperating with other countries, must defend its economic interests. This, of course, will be a difficult process for Armenia. We must be able to defend our interests, secure our markets and encourage our producers. But in any case it is impossible in the 21st century to set up barriers with neighbors. I think that similar policies have no future; sooner or later these relations must be developed. Such relations with Iran are beneficial for Armenia. There are some calculations that if borders with Turkey are opened, Armenia will have a benefit of some $300 million annually. In any case, Armenia’s national security is ensured not by the absence of those economic relations, but by four basic principles: military cooperation with Russia, the CIS Collective Security Treaty, cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace Program, and military cooperation with the United States over the last few years.

Source: Noyan Tapan, November 13, 2002

Credit to Noyan Tapan

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