Armenia’s Leaders Should not Allow A Turkish Spin on Their Messages

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Armenia’s Leaders Should not Allow A Turkish Spin on Their Messages

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

Facing a large and powerful historic enemy on their western border, Armenians have to muster all of their resources to defend the political interests of their nascent homeland. In this battle of David vs. Goliath, Armenia’s relatively inexperienced leaders are pitted against highly sophisticated Turkish diplomats who are aided and abetted by the neo-cons in Washington, the Israeli lobby, and highly skilled American consultants.

One of the things Armenians need to do to strengthen their hand in this uneven struggle is to be much more pro-active than their Turkish counterparts. Armenians have to take the initiative in setting the agenda on Turkish-Armenian relations and putting the spin on their own messages and actions.

To illustrate this point, I would like to cite three recent examples where Armenia did not take the initiative and did not control its own message, thereby allowing the Turks and others to interpret and manipulate the Armenian position on sensitive political issues.

Pres. Kocharian gave an interview to prominent Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand in February 2001, during which he discussed several important issues, including the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and whether or not Armenians would make any territorial claims from Turkey. Birand broadcast the President’s interview on Turkish TV after having his words translated, rather mistranslated, from Armenian into Turkish. The interview generated a lot of controversy among Armenians worldwide, as Pres. Kocharian was made to say in translation that Armenia had no claims from Turkey. TV viewers could not hear Kocharian’s own words, only a voice-over in Turkish. The President’ s comments were further distorted when they were translated from Turkish into English and published in the Turkish Daily News. Incredibly, the Armenian media printed the interview, after re-translating Pres. Kocharian’s words from Turkish and English back into Armenian! Surprisingly, the President’s press secretary did not release the original Armenian text of the interview, even after the worldwide criticism of the words attributed to Kocharian. Equally disconcerting was the fact that the interview was initiated by David Phillips, the moderator of TARC, trying to “mollify [Turkish] concerns about Armenia’s intentions.”

The second incident took place last month when Pres. Kocharian, in response to a question from a Yerevan State University student, said that no Armenian official had demanded land from Turkey. This issue would have to be taken up by a future President, Kocharian wisely told the students. These remarks were broadcast on Armenia’s State TV. Since the President’s press secretary did not release the text of Kocharian’s comments, the Turkish and international media reported various distorted versions of what the President actually said. Almost all of them wrongly reported Kocharian as saying that Armenia had no territorial claims from Turkey! Once again, the President’s press secretary issued no transcript, no clarification and no correction. It was left up to others, including Armenia’s enemies, to present and misrepresent what the president had said.

The third example is the letter sent by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to President Kocharian on April 10, 2005, suggesting that a joint Turkish-Armenian commission of historians be set up to study “the events of 1915.” In order to put the Armenian side on the defensive, the Turkish leaders informed the international media about this letter even before Kocharian had received his copy. Furthermore, trying to pressure Kocharian into accepting their proposal, the Turkish officials cleverly (and in contravention of diplomatic protocol) released a copy of the letter to members of the U.S. Congress. Congressmen Ed Whitfield and Robert Wexler, members of the Turkish-American Friendship Group, forwarded the letter on April 20 to all members of Congress touting the Turkish government’s “historic step” and urging Pres. Kocharian to respond positively to Ankara’s “olive branch.” The Turks’ true intent was to influence Pres. Bush’s April 24 statement. It worked. Pres. Bush endorsed Erdogan’s initiative in his statement. German Chancellor Gerhardt Shroeder also supported this initiative, while Armenia’s leaders were still mulling over their response. Finally, two weeks later, on April 25, Pres. Kocharian responded to Erdogan’ s letter, suggesting that normal relations be established between the two countries and an intergovernmental commission be set up “to discuss any and all outstanding issues.” It was a well thought out response, but it had two problems: 1) It was sent long after Erdogan’s letter had made its impact on the international community; and 2) the President’s press secretary, once again, did not bother to release the text of Kocharian’s response, leaving it up to the Turks and others to selectively disclose what Armenia’s President had said and put their own spin on it.

Until Armenia’s leaders begin to take the initiative in such matters, disclose to the media the text of their statements, and put their own spin on them first, the Turks and others would do it for them. Ankara shrewdly keeps on taking the initiative and misrepresenting Armenia’s position on sensitive political issues. All of the lobbying efforts of Armenians worldwide will continue to go to waste, until Armenian officials start to take the initiative and control the message. Armenia is in desperate need of not medical, but “spin doctors!”

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