The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Not working out so well

January 11, 2011

Although it received comparatively little attention in the US, the State Department’s attempt to push for Turkish-Armenian normalization was one of the great foreign-policy follies of the early Obama Administration. There was little chance that the Turkish public would accept normalization absent some kind of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) settlement; the political viability of normalization in Armenia wasn’t much greater, particularly given hostility among the Armenian Diaspora to normalization sans recognition of the “Armenian Genocide.”

To make matters more fun, successful normalization would have further isolated Azerbaijan, jeopardizing the Northern Distribution Network and possibly convincing Baku to attempt to seize NK by military force.

But, the process failed, and thus merely strained US-Turkish and US-Azerbaijan relations.

I mention all of this because RFE/RFL has a story that encapsulates this comedy of errors:

It was meant as a symbol of friendship that would help to heal the wounds of a long history of bloodshed, bitterness, and recrimination between Turkey and Armenia.

Instead, an imposing monument in the eastern Turkish city of Kars near the two countries’ border threatens to become yet another victim of their tortured relations after incurring the wrath of Turkey’s mercurial prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a visit to Kars on January 8, Erdogan showed emphatically that he was unimpressed by the sculpture’s subliminal message of peace by denouncing it as a “freak” and calling for its demolition. The prime minister, a former Islamist, voiced particular display that the towering structure threatened to overshadow the shrine of Hasan Harakani, a revered 11th-century Muslim figure. […]

Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan, Armenia country director at the Eurasia Foundation, even goes as far as agreeing with Erdogan’s critique of the Kars statute, saying it is typical of sub-standard memorials to the Turkish-Armenian conflict built over the years.

“I have seen myself that monument [and] I fully agree with Mr. Erdogan,” Ter-Gabrielyan says. “That’s a horrible construct and we know that many horrible constructs have been erected, both in Turkey and Armenia and it would be great if there was perhaps some kind of joint commission created which would evaluate the aesthetical, architectural and environmental significance of the monuments and buildings that are being constructed in eastern Turkey and today’s Armenia.”

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.