Adversarial States

Building Israel’s Brand: An Interview with Ambassador Ido Aharoni


Ambassador Ido Aharoni is a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program, and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign Service, and took part in the back-channel negotiations between Israel and Palestine that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords. In 2002, Aharoni launched the Brand Israel Group, an independent group of marketing and branding specialists, creating the foundation for what would later become the Brand Israel program. In his role as senior advisor and press secretary to Israel’s Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, Aharoni introduced nation branding methods and country positioning strategies as pillars of Israel’s public diplomacy. He was appointed Israel’s first head of brand management in 2007. Ambassador Aharoni is currently serving as Global Distinguished Professor at New York University’s School of International Relations.

Public Diplomacy Magazine Staff Editor Maria Lattouf Abou Atmi spoke with Aharoni about the positioning and possibilities for the place branding of Jerusalem as a tool of Israeli public diplomacy toward Palestine.

The “golden crown” capital city of the world’s major religions is also one of the most contested locations around the world, with Israel and Palestine both laying claim to Jerusalem as their capital. How does Israel’s branding of Jerusalem challenge the Palestinian argument for the city?

Ambassador Ido Aharoni: Your question raises two separate issues: the first is the question relating to the existence of a formal branding effort in Jerusalem. To the best of my knowledge, there is no one comprehensively-designed plan to brand the city of Jerusalem. While there has certainly been a great effort on the part of the city leadership to generate eclectic programming, this hardly qualifies as a full-blown place branding effort. A coherent strategy is still lacking, in my humble opinion. The second issue that emerges from your question has to do with the role of “branding.” Places attempt to brand themselves for a variety of reasons; foreign policy is one motive, but it is not the most important one. Holistic place branding, the kind I believe in, is meant to improve the performance of a place across the board: investment, trade, tourism, image, culture, policy, and exchange. When a place is defined by its problem—that’s bad news. The role of Jerusalem’s marketers would be to aspire to enhance the performance of the city, without shying away from the political controversy on the one hand, but also without letting the problems define the place on the other.

As a sub-brand of Brand Israel, Jerusalem has considerable power and attracts significant attention on the global stage. Under your leadership, the Brand Israel Group launched campaigns to brand Jerusalem as a cultural and creative hotspot, rather than a hallowed historical location. Can you describe the elements that went into this decision and how Palestine’s claim to the city factored into your analysis?

The Brand Israel program, which I co-founded in 2002 and led between the years 2007-2010, did not brand Jerusalem as a separate sub-brand. The strategy was designed for the entire country of Israel, including Jerusalem. The purpose was to highlight Israel’s competitive edge: its ability to nurture and facilitate creativity in all walks of life. The branding of places is not, as one might gather from the way the question is phrased, a political instrument nor a crisis management mechanism. Branding is not about campaigns, logos, and slogans. Those could certainly be utilized in the process, but essentially, place branding is about the ability to implement a long-term strategy for a place. Unlike a political campaign that has a clear deadline, place branding is a never-ending effort. The Big Apple is a strategic personality designed for New York. It has no expiration date. Branding is the deliberate creation of a mental picture through the coordination of activities that attract a number of audiences.

How did your public diplomacy efforts to brand Jerusalem address the Palestinian claim and conflict?

The branding of places is about the place itself and not about its perceived competition, whether political or economic. The first step is to conduct research to identify the place’s weaknesses as well as its advantages. The strategy then emerges from the research. The strategy is the overarching principle that guides all that you do from that point on. It is primarily about Israel and its assets, the attractive offerings it could bring to the table, its relevance to the consumer, and its place in the family of nations. Sadly, some Palestinian well-wishers claim that Israel has no right to promote itself. In their eyes, every place has the inherent right to promote itself—except Israel, because they disagree with some of its policies. To those people, even Iran and North Korea, both habitual violators of human rights, have the right to promote themselves in the world—but Israel does not. This kind of discrimination has a name: anti-Semitism. When you say, “Everybody is welcome to this club, except blacks, Jews, or gays,” that is the epitome of bigotry. The branding of Israel, meaning the effort to put Israel’s best foot forward, is primarily meant to improve the country’s economic performance. It does not and should not come at the expense of any of Israel’s neighbors. In fact, it was the Arab League in 1945 (three years before statehood) that decided to boycott Israel. The boycott forced Israel to develop new markets beyond the Middle East. Today, Israel’s biggest trade partner is the European Union, it is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and its GDP per capita is approaching the European level. None of those things can be said about the boycotters themselves. Surely, Israel could benefit from a strong Palestinian brand. Unfortunately, their main efforts are not directed at promoting their offerings to the world but rather delegitimizing Israel. It is sad because the Palestinian people deserve better leadership.

In today’s fast-paced media environment, public engagement and responses provide immediate feedback to campaign efforts. What reactions did the Jerusalem sub-brand inspire from Palestinians and the larger international community?

Research indicated that Jerusalem is a better recognized brand name internationally than, say, Tel Aviv. It is a very powerful brand name, associated with holiness and religiosity and, sadly, with conflict, too. The idea is not to shy away from the conflict but rather to make sure that the place is not solely defined by its problems. The same goes for any other place into world. Does Chicago want to be known for its high crime rate or its cultural gems? Obviously, Jerusalem is a city that many millions all over the world cherish and deeply care about, with many Palestinians among them. That is exactly why the administrators of the city introduced, legally and culturally, the complete freedom of worship and the right to open access of holy sites to all. We as Israelis should know why this is so important. During the years 1948-1967, when the Western Wall was under Jordanian rule, Jews were denied access to their religion’s holiest site.

History shows us that although successful brands are based in reality, they can also be aspirational and inspirational, as “I Love New York” was in the 1970s. Can Jerusalem be positioned as a place of openness, or used as a tool to find common ground with Palestine?

Certainly. This is the hope of every person who cares about the city. My own family came to Jerusalem in 1870 from Boukhara, located in today’s Uzbekistan. There is nothing more that the people of Jerusalem would like to see than peace and tranquility.

What lessons does the battle for Jerusalem’s brand offer for practitioners of public diplomacy, particularly those working to brand cities with contested histories?

The battle is political and must be resolved in the realm of politics and foreign affairs. Regardless, the lessons from any place branding are universal: define your competitive edge and then effectively communicate it to relevant audiences.


New Technologies Help Address Old Conflicts: Digital Diplomacy is an Important Tool in this Uncertain Brexit Era

In his book, Naked Diplomacy: Power and Statecraft in the Digital Age, Tom Fletcher makes a strong case for the continued relevance of a brand of digital diplomacy powered by social media and by innovative promotional activity. Although I am the best part of a generation older than Tom Fletcher, I share his desire to refresh the somewhat staid image of diplomacy and to show that it can and must respond to the challenges of today’s world. Like it or not, today’s diplomats operate in a public space and we need to be savvy in our use of the various instruments available to us, including but not limited to social media.

Ireland’s diplomats around the world are part of a collective, strategic effort, steered by our Foreign Minister and supported by government ministries and state agencies at home, notably our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Our diplomatic service has a range of key priorities, the most relevant of which in the case of the Embassy in London are Ireland’s relations with the United Kingdom, the situation in Northern Ireland, and the future evolution of the European Union in light of the UK’s impending exit. These are areas in which public diplomacy and social media have an important role to play alongside the more traditional methods of our profession.

When I started on this road 35 years ago, diplomatic rlations were conducted in a more confined space and with a narrow enough focus on international political topics. At that time, diplomats engaged primarily with other diplomats and rarely spoke in public. Now we are the eyes and ears of Ireland around the world, but also a voice for the message we wish to convey to overseas audiences. Our work today has a much sharper economic focus. While I served as the Irish ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, my time there was dominated by the effects of the economic and financial crisis, and the need to burnish Ireland’s international reputation as part of our recovery strategy.

My affinity with new ways of pursuing old ends goes back to 2011 when I became aware of the potential of social media. Sheepishly at first, I dipped my feet into this new world of Twitter. I have now been tweeting for more than five years, initially on our Embassy account in Berlin and since 2013 on an official personal account @DanMulhall on which I now have 10,000 followers. When I laid a wreath for the first time at London’s Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday 2014, the tweet I posted afterwards was seen by some 80,000 people, many of whom were based in Northern Ireland. Today, most of our embassies are active on Twitter which allows us to build communities of people with an interest in what we do, and to communicate with them instantly and inexpensively.

In my present post, I tend to tweet every day with a number of purposes in mind: to provide insights into my work as Ambassador; to engage with the large and diverse Irish community in Britain; to reach out to British audiences on issues of relevance to Ireland; to promote Ireland as a destination for British tourists, as an attractive location for foreign direct investment, and as a source of high-quality goods and services (two-way trade between Ireland and Britain currently amounts to around £1 billion each week); and to articulate Irish government policies, notably at present on what has come to be known as Brexit.

Last year I tweeted a daily quote from the poetry of W.B. Yeats to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. Those tweets attracted an appreciative following and this year I have included lines by other Irish poets. Why do I do this? Because I see our literature as a calling card for Ireland, presenting us to the world as a creative people with interesting stories to tell. Some lines of poetry by the Irish poet John Montague about “the wine dark sea of history,” which I tweeted at the time of his death in December 2016, have been seen by almost 90,000 Twitter users.

Throughout 2016, I blogged, tweeted, and made public appearances around the country on the subject of the Easter Rising of 1916. The aim of our efforts has been to promote better awareness in Britain of the distinctive dynamic of our modern history and how its legacy has impacted on our relations with our nearest neighbor. I saw this commemoration of an important turning point in Irish and British history as what our Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan, has described as an opportunity “to reflect on and advance further the productive journey of reconciliation on which our two countries have been embarked for some years.” The Embassy’s program of commemorative events has been well received and a number of our panel discussions on the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme were screened by BBC Parliament, enabling us to reach much wider audiences.

The other big challenge for our Embassy during 2016 was the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Ireland had a distinctive position on the referendum as our citizens in Britain were entitled to vote. We wanted the UK to remain in the EU because we considered membership to be a significant asset to Irish-UK relations and with regard to Northern Ireland. While fully respecting the fact that this was a domestic UK decision, in the run-up to the referendum I explained our position on social media on a daily basis and made a number of public speeches. My overriding aim was to convey our government’s apprehensions about the potential impact on Ireland of a UK decision to leave the EU. I consistently argued that we in Ireland had a special interest in the outcome of the referendum on account of our unique, multi-stranded relationship with the United Kingdom.

Since the referendum, we have been coming to terms with a new reality and seeking to minimize any negative implications for Ireland of a decision which we regret but, of course, accept. Since June, I have delivered a number of speeches on the subject and have also given evidence to the House of Lords Committee on the implications of Brexit for Ireland. I have addressed the issue regularly on Twitter and my blog. It will continue to be necessary for the Embassy to be active in monitoring the evolution of the Brexit debate and, as part of our public diplomacy, to draw attention to the vital Irish dimension to this issue, not least when it comes to the situation in Northern Ireland which voted to remain in the EU by a margin of 56-44 percent. We would like the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union so as to limit the potential impact on our bilateral trade and on ties between north and south in Ireland.

I am absolutely clear that public diplomacy—including activity on social media—is just another means to an end. It augments but cannot replace more traditional methods. No social media or public diplomacy initiative can substitute for a visit by our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) or Minister for Foreign Affairs, who can connect with the British system at the highest political level.

Nor can a tweet match the utility of a confidential conversation with a politician or a senior official. Such activities can furnish us with vital insights into British thinking on key issues connected with the country’s exit from the EU and also provides an opportunity for us to raise our concerns about Brexit face-to-face with senior figures. For that reason, our Embassy devotes considerable attention to cultivating influential contacts in Westminster and Whitehall. Thus last Autumn I attended the annual conferences of the main British political parties, seeking to deepen our understanding of the political debate surrounding the Brexit issue and to highlight our requirements with regard to Irish-UK trade, the need to maintain an open border in Ireland, and the common travel area between our two countries.

Our Embassy is active on Twitter @IrelandEmbGB, but this does not mean that we can afford to neglect the mainstream media, which is why we pay considerable attention to developing our interaction with leading journalists and media organizations.

In Ireland’s case, we are not seeking to project power, but to maximise our influence within the EU, as a member of the UN, and as part of the global community of nations. Hard power can never be a recourse of ours. Ireland’s tools in international affairs are the quality of the arguments we can bring to the table as a member of the EU, our commitment to the UN and its peacekeeping operations, and our development aid program. For a country of our size, we are fortunate to be well-endowed with soft power resources—our literature, our theatre, our traditional culture, and the global spread of our people.

But we live in a world of almost 200 nation states, all of whom vie for profile and advantage in their international activities. This means we need to be smart and use all of the resources available to us in order to make our voice heard and our positions understood in an information-rich world. I see skillful, innovative public diplomacy and judicious use of social media as important means to the attainment of our foreign policy aims, but traditional methods cannot be overlooked.

Daniel Mulhall has been Ireland’s ambassador in London since 2013. He has had previous diplomatic assignments in New Delhi, Vienna, Brussels, Edinburgh, Kuala Lumpur, and Berlin. He has also held senior positions at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin. A keen historian, he has written extensively on Irish history and literature. He tweets @DanMulhall and posts regular blogs on the Embassy’s website at In 2016, he co-edited The Shaping of Modern Ireland: A Centenary Assessment. He was recently named as Ireland’s next ambassador to the United States.

Public Diplomacy: A tale of Pragmatic Interventions and Factional Politics in Iran and the United States

[caption id="attachment_2981" align="aligncenter" width="3264"] Under the gaze of the Ayatollah, members of the delegation of higher education meet at Shiraz University -- Photo by Anthony Bailey[/caption]

In early June 2015, a mere five weeks before the historic deal concerning Iran’s nuclear program, another significant event occurred. For the first time since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, a delegation of senior U.S. higher education representatives traveled to three cities in Iran (Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan) to meet with counterparts from universities and research institutes, in the hope of expanding academic cooperation between the two countries. A year and a half after this initiative, at a time when the new Trump administration has openly warned Iran of unspecified reprisals if it fails to rein in its “aggressive” posturing in the region, it seems appropriate to examine what one might learn from this very explicit non-governmental foray into public diplomacy in the summer of 2015.

The delegation, comprising leaders from the Institute of International Education (IIE), and deans and provosts from American public, private, R1 universities, and liberal arts colleges met with representatives of 13 Iranian higher education institutions in an initiative publicly sponsored by the Iran Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology. The origins of this delegation came from a speech given by current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York in 2013. In light of the lack of any formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, the notion of educators establishing an informal mechanism that might constitute a guiding principle for a subsequent diplomatic agreement was welcomed by both the Rouhani administration and institutions of higher education in both countries.

If notions of diplomacy assume a process of negotiations in a public sphere, one would be hard-pressed to describe the delegation’s visit as one of intense bargaining to establish educational agreement. The “negotiations” did not constitute contested notions of whether there was any value in reinforcing Iranian-American ties, but rather focused on more logistical issues of how best to increase mobility between students and scholars from each country. One could not help thinking that the delegation’s interactions with all these preeminent scholars and college educators served merely to preach to the converted. A vast majority of the attendees had completed their Ph.D.s in the United States or Western Europe and welcomed any moves to reinforce educational ties. Indeed, all participants echoed the Iranian government’s promotion of internationalization of higher education to include strengthened bilateral relations with American universities and colleges. The delegation, resultantly, found itself not battling ideological wars, but figuring out ways to develop institutional ties based upon common research and teaching agendas–a fitting role for a group of educators and a considerably more prosaic one than tackling the historical and political gulfs that had existed between the two nations since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

The delegation and its counterparts in Iran shared an apprehension that the proposed Iran nuclear deal was deeply vulnerable. Both groups concurred that its successful adoption might herald a genuine renaissance in intellectual and academic ties. Discussions were, at times, extraordinarily frank. The extent to which these academics rued the administration of the hardline former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as an era that stultified intellectual inquiry was startling. Many spoke wistfully of more enlightened times under the late reformist President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and praised the global vision of the current Rouhani administration. Discussions included little or no reference to the Supreme Leader of Iran.

When the U.S. delegation departed Tehran on June 13, 2015, and with the subsequent ratification of the treaty a month later, one might have forgiven the members for assuming that their visit heralded a new golden age in U.S.-Iranian relations. A white paper, “Reinventing Academic Ties: Opportunities for U.S.-Iran Higher Education Cooperation–A Report on the IIE Iran Higher Education Initiative,” published in July 2015, identified the various ways in which Iranian and U.S. institutions could expand collaboration through short-term research opportunities for Iranian Ph.D. students, joint Ph.D. advising, dual degree programs, short-term visiting faculty appointments, virtual team teaching, and short-term or summer study abroad courses for U.S. students.1

This optimistic evaluation of educational collaboration mirrored a broader increase in global interest in Iranian engagement following the nuclear treaty. Economic sanctions have been gradually lifted and waves of predominantly European politicians have been rushing to Iran to launch new or to expand already existing economic and political ties with a country that has suffered from decades of economic embargo and political isolation. And yet, ironically, these unadulterated and seemingly self-interested political and economic forays into Iran led to little or no responses from Iranian hardliners.

In reality, no recent delegation to Tehran triggered such strong reactions among the ultra-conservative forces within the Iranian polity as did the visit of the American educators. Upon the departure of the American academics, hardliners launched a massive propaganda campaign against the “irresponsible” officials in President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet for their “soft and friendly attitude” toward the Americans, and warned them about the “subversive American cultural infiltration” into the Islamic Republic through “educational/cultural diplomacy.” An article published in the Persian-language website of the BBC in March 2016 noted that “after experiencing a disastrous defeat in the recent elections, some hard-liners in Iran…attacked the Rouhani government and claimed that a group of U.S. academics toured Iran the previous summer to organize what they called an ‘infiltration project.’”2 A Reuter’s article reported that Mashregh, a Persian-language online news service allied with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, cast the delegation’s visit as a way for Washington to create a network of students to spy for the United States after returning to Iran.3 

While members of the delegation found such allegations patently absurd, the vitriolic condemnation of their visit clearly underscored a poorly veiled attack on Iranian institutions of higher education as representing a deeply threatening segment of a society open to change and reform. Connecting these institutions very explicitly with their American counterparts had a deliberate intent. These forms of smear campaigns against the opposition in general and more systematically against the reformist currents and factions within the regime are as old as the Islamic Republic itself. Since its founding in April 1979, the dominant conservative faction of the Islamic Republic has been using anti-Americanism as a powerful instrument against many of their contenders in the country to consolidate and maintain its power.

Since the British-American-engineered coup d’état in August 1953 and the removal of the democratically elected government of Premier Mohammad Mosaddeq, anti-Imperialism/anti-Americanism has remained at the forefront of all political struggles for democracy and independence in the country. Serving as a major and effective strategy during the revolutionary mobilization against the Shah’s regime, the anti-Imperialist crusade reemerged at the center of post-revolutionary politics in the country, and has been playing a critical role in the power struggle between the ideological hardliners and the pragmatic factions within the Iranian state. One must note that two of the earliest targets of the new Islamist revolutionary power elites led by Ayatollah Khomeini were the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the country’s institutions of higher education. Khomeini loyalists launched a nationwide Islamic Cultural Revolution to Islamicize and “purify the Western-plagued” culture and, most notably, the institutions of higher education throughout Iran. As the stronghold of leftist and liberal ideas, Iranian universities turned into and remained major sites of struggle for power and influence. To the present day, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution rarely misses any public opportunity to warn about the cultural infiltration of the West, in particular an American one that seeks to destabilize the Islamic Republic through the introduction of Western-style educational tenets into universities throughout the country. By contrast, the more pragmatic faction calls for modernization, economic and political opening, and a normalization of relations between Iran and the United States. Put simply, the anti-West/anti-U.S. rhetoric is organically tied to the domestic power struggle between factions within the Iranian political elites. Consequently, from the perspective of the dominant conservative elements, any possible normalization of relations with the United States, especially with U.S. universities, would compromise their authority and empower the reformist currents. Furthermore, since the regime utilizes anti-American propaganda to define itself against its domestic contenders, an opening of relations with the United States to any degree would disarm them ideologically and compromise the state’s legitimacy to the point of an irreparable legitimacy crisis. The above analysis should help us understand the reasons behind the harsh attack against the U.S. academics’ visit to Tehran and illustrate the complexities of the domestic power struggle over the control of institutions of higher education in Iran. Any attempt to establish long-term academic relationships with the United States, in the language of powerful hardliners and Khamenei loyalists, is read as an alias for a gradual regime change.


1 Obst, Daniel and Clare Banks, ed. Reinventing Academic Ties: Opportunities for U.S.-Iran Higher Education Cooperation – A Report on the IIE Iran Higher Education Initiative.  New York, NY: Institute of International Education. Jul. 2015. Web. 

2 “What is the Story Behind ‘The Infiltration of the CIA Operative in Iran’ that Mohsen Rezaee is Talking About?” BBC Persian. 01 Mar. 2016. Web. 

3 Arshad, Mohammed and Parisa Hafezi. “U.S.-Iran Education Exchange Plans Cools Over Hardliners’ Spy Charges.” Reuters.  05 Jul. 2016. Web. 

Michael Ballagh is associate vice president for International Programs at Pitzer College, Claremont, CA. He completed his BA at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and his Ph.D. at the Claremont Graduate School. For three years, he worked with the UNDP in Hanoi, Vietnam. An educator with over 25 years experience in the field of international education, he has focused on developing diverse study abroad opportunities for students, while focusing on ways to enhance the diversity of participating students. He has an extensive background in the assessment of learning outcomes on study abroad programs.

Hamid Rezai studies social movements in the Middle East with a particular focus on Iran. Additional research and teaching interests include Iranian Studies, political violence, democratization, and comparative politics of the Middle East and the Muslim world. He is completing his manuscript “Authoritarian States, Contentious Societies: Politics, People, and Protest in Contemporary Iran,” which examines the impact of demographic alteration, elite factionalism, and dissident discourse on emerging popular protests, their trajectories, and their likely outcomes. Hamid has a BA and MA in politics from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany, and a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University. He teaches politics at Pitzer College.

The Closing of the Opening: The AKP’s Armenian Policy

Many welcomed the signing of the Armenian-Turkish protocols on October 10, 2009, in Zurich, Switzerland. At that time, the prevailing opinion in the international and Turkish media and academic circles suggested that the rapprochement between the two countries should be read as a sign of the democratization process in Turkey. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) was considered to be the representative of a rising Muslim middle class, which was construed as the vanguard of democratization. A rapprochement with Armenia would be an unmistakable omen of Turkey’s normalization, a success of both democratization and regional stabilization.

In 2016, liberal expectations about the AKP’s democratizing zeal seemed to be doomed. As the euphoria about a “genuine” liberal democratic Islamism turned into a bitter resentment, the AKP and its leader, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is now presented as an increasingly authoritarian force. Rather than being an element of stability, Turkish foreign policy is now perceived as a destabilizing influence in Iraq, Syria, and even within NATO. I argue that Turkish foreign policy is driven by domestic power struggles and that Ankara’s Armenian policy displayed these shortcomings very early on.

The Turkish Victorians and the Rise of the AKP

As the 20th century came to a close, Turkey’s society was undergoing a severe economic, social, and political crisis. The economic policies pursued by successive coalition governments in the 1990s led to a big financial breakdown in 2001. Corruption was rampant, leading to mutual accusations within the political elite in the Center Right, which was increasingly becoming fragmented. However, political fragmentation was not confined to political elites. Major social transformations have taken place in Turkey following the neoliberal reforms implemented by the military coup in 1980. Privatization, export-led growth, financial liberalization, and the commercialization of agriculture unleashed an unprecedented de-peasantization and urbanization creating a large class of urban poor serving as the labor stock of the small and medium size enterprises. These enterprises constituted the backbone of Turkey’s export sector whose competitiveness was based on cheap labor. The owners of these small and medium size enterprises were called Anatolian tigers, and they were the main beneficiaries of the growth strategies implemented by the state.

Like other parvenu social groups, they legitimized their social mobility by an ideology vis-à-vis the established bourgeoisie. Like the Victorian middle classes of 19th century Britain, these nouveaux riches claimed that the Westernized, secular lifestyle of the bourgeois establishment was proof of its economic as well as moral bankruptcy. The claim to authenticity of this rising bourgeoisie was supported by its spatial and ideological proximity to the urban poor. In the burgeoning enterprises both the employers and the employees share a common provincial descent and a common urban estrangement, making the conservative Islamist ideology the perfect social glue for tense labor relations in a struggling economy. Since trade unions were closed down by the military coup in 1980 and most union leaders arrested, unionism remained weak throughout the period, which was also considered beneficial to the implementation of neoliberal reforms. Even when unions were allowed after the civilian take-over, they were unable to organize in the small and medium size enterprises and increasingly lost their effectiveness. Thus, Islamism slowly became the major social force and the religious-secular divide the main political cleavage, replacing the left and right-wing cleavages of the 1960s and 70s.

Another legacy of the 1980 coup was the Kurdish revolt initiated by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) guerillas. Starting as a typical guerilla movement in the countryside, the PKK had to transform itself as Ankara’s counterinsurgency strategy targeted Kurdish villages. In an attempt to cut the support of the PKK, thousands of villages were emptied, forcing farmers to join the cheap labor force in Kurdish and Turkish cities. However, the settlement policy as a counterinsurgency strategy only led to the urbanization of the PKK itself, as the Kurdish movement now attempted to participate in municipal and national elections. Protective of its central command over the country, however, the state apparatus and the political establishment remained unresponsive and even hostile to the articulation of political demands by the Kurds within the representative system. The result was a bloody civil war claiming tens of thousands of lives.

An important consequence of the counterinsurgency strategy was the consolidation of the so-called “deep-state,” an informal network of state officials, mafia members, and media pundits responsible for conducting an outright illegal warfare against political opposition. The deep-state had its roots in the counterinsurgency against the left and the workers’ movement in the 1970s. It was connected to similar structures operating in Europe, especially in Italy, and was involved in illegal trafficking as well as major human rights abuses committed in the name of national security. An unexpected car crash in November 1996 led to a scandalous exposure, when Abdullah Çatlı, an ultra-nationalist criminal wanted by the police for several murders and drug trafficking, died in the same car with a senior police officer, Hüseyin Kocadağ, and a member of the parliament, Sedat Bucak. The event led to a weeks-long protest movement demanding the investigation and prosecution of the deep-state network. However, in a successful volte-face, the National Security Council dominated by the military establishment and the nationalist right initiated a public campaign about creeping Islamism. A successful coup in 1997 eventually ousted the first Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan after serving only one year in office. The ensuing coalition governments among center-left, center-right, and nationalist parties only deepened the political, economic, and social crisis. Following the financial meltdown in 2001 and the Stand-By Agreement with the IMF, all these parties were virtually wiped out in the elections of 2002. The winner was the AKP, a post-1997 rebranded version of Islamism, which even rejected Islamism as a designation and invoked the European sounding Muslim Democrats.

The Discourse of “Opening”

The AKP won the majority in the parliament both in 2002 and in 2007. However, despite its mandate the party was still struggling with the entrenched state bureaucracy. The judiciary and military establishments continued to exert a tutelage over the executive and treated the AKP openly with disdain, thereby consolidating the secular-religious divide. Thus, the headscarf issue became the symbol of the power struggle between the establishment and the newcomers exacerbating the social struggle over resources and, increasingly, representation. In this context, the AKP posed itself as the reformist political force representing not only the pious urban poor and the parvenu, but also other social groups excluded by the establishment. The party initiated a series of legal reforms aimed at Turkish accession to the European Union.

In its attempt to increase its international and domestic support against the state bureaucracy, the AKP challenged long-standing foreign and domestic policies. As Turkey’s policy towards Armenia demonstrates, AKP’s reformist attitude opened up the public sphere for discussion rather than leading to a substantial policy change. The fact that “We could not imagine talking about these issues so openly in the past” procured democratic credentials for the AKP. The buzzword for this policy was “opening.”

The discourse of “opening” denoted several meanings, all of them vaguely implicating the reformist zeal and the democratizing ethos of the AKP. According to its leading ideologue Ahmet Davutoğlu, the opening was the result of a self-confident cadre. Intellectualizing the parvenu social ethos, Davutoğlu’s liberal-conservative discourse claimed that the Turkish Republic had been dominated by an estranged Westernized elite. Because of their alienation to their authentic roots in Islam, the Middle East, and in Ottoman history, these elites were introverted, lacked self-confidence, and suffered an inferiority complex towards the West. The AKP, on the other hand, represented the people’s values and would finally enable the Republic to reconcile with its Ottoman legacy and Islamic heritage. Davutoğlu and other AKP ideologues recycled several historiographies to explain how the establishment Kemalism was an offspring of Young Turk Jacobinism, responsible for a secularist nationalism, which disrupted the Ottoman imperial multiculturalism. In this discourse the Ottoman imperial administrative system was rehabilitated as an authentic liberal multicultural model, a much sought-after proof by Western liberals for the compatibility of “moderate Islam” with liberal democracy. Even the rather condescending discourse of “tolerance” towards religious minorities was construed as a token of multiculturalism. AKP’s policies towards Armenians and Armenia need to be interpreted in this political and ideological context.

Armenian as the Constitutive Other

A major component of AKP’s opening initiatives was the policy towards Armenians and Armenia. In fact, the AKP seemed to follow Turkey’s traditional policy towards minorities. Throughout the history of the Republic, the state subordinated policies towards minorities to reciprocal relations with the neighboring nation-states with which these minorities shared a common heritage. Treatment of Turkey’s Greek and Jewish populations is exemplary in this respect. Until the establishment of an independent Armenia in 1991, however, it was relations with the Armenian diaspora rather than a nation-state, which constituted a measure for policies towards Armenians. AKP’s Armenian opening was no exception to this rule. The promises of reforming the state’s policies towards Armenian citizens went hand in hand with the promises of normalizing relations with Armenia. Both policies were designed to impress an international audience supporting liberal reforms and a domestic audience yearning for democracy, economic growth, and stability.

The assassination of Hrant Dink on January 19, 2007 was a milestone in the Republic’s political history, bringing the unspoken Armenian question to the fore for the first time. Dink was the editor-in-chief of Agos, an Armenian newspaper established in 1996. Since the ecclesiastical administration is legally subordinated to the state bureaucracy, the emergence of Agos as an independent outlet of the Armenian community was a groundbreaking project in and of itself. However, the influence of Agos went far beyond the Armenian community and challenged the very foundations of Turkish nationalism. Dink’s writings related to ordinary Turks and urged them to reconsider what it meant to be a citizen of Turkey as an Armenian. In these pieces, the recognition of the Armenian genocide was not only a historical phenomenon that needed to be dealt with by diplomacy and historical commissions. It was also about social reconciliation aiming to build a democratic society of equal citizens and to never allow such atrocities to ever take place again. In other words, the recognition of genocide was necessary for democratization.

Starting to talk about the genocide openly was essential to finding a solution to the Kurdish question. In one of his last pieces, Dink wrote about how modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s adopted daughter Sabiha Gökçen, who as the first female fighter pilot dropped bombs upon the Zaza Kurds in Dersim in 1937-38, was herself a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Dink also questioned Atatürk’s nationalist rhetoric about the nobility of Turkish blood and how this kind of nativism cannot provide a foundation for a democratic society. The implications of Dink’s writings were clear for a society which had been living with a counterinsurgency claiming thousands of lives for decades. Moreover, the occasional claims by state officials and leading politicians that the PKK leader and PKK members are in fact Armenians shows how “Armenian” is the constitutive other of modern Turkish citizenry.

Dink’s writings became even more significant following his assassination by the forces of the deep-state. At his funeral, hundreds of thousands of citizens from all walks of life filled the streets of Istanbul in a miles-long silent walk carrying Hrant Dink’s face as a mask and carrying banners saying, “I am Armenian.” Though met with some ultra-nationalist reaction, this event was unprecedented. Dink’s assassination along with other assassinations and bombings against Christian missionaries and the Kurds led the public to once again question the deep-state. This time the AKP was keen on using this opportunity to wrest power from the state apparatus.

Zurich Protocols

In April 2007, a political crisis broke out when Abdullah Gül, the AKP’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that he would run for president. The secular establishment reacted fiercely to the idea of having a First Lady with a headscarf. The main struggle was of course about the establishment losing the tutelage to AKP’s newcomers. On April 27, 2007, the Joint Chiefs of Staff even published a threatening ultimatum on its website opposing Gül’s candidacy. Rather than budging, however, the AKP preferred to use its struggle against the establishment in its electoral campaign and won a clear mandate in July 2007. Gül’s election unleashed a constitutional debate that still lingers today. The referendum of September 2010 was the turning point in AKP’s struggle with the secular establishment. The rapprochement with Armenia, which took place in 2008 and 2009, was part and parcel of winning the support of the United States and the European Union in this process. In other words, the AKP’s policy towards Armenia added to its reformist credentials.

On July 9, 2008, in a letter published in The Wall Street Journal, Serzh Sargsyan invited President Gül to Yerevan to attend the soccer game between Armenian and Turkish teams in September. Gül’s visit raised the hopes for normalization of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. After months of diplomacy, in April 2009 it was announced that the two states agreed on a roadmap. This was followed by the public release of two initialized protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations and the development of mutual relations. On October 10, 2009, with the American Secretary of State and her Russian and EU counterparts applauding in the background, the two protocols were signed in Zurich. However, this appeared to be a rather short-lasting springtime in the relations of the two states. Already in October 2010, the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edward Nalbandian, was complaining in The Wall Street Journal that Turkey had “gone back on its word.” In 2015, the media reported on how President Erdoğan criticized Gül’s visit to Yerevan (Hurriyet Daily News, May 8, 2015).

Many international and regional factors might have contributed to the failure of the normalization process between Armenia and Turkey: the worsening of relations between Russia and the West following the Ukrainian and Syrian crises, the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis and the Azeri reaction to the Zurich protocols, Ankara’s loss of interest in the accession to the EU, etc. Admittedly, all of these factors have important bearings on the relations between the two states. However, I contend that the main explanation for Turkish foreign policy is to be sought in domestic power struggles. As the AKP consolidated its grip over the state apparatus, it also started going back to the traditional parameters of Turkish foreign policy. Major realignments within Turkey have now led the AKP to ally itself with ultra-nationalist and deep-state elements, reigniting a violent counterinsurgency against Kurds, generating frequent crises with Western allies, and most recently, a close cooperation with Russia. Under these circumstances, a revitalization of Armenian-Turkish relations seems unlikely, although the fact remains that both peoples would reap huge benefits from it.

Dr. Mehmet Sinan Birdal is a visiting assistant professor at USC’s School of International Relations and the Middle East Studies Program. Dr. Birdal has been involved in several transitional justice and human rights initiatives in Turkey in the past seven years. Birdal is a regular contributor to the daily newspaper Evrensel and the online newsportal Gazeteduvar. Birdal is the author of The Holy Roman Empire and the Ottomans: From Global Imperial Power to Absolutist States (I.B. Tauris). His current research project investigates the class dynamics of transitional justice processes.

The Evolution of the Post-Soviet Russian Media: An Interview with Vasily Gatov

Vasily Gatov (@vassgatovis a Russian media researcher, author, and a visiting fellow at USC’s Annenberg Center of Communication Leadership and Policy. Gatov’s experience includes reporting on such important events in Russia’s history as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the 1991 failed coup d’état, Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, and the first Chechen war (1994-1997). He later served as an executive and strategist for several Russian media companies, including RenTV network, Media3 (Russia’s largest print conglomerate in 2007-2012), and RIA Novosti, a national multimedia news agency. While working for RIA Novosti (2011-2013), Gatov founded Novosti Media Lab, a research and development company, fostering innovation in communication and the social impact of media.

Public Diplomacy Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Bret Schafer, spoke with Gatov about the transformation of the post-Soviet independent media in Russia, the influence of Russia’s international broadcasting efforts in the United States, America’s public diplomacy strategy towards Russia, and the prospects of improved U.S.-Russian relations under President Donald Trump.

Despite the political and social turmoil in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, one could argue that the 1990s were a decade when independent journalism was relatively strong in Russia, especially during the first Chechen War. When did things begin to change?

Vasily Gatov: Things started to change during and immediately after the presidential elections in 1996. One of the original things with the Russian media is that it complied with the Yeltsin electoral headquarters’ request to join the fight against communism in the elections, in order not to allow a communist party resurgence and return to power. Generally, this was sort of a political price-fixing. Most mass media organizations agreed to be at least neutral towards Yeltsin’s candidacy, and skewer communists for everything that was attributable to them—although by this time the communist party was barely a shadow [of its former self], and ideologically was kind of in-between European socialism and a relic of Trotskyism. There was clearly not an existential danger of Stalin’s return to power in the modern Russia. But that was the starting point of this malignant transformation that happened in post-Soviet Russia. It took about four years—between 1996 and 2000—for state television to move towards self-censorship on most topics and persistent positivism about government actions. In 2000, when Putin was elected president, it took him two years to subdue two independent TV channels and move to “controllable democracy.”

At what point did the modern Russian propaganda machine coalesce and come into form?

I would say the first working blueprints started to emerge between 2003 and 2005. In 2003, after another explosion of terrorist violence at the end of the Chechen War, the Kremlin, and Putin personally, started to feel that the free media in general and incoherent opinions in Russia were damaging both [Russia’s] international reputation and clearly complicating the electoral process for both presidential elections and for the Duma. Around 2003 the late-Minister of Communications Mikhail Lesin—the guy who died in Washington, D.C., under strange circumstances a couple years ago—and the First Deputy of the Presidential Administration Alexey Gromov started to consolidate state assets in media, not only who controls them in terms of property but also how they are directed in terms of agenda—silencing some things and pushing others. In 2003, they replaced most of the editors of state-owned media with the people who were considered to be personally loyal to Putin and [Lesin and Gromov]. At about the same time they installed a closed-circuit phone system, which you may remember from old movies when the Big Boss has a huge telephone with massive buttons that directly connects him to different departments and deputies and so on. This device was installed in the Kremlin in the office of Alexey Gromov and it connected him with all these editors who [submitted] to the Kremlin’s agenda and narrative. That immediately allowed [Gromov] to make recommendations or offers that people didn’t reject. This system was completed by 2005, and I think from that moment the Russian media system was considered unfree.

Would you say this was also when coverage of the United States took a turn as well?  Because this was right around the time of the decision to invade Iraq and the expulsion of Open Society.1

Well, I would say the coverage of the United States had become critical in tone and dismissive of the goals of American policy around the time of the bombings of Belgrade in 1999. It never really recovered from this because for some strange reason Russians had felt very offended about this decision by Bill Clinton. And then in the wake of 9/11 and the immediate aftermath that married the tragedy of American people with the tragedies of Russian people who had suffered other terrorist attacks with mass victims, I think the anti-American stance of the Russian media [declined]. But it started to rise again, not with Iraq but with the expansion of NATO. And actually what had happened with the expansion of NATO was cleverly and skillfully exploited by state propaganda to build a support base for generally anti-Western and, later, particularly anti-American attitudes.

In Soviet times, there was a very clear ideological message that the Kremlin pushed through the media. What is the ideological message in Putin’s Russia?

I have recently published an article on that,2 and I argue that this is a non-message. It is not an ideology—it is anti-ideology. It is an ideology of negation. When the main tool you use is not to say, “These are my ideas, believe them,” but to say, “Nobody has ideas, so nobody should believe anyone.” Unlike Soviet leaders, Putin himself is not a very ideological person. He is an officer of action. When we speak about Putin’s ideology, we must understand that there are no deep convictions that he carries as a human and especially as a politician. So current Russian ideology is “everyone lies, nobody is better better than us”—not in terms of “we” are extremely good, we recognize we may do some things wrong—but [in terms of] other people have done much worse things.

That’s a nice segue to RT [formerly Russia Today]. Margarita Simonyan [the Editor-in-Chief of RT] has made similar comments about the lack of objectivity in news reporting, essentially saying that RT is merely a counterweight to Western broadcasts.3 But is RT really a viable competitor to CNN and the BBC? They claim to reach over 700 million people in 100 countries. Are those figures accurate?

No, those figures are absolutely misleading. When Margarita Simonyan claimed that RT America has a daily audience of 2 million people, it means that either she has never looked into the channel rankings of cable channels or she knowingly lied. Because two million—regardless of whether it’s a weekly or daily audience—puts RT next to Fox News [Channel]. Just remember how much advertising you have on Fox News. And just imagine that American advertisers would [ignore] a channel with a similar or comparable audience. It’s just impossible. Regardless of whether or not this channel shows blatant anti-American propaganda, if it has an audience that audience should be appropriated. This is a main tool of business. So when [Simonyan] speaks about RT not participating in commercial rankings because of the commercial makeup [of the rankings] and that RT doesn’t want to turn commercial, this is also bullshit.

But what about their online presence? RT’s YouTube channel has 2 billion views. Are they reaching their audience through other mediums?

Let me start with an even scarier figure. They have over 120 million monthly views of their website under the domain. But the most interesting part of it is that the American audience is less than 13 percent of that figure, which puts it in the 10 million zone. When you assume that visits don’t mean users, in order to understand how many unique users reach RT’s site you have to divide [that number] by at least two and usually six. So maybe 5 million people in America read one story on RT a month, which is not a small number, but it is nothing compared to monsters like Drudge Report, CNN, or even Fox News.

I’ve also noticed if you look at RT’s YouTube channel, that if you rank their top 50 videos, almost all of them are disaster videos or –

They have nothing to do with Russia. They have nothing to do with Russia. Of the 100 most-popular clips on RT’s YouTube channel, there are only two [featuring] Russians: One that presents some Russian tanks, which Russians are very skilled at making and is a legitimate thing to have interest in, and the second is Putin signing “Blueberry Hill.”

I’ve described RT’s outcomes very simply: as a broadcast network, as television, RT is a failure. The Russian government has spent about $2.2 billion in the last 12 years to maintain and distribute RT content. This is an astonishing amount of money, which is absolutely comparable to BBC World, Al Jazeera, and others.

But as far as public relations are concerned, RT is a moderate success. Because what they’ve done is create an image of someone that participates in the discourse or [someone that] can affect the opinions of others, can affect the behavior of other media, and can become a media story itself—even though every correct media analysis shows that they are definitely not a popular media outlet and not even a topic starter.

Is it your sense, having lived in America for a while, that average Americans are even aware that RT exists?

I think the brand recognition of RT is extremely low. People may have come across RT within the massive distribution networks of alt-right news, where RT fits very comfortably and participates in many of the campaigns. But RT is not the prime member of this network nor is it really influential. The purpose it serves is primarily a kind of legitimation of someone’s claims or of fake news by a reportedly “legitimate” mass media outlet. I can say that about year ago when I was once again puzzled by RT’s real influence over American audiences, I asked every one of my neighbors whether they heard, watched, or accessed RT online. Of the probably 50 people I asked in very liberal Massachusetts, there was only one who said he knows what it is, he’s seen something online, and he’s read several stories. Although this is definitely not a representative poll, it very much reflects the general figures we can calculate based on the knowledge of the web composition of RT’s audience.

Given the fact that RT is not influencing the general American public, why is Washington so concerned about it? 

Well, I think that this is a kind of phantom pain that has affected American attitudes—American government attitudes, in particular—towards Russia going back to the 1919 “Red Scare,” 1945 nuclear espionage, and so on. This is a scourge of America’s very own propaganda campaign that continues to generate an immediate desire to demonstrate Russian activity on this side of the pond.

Besides the obvious geopolitical differences, what’s been the biggest issue in the breakdown of U.S.-Russia relations over the past decade? 

I’m pretty sure that the biggest issue between America and Russia—Putin’s Russia—is that Russia always wants to be treated as a nostalgic power. America has not granted Russia this small gratitude, which would probably satisfy Putin completely and make him a good friend of every next president. In a way, he’s a little bit similar in his reactions to an African dictator who declares a national celebration when a clerk from the State Department pays him a regular visit. But [Putin] just has the scale and the power to demand respect to himself and his country from the leader of the free world. I think one of the biggest problems that affected Russian and American relations was Obama’s arrogance towards Putin himself and Russia as a country when he used demeaning terms like “regional power” to explain sanctions and the general change in policy after the Ukrainian breakdown.

Just to shift the conversation a little bit, I want to talk about the U.S. response to RT. America has recently invested a lot of money into broadcasts aimed at Russian speakers in the “near-abroad.” How would you judge their performance so far?

My opinion, as often happens with American public diplomacy, is that it’s too late and too shallow. America’s [Russian language programming] suffers from two major flaws.

The big problem—problem number one—is that American broadcasts are trying to serve all Russian speakers at the same time regardless of where they live—in Russia, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Moldova, and so on. Russians who live in Ukraine—80 percent of them—are Ukrainian patriots who view Russia as an enemy in the war. Russians living in Russia, by the same proportion, think that Ukrainians are the enemy. You can’t offer them similar content. That’s an unusual strategy for any media company.

The second flaw that I saw and have criticized is that they maintain a “serious-face” news media that tries to compete with the Fox News-style infotainment that Russian television broadcasts in the Russian language. It’s like NPR trying to compete with Fox News. And that’s not only a budget constraint but a concept constraint. If you think that a straight-faced, Edward Murrow-like presentation will touch the hearts of the modern viewer—no, it won’t. The key to win back or to keep protected the brains of the supposedly targeted Russian speakers in the near-abroad of Russia is entertainment, and entertainment only. And news is nothing more than a spice that you can add to that, but it is definitely not the main product.

Edward Murrow, when explaining the goals of the U.S. Information Agency, said, “Broadcasts are easy in public diplomacy. We know how to do this. The most difficult part is the last three feet.” The problem is that modern television only does its job in terms of the last three feet when it attracts audiences.

Do you think there would be any appetite in Russia for American news programs that are targeted at Americans that are then dubbed or subtitled for a Russian audience, as opposed to creating content exclusively for a Russian audience?

I would say that there always has been such an appetite, and there are some American shows that are followed by Russians in unusual numbers. When Jon Stewart left “The Daily Show,” he was extremely popular in Russia, extremely. People were translating every episode and they were watched hundreds of thousands of times. Jon Stewart was not fixated on Russia—he liked to mock Putin, but it wasn’t the only subject he cracked about.

Russians really like American crime and law series.The way law enforcement works in America has always puzzled Russians: How do you really deal with independent courts and attorneys? From “Miami Vice” to “CSI” to “Boston Legal” and “The Good Wife”—they all were and are extremely popular. And Russians are very much attracted to Hollywood and American television’s creativity in terms of great story telling—I’m not speaking only of things like “Game of Thrones” or “House of Cards”—but a lot of American series are popular and people watch them even with all the territorial restrictions that exist between the two nations.

So coming back to America’s global broadcasting, there’s one important part of this story. Communications should be positive. You can’t achieve a better image of your country, or your company, or yourself unless you speak to people about positive issues—about things that make them happier rather than poorer and more concerned. And I think that one of the strategic mistakes that BBG as an institution has made, especially since the Ukrainian conflict, has been an extremely critical tone towards everything in Russia. Critical and melodramatic. This is one of the biggest problems with American foreign broadcasts, and not only in Russia. I can see the same problems with the Arabic service. The people who work primarily out of America overestimate the harshness of what happens in the country or countries where they broadcast. They kind of make life in Russia worse than it really is for people there. And they try to report this to them. And people come to the street and say, “Well, sorry, you know, don’t bullshit me, there is no blood, there is no blood around me. Don’t speak of a bloody Putin regime. I don’t know anyone, personally, who has been killed by Putin.”

I think that in order to move forward with the modern Russian regime or the modern Iranian regime or even the Chinese, there is a big need for something much more sophisticated than the Truman or Eisenhower Doctrines that still form the foundation of American foreign policy in regards to projecting [America’s] image abroad.

On the surface, President Trump has been very positive towards Russia and, in reverse, Putin more positive towards America.  Have you seen a shift in tone in how the media in Russia is covering current events in America?

That’s funny. Before Trump’s victory, Russian state-controlled media was preparing for Clinton’s victory and a massive counterattack [claiming] that the elections were rigged, that Clinton won illegitimately because of the dirty tricks of the Democratic club, whatever. That was just about to start. And when news of Trump’s victory came, the Russian state media was thrilled, I mean really thrilled. They celebrated. They cheered news about Trump’s [margin of victory]. In the State Duma they were clapping, a sort of standing ovation. I mean, I’m not joking. That’s true. But I think that was mostly emotional rather than rational.

Unlike in America where foreign policy is pretty much indoctrinated and flexibility is limited because of numerous arrangements that America has with its partners, I think that Russian diplomacy and Russian foreign policy attitudes are extremely flexible and could be changed overnight, especially if Putin wants to [change them]. I don’t think that Putin and Trump will get along. I really don’t think so. Trump is everything that Putin hates in people. Putin, although he is probably one of the richest people in the world, publicly displays modesty in his presentation as a person. And the only thing he allows himself to entertain are expensive watches, but that is a very tiny sign of his richness or his capacity to demonstrate his wealth or power. He is much more careful about his image than Trump. The two men are very different in terms of their responsiveness. Trump is sort of flashy—he jumps out in situations where he expresses his desires or praise. He immediately reacts. Putin is a trained philosopher who definitely doesn’t make such demonstrations and he doesn’t like people who do.

So are you not optimistic that these good feelings are going to last?

I think first these good feelings will be tested by their personal meeting. It was clear that Putin would not get along well with Obama because they were extremely different people. Although they are both lawyers by training, their values are opposite. In the situation with Trump, there are some similarities. They are people of trade. They are flexible. They are people who use deception and are duplicitous. So, in this particular case I think they could find some common ground.

But I would be very careful. I’ve studied how Trump developed. And I think that one important difference between Putin and Trump may make their “bromance” questionable. Regardless of his kind words about Putin or his promises about Putin, Trump is very nationalistic. I would say jingoistic about America. That would be relatively difficult for Putin to contemplate. Putin really dislikes nationalism in any form. He sometimes himself exercises nationalism, but you can see in his face that he’s doing it because he has to. He’s a Soviet man. He does not believe in nations as a concept and he kind of hates people who do. And I think that is why it will be difficult for him to deal with Trump.

Some other small things that may make a difference: Trump is even taller than Obama. And Putin is really short. And he really, really has problems dealing with people who are taller than him. That’s not a joke. It’s the Napoleonic complex that every short man suffers from in some form. Tillerson, who is roughly the same height as Putin, would be a much better companion. Sorry about this biological approach to international relations, but sometimes it’s important. It’s extremely humiliating for a short man. And especially when the person on the other side is ignorant of this issue. It’s a small detail.

So, to wrap this up, I don’t see any real hope for a significant upgrade in U.S.-Russia relations in the wake of Trump’s victory. It could become much more pragmatic, it could become much less emotional—especially if Trump assigns Russian policy to the State Department instead of keeping it in his hands—but I don’t see it getting much better.


1 Editor’s note: In 2003, the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute closed its offices in Moscow. In 2015, the Russian government declared Open Society to be “undesirable” and banned them from operating in Russia. 

2 Gatov, Vasily V. “Contagious Tales of Russian Origin and Putin’s Evolution,” Society, vol. 53, no. 6, 2016, pp. 619-624. Print.

3 Simonyan, Margarita. Interview by Benjamin Bidder. Spiegel Online. 13 Aug. 2013. Web.

A Path Forward: Advancing U.S.–China Relations through Public Diplomacy

The original version of this report was presented at the 2016 China-U.S. Diplomacy Summit held at Renmin University in Beijing on June 19, 2016, and was originally published by the Pacific Council on International Policy.


The relationship between the United States and China is more important than at any time in history. It has been said that the two superpowers are neither friends nor foes, and indeed, the remarkably complex U.S.-Sino relationship comes with its fair share of contradictions. As two Pacific powers with unique global responsibilities and reach, it is indisputable that both countries share an interest in global and regional stability.

The central issue is whether or not the two countries can successfully manage their relationship in a manner that advances strategic mutual trust and allows for increased cooperation on security issues in the Asia-Pacific; this question weighs heavily on diplomats and generals across the globe. Minimizing costly and dangerous rivalry, especially in the military sphere, is in everyone’s interest. To do this, China and the United States must be acutely aware of the fashion in which they view one another. No longer can the two rest upon the laurels of economic interdependence as the primary guarantor of peace; far too many countries throughout history have forsaken economic interests in order to protect strategic ones.

Instead, the United States and China must take a path that advances mutual understanding and respect at every level—a path that can be immeasurably smoothed by public diplomacy. Public diplomacy can be an avenue dynamic enough to reverse decades of rivalry while garnering popular support in both countries, reaffirming alliances abroad, and reinforcing mutual trust between Americans and Chinese writ large and not just between Washington and Beijing at the highest levels of government.

Contradictions and Mutual Concerns

The United States and China are often at odds. Militarily, the United States is concerned about the modernization and expansion of China’s armed forces and its strategic domain, while China is worried about attempts at strategic containment by the United States and its regional allies. Economically, the United States and China now compete in almost every market. This competition has at times resulted in the two leveling accusations1 against one another2 of unfair trade practices and economic espionage. Human rights remain a consistent point of contention between the two, with Washington long ago incorporating the goal of expanding human rights abroad into its foreign policy platform and Beijing adopting the view that human rights should be defined by each country’s unique history and socio-political system.

Despite these areas of disagreement, it is within these very same theaters that the United States and China have overlapping and even interdependent interests. Both governments want to peacefully manage North Korea, to secure access to affordable energy, to guarantee free navigation of the seas, to combat terrorism and contain the spread of violent extremism, to bolster cybersecurity, to promote global development and trade, and to curb climate change, environmental degradation, and pollution. Getting the United States and China to cooperate on these issues will require greater dialogue between ordinary Chinese and Americans, as the policies of our governments will only begin to change once the perceptions of our publics lead the way.

Data from a recent Pew Research Center poll found that most Americans and Chinese do not hold favorable views of each other. Just 38 percent of Americans think positively about Chinese, and just 44 percent of Chinese think positively about Americans. However, “young people in both countries express more favorable attitudes of the other nation,” according to Pew’s analysis of the survey. Fifty-five percent of American adults under 30 gave China a positive rating, and 59 percent of Chinese adults under 30 gave the United States a positive rating. Interestingly enough, 59 percent of young Chinese also said they “like American ideas about democracy.”3

Even so, more than half of Chinese respondents said the United States is trying to prevent China from becoming as powerful as the United States. Indeed, as The New York Times recently pointed out, “The Chinese hold contrasting, schizophrenic views of America. For many Chinese people, the depth of their admiration for the American system and way of life is matched only by their animosity toward the country.”4 We can safely assume this is at least partially attributable to the narratives both governments are responsible for espousing.

It is here that the role of public diplomacy comes in as a potentially very powerful force for positive change. Relying on the core elements of public diplomacy—listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, exchange, and international broadcasting—both China and the United States can strengthen their vital relationship, avoid confrontation, and chart a way forward that is mutually beneficial.5 Los Angeles in particular, a key city that is aware of and values its multifaceted ties to Asia, and home to the Pacific Council on International Policy, is uniquely well positioned to play a central role in this process.

A Regional Model for the Nations

At the Pacific Council’s 2016 Spring Conference, Atman Trivedi, senior director for policy at the U.S. Department of Commerce Global Markets Bureau, said, “The relationship between China and Los Angeles is incredibly important. Chinese investment and tourism in Los Angeles County is a major driver for economic growth. Los Angeles is a gateway to U.S.-China international trade.”6 Indeed, on trade, energy, business cooperation and investment, education, health care, tourism, and the environment, Los Angeles and California already have a unique relationship with China. The entertainment industry is at the forefront. With China expected to surpass North America’s box office numbers in 2017,7 and with more Chinese money being invested in American studios and films,8 the entertainment industry’s connection with China is a vital piece of this puzzle. Entertainment, media, and creative services—with an ability to reach and influence hundreds of millions if not billions of people—could serve as an important tool in recasting our perceptions of one another.

In 2016, the Chinese firm Dalian Wanda Group purchased Legendary Entertainment, which produced The Dark KnightJurassic World, and several other blockbusters, for $3.5 billion.9 Major Hollywood studios have been “aggressively pursuing film co-financing deals with Chinese companies, including Alibaba Pictures,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Hollywood studios increasingly have Chinese audiences in mind when producing new films. There is a natural opportunity here to use entertainment as a medium for public diplomacy messaging. The more we learn about China and the more they learn about us, the more likely and able both sides will be to update narratives of one another and to begin a more meaningful and far deeper level of engagement.

Los Angeles is leading the way in many other areas as well. In May 2016, the Los Angeles-based U.S.-China Cleantech Center (UCCTC)—a public-private partnership between the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation and the U.S. Department of Commerce—hosted the U.S.-China Cleantech Innovation Forum, a series of conferences and exhibitions promoting bilateral cooperation in trade, culture, and the environment. About 200 Chinese and American government officials, business leaders, and clean energy and environmental policymakers attended the forum in Pasadena, California. “China and the United States, the two most powerful countries in the world, can work together and achieve global magnitude in clean technology,” an article about the forum quotes Dr. Feng An, founder and executive director of UCCTC, as saying.10

Peter Shiao of the Los Angeles Business Journal cited a new report by research firm Rhodium Group and the non-profit National Committee on U.S.-China Relations that found California is the top destination for Chinese direct investment.11 From 2000 through the end of 2015, 452 California businesses received $8 billion. “Chinese-owned businesses already directly employ almost 10,000 Californians, and indirect jobs through tourism and construction multiply that figure several times,” wrote Shiao. Nationally, 90,000 American jobs are now directly tied to Chinese organizations based here in the United States.12

Chinese investment in the United States could reach $200 billion by 2020, according to Rhodium economist Thilo Hanemann, with California—and Los Angeles especially—reaping the lion’s share of this investment.13 One need only look across the street from the Pacific Council’s offices for evidence of this massive trend of investment in Los Angeles: the new Metropolis building is being constructed by Chinese developer Greenland for $1 billion. Several other major mixed-use projects currently under construction in downtown Los Angeles are also financed by Chinese developers.

With so much Chinese capital at play, as well as this city’s sizable Chinese population, Los Angeles is uniquely positioned to influence China’s perception of the United States and of Americans and American’s perceptions of China and of the Chinese people.

On the environment, subnational government entities are already circumventing Beijing and Washington. California has been a leader on this front as well. Orville Schell of the Asia Society and Geoffrey Cowan of the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands released a report in 2015 highlighting the success of Chinese provinces and the state of California in partnering against climate change.14 In 2013, California Governor Edmund Brown, Jr., and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate official, signed a joint, historic memorandum of understanding to combat climate change.

“The fact that the National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China is entering into an agreement with one of the fifty states reflects the important position of California not only in the economy, but in science, technology, and climate change initiatives,” said Governor Brown before signing the agreement.15 “I see the partnership between China, between provinces in China, and the state of California as a catalyst and as a lever to change policies in the United States and ultimately change policies throughout the world.”

Also in 2013, presidents Obama and Xi met at Sunnylands in Southern California where, according to a press release from the historic estate, “the meetings resulted in stronger relationships between the two leaders, along with significant progress on several issues of bilateral importance, including cybersecurity, North Korea, and controlling rising hydrofluorocarbon emissions from industrial activities.”16

However, Schell said, “In the end if the United States and China do come together in a meaningful way to deal with climate change, it is not going to exclusively be between Washington and Beijing. In fact that may be the least important link. Where the rubber will really meet the road is with states and municipalities dealing directly, so that the solution ends up being more of a patchwork, kind of a mosaic, rather than some big grand design where the presidents wave a wand in Washington and Beijing and bring about a solution.”

Los Angeles is already out in front on this and many other issues. It would be a mistake for China to engage only New York and Washington, D.C. in its relations with the United States, as the East Coast is only part of the story in terms of U.S. public diplomacy resources. Californians would be eager to cooperate on an initiative with China, along the lines of the state’s partnerships with other countries.

Expanding What Works in the Military Realm

The armed forces of the United States and China may have a complex professional relationship, but in recent years bilateral cooperation has deepened. Now, the military-to-military relationship has the potential to alter the adversarial narrative in both countries. Both sides know that in contentious arenas like the South China Sea, rivalry could boil over into something far more costly.

We have already seen limited examples of positive engagement between the U.S. and Chinese armed forces. When the United States Navy recently sent a carrier strike group through the South China Sea, Rear Admiral Marcus Hitchcock was highly complimentary of his Chinese counterparts, saying that he was engaged on an almost “twenty four-seven basis” with a “completely professional” People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).17 This mutually respectful and open-line approach by the two forces fostered a safe and non-threatening environment in which they could operate despite their differences. In summer 2016, the PLAN joined military exercises known as RIMPAC near Hawaii, which furthered that cooperation.18

“Where the People’s Republic of China is building real naval capabilities, most are actually best suited for cooperating, rather than competing, with other world powers,” writes David Axe in The Diplomat.19 “Indeed, there are signs that China intends to be a full partner in a loose, emerging alliance of developed world navies aiming to suppress piracy and seaborne terrorism and to provide rapid relief in the wake of coastal natural disasters.”

On the other hand, during the recent rollout of a Department of Defense report20 to Congress on Chinese military and security developments, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Abraham Denmark stated that China’s Coast Guard and fishing vessels sometimes act in an “unprofessional” manner “in the vicinity of the military forces or fishing vessels of other countries in a way that’s designed to attempt to establish a degree of control around disputed features. These activities are designed to stay below the threshold of conflict, but gradually demonstrate and assert claims that other countries dispute.”21

The aggressive spirit behind China’s maritime activity has not been overlooked. The actions taken by China’s fishing fleet and Coast Guard, including their land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, has pushed many of its neighbors such as Vietnam and the Philippines to deepen their ties with the United States in an attempt to balance against China. This rebalancing has seen the Philippines invite American troops back22 for the first time since expelling U.S. forces from the country nearly 25 years ago, and, even more extraordinarily, has seen the complete end to the U.S. arms embargo on its Cold War-era foe Vietnam.23

These developments clearly run counter to China’s strategic interests. However, Beijing must not resent Washington for reacting to the demands of its regional partners. Instead, China should take note of the second and third order effects that its aggression is having on its long term strategic interests in the region and abroad.

If China’s commitment to a cooperative—rather than competitive—approach is genuine, Beijing will need to bring the professionalism of its Coast Guard and the behavior of its fishing fleet fully in line with that of its navy. As it stands, China’s Coast Guard and fishing fleet communicate less effectively and more aggressively than their counterparts in the PLAN.

Cooperation on these challenges would go far in helping to create a new narrative between everyday Chinese and Americans regarding the relationship of their countries’ armed forces; particularly with the proper media focus, shift in public statements by government and military officials, and vocal support for such efforts from academics and think tanks. Greater engagement and interaction between the upper echelons as well as the rank and file of the two forces could help empower moderate voices within both organizations as their working relationship expands.

Areas for Collaboration and Cooperation

On the topic of North Korea, Beijing has already stepped up its cooperation with Washington on sanctions, but Beijing is unwilling to go further and thus risk the destabilization of the Korean Peninsula. Accordingly, Washington must seek China’s assistance in freezing North Korea’s nuclear program, which would help to reinforce U.S.-Sino mutual trust and advance cooperation by avoiding the need for a buildup of U.S. military forces on the Peninsula. Such a buildup, while in the interest of the United States should North Korea’s nuclear program continue to accelerate, will only be seen by the Chinese as the U.S. government taking advantage of the situation in an attempt to contain China. Some in the United States are already calling for nuclear weapons to be returned to South Korea,24 and Kim Jong-un’s continued missile tests are not helping the situation. For China, cooperation with the United States on these matters also has the added benefit of bolstering its soft power and standing on the world stage, not to mention the potential to curtail the strength of the country’s jingoistic elements.

Washington can also ramp up its support of exchanges with China. While the 100,000 Strong Initiative student exchange program reached its goal of increasing Americans studying in China, student exchanges are just the beginning. Professor Jay Wang, director of the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, wrote about the importance of initiating “dialogs and substantive exchanges between practitioners and scholars of public diplomacy of the two countries. Nurturing and sustaining a positive relationship between the two countries is consequential not only for the United States and China, but also for the world. And, it requires the active engagement of public diplomacy, which plays a crucial role in steering this vital relationship in a positive direction. Popular perception of each other matters, because it forms the climate of opinion in which policies and actions are considered, weighted, and pursued.”25

These solutions will not solve all of the problems between the United States and China, but they will go a long way towards avoiding real conflict between the two nations.


The United States and China must continue to highlight each other’s cultural achievements and brainstorm new ways to cooperate in an increasingly complex, interconnected, and often dangerous world.

In order to advance strategic mutual trust and allow for increased cooperation on security issues in the Asia-Pacific, China and the United States must recast the way they view one another. One of the most powerful tools we have to accomplish this goal is public diplomacy. The stakes are too high—financially, politically, strategically, and culturally—to flounder at this critical moment in history. If Americans and Chinese do not learn to understand and respect each other, the worst case alternative is a frightening future with the potential for violent conflict not seen in almost a century.

Dr. Jerrold D. Green is the president and chief executive officer of the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles. He is also a research professor of Communications, Business, and International Relations at the University of Southern California. Prior to this he served as a partner at Best Associates in Dallas, Texas, a privately held merchant banking firm with global operations. He also served as the director of international programs and development at the RAND Corporation where he oversaw the activities of the Center for Asia-Pacific Policy as well as the Center for Russia and Eurasia. At the same time he directed RAND’s Center for Middle East Public Policy. He is a member of the United States Secretary of the Navy Advisory Panel where he was awarded the Department of the Navy, Distinguished Civilian Service Award for his service. Green also served on the selection committee for the U.S. Department of State Herbert Salzman Award for Excellence in International Economic Performance by a Foreign Service Officer.

Justin Chapman is the communications associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy and the managing editor of Public Diplomacy Magazine. He is an author, journalist, travel writer, actor, poet, musician, and politician. Justin was the youngest elected member of the Altadena Town Council at age 19. He graduated from University of California, Berkeley in 2009 and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Diplomacy at USC. He has written for over 20 print and digital publications, frequently for the Pasadena Weekly. His book about his travels through Africa, Saturnalia: Traveling from Cape Town to Kampala in Search of an African Utopia, was published by Rare Bird Books in January 2015. He also serves as president of Men Educating Men About Health and as secretary of the West Pasadena Residents’ Association. As a professional child actor he performed in dozens of commercials, television shows, and movies. He and his wife Mercedes live in Pasadena, California.

Alexandre Moore is the events officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy. Alex assists in managing the organization’s Events Department, where he researches and monitors shifts in foreign policy, oversees the logistical and operational elements of events, and recruits U.S. and foreign diplomats, military officials, and experts to meet with the Council. He previously worked as a legal assistant for the Law Offices of David Lee Moore and as a finance and administrative assistant to Eloise Reyes for Congress in California’s 31st congressional district. Alex interned at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China where he assisted the Embassy’s public affairs officers facilitate cultural and educational exchanges between China and the United States. While in Beijing, he won recognition as PKU TV’s “Best New Actor” and was one a handful of U.S. students selected to meet with China’s 18th National Congress of the Communist Party to discuss China’s future 10 years. Alex graduated from the University of California, Riverside Cum Laude, where he received a B.A. in Global Studies and a B.A. in Political Science and Administrative Studies. Having been born and raised in Ojai, Alex is a California native.


1 Davidson, J. (2013, July 1). China accuses U.S. of hypocrisy on cyberattacks. TIME. Web.

2 World Trade Organization. (n.d). Chronological list of disputes cases. World Trade Organization. Web.

3 Wike, R. (2016, March 30). 6 facts about how Americans and Chinese see each other. Pew Research Center. Web.

4 Xuecun, M. (2015, October 13). A land China loves and hates. The New York Times. Web.

5 Cull, N. (2009, May 20). Nicholas Cull on the range and impact of Chinese public diplomacy efforts. USC U.S.-China Institute. Web.

6 Pacific Council on International Policy (2016, April 21). Insights from Spring Conference 2016. Pacific Council on International Policy. Web.

7 Tartaglione, N. (2016, August 18). China box office still on track to overtake U.S. in 2017 despite recent slump. Deadline. Web.

8 James, M. (2016, April 19). China and Hollywood: Will the love affair last? Los Angeles Times. Web.

9 Fritz, B. and Burkitt, L. (2016, January 12). China’s Dalian Wanda buys Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion. The Wall Street Journal. Web.

10 Villalovos, B. (2016, May 11). Hundreds of Chinese, American leaders, policymakers in clean technology meet at Pasadena forum. Pasadena Now. Web.

11 Los Angeles Business Journal. (2016, May 9). Los Angeles well-positioned for China relations. Los Angeles Business Journal. Web.

12 Northam, J. (2016, May 17). China ramps up U.S. investments, from straws to semiconductors. NPR. Web.

13 Puzzanghera, J. and Koren, J. (2016, April 11). Chinese investors pour more money into U.S. businesses than ever before. Los Angeles Times. Web.

14 Asia Society. (2014). A vital partnership: California and China collaborating on clean energy and combating climate change. Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society Northern California Center, and the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands. Web.

15 Office of California Governor. (2013, September 13). Governor Brown expands partnership with China to combat climate change. Office of California Governor. Web.

16 Sunnylands. (2013, June 12). President Obama and President Xi hold historic meetings at Sunnylands. The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands. Web.

17 Mathieson, R. (2016, April 25). Chinese navy in South China Sea draws U.S. admiral’s praise. Bloomberg. Web.

18 Zand, B. (2016, August 17). Why China is taking part in U.S. military exercises. Spiegel. Web.

19 Axe, D. (2010, February 12). China’s navy—good for us all? The Diplomat. Web.

20 Office of the Secretary of Defense. (2016, April 26). Annual report to Congress: Military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China 2016. Office of the Secretary of Defense. Web.

21 Erickson, A. (2016, May 14). The Pentagon’s 2016 China military report: What you need to know. The National Interest. Web.

22 Moss, T. (2016, March 20). U.S. set to deploy troops to Philippines in rebalancing act. The Wall Street Journal. Web.

23 Spetalnick, M. (2016, May 23). U.S. lifts arms ban on old foe Vietnam as China tensions simmer. Reuters. Web.

24 Ramberg, B. (North Korea is a nuclear power. Here’s why the world just has to live with it. Reuters. Web.

25 Wang, J. (2011, January 19). Public diplomacy in U.S.-China relations. USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Web.

Reconciliation vs. Normalization: The Need to Revisit the Negotiation Methodology

The relations between Turkey and Armenia have been widely covered in academic literature. It has been approached from all possible perspectives and it seems no dimension is left out from the discussions. However, since there are no diplomatic relations established between the two countries and the border remains closed, there should be an effort to continue to understand existing and emerging predicaments. Moreover, no effort should be spared to unveil those thorny questions that may help us to move forward.

For that purpose, this piece raises a number of questions concerning a few established views and interpretations about Turkish-Armenian relations. In addition, since 1991, a number of concepts, terms, and approaches have dominated the field and have been used by both parties. The need to rethink some of them is important as it may help to change the conversation and to approach the problem from a different standpoint.

At the outset, it needs to be mentioned that contrary to established views the Republic of Turkey did not close its border with Armenia in April 1993 as a result of the military operation in Kelbajar. The border between Turkey and Armenia was never truly open in the first place; instead the border gates were open only for humanitarian purposes and for the operation of the weekly Kars-Gyumri train, which had been crossing the Turkish-Armenian border since the days of the Soviet Union. Additionally, between 1993-2002, some officials were able to travel through the border gates to Turkey and to Armenia.

In December 1991, when Turkey recognized Armenia’s independence, Turkey had the chance both to open the border and to establish diplomatic relations. Back then, the conflict in Karabagh was not in its active stage and Turkey could open the border without reference to the situation in Karabagh.  But Turkey chose to do neither. This is to suggest that Turkey’s attempts to connect the closing of the border with the events in Karabagh are manipulative, yet this interpretation is widely taken into consideration by analysts and politicians without much consideration.

Establishing a link between the events in Karabagh and the closing of the border was aimed at emphasizing Turkey’s support to Azerbaijan and it is clear it had purely propagandistic objectives. However, the narrative was put into circulation and even some Armenian politicians started to employ the Turkish perspective when talking about the date and the reasons for closing the Turkish-Armenian border. The closing or opening of the border should be decoupled from the Karabagh conflict and be seen from purely bilateral perspectives.

The other issue that needs to be discussed has to do with the Zurich protocols and the methodological errors that were made during the 2009 negotiations between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey that led to the signing of two documents: the “Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey” and the “Protocol on Development of Relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey.” These two documents, which jointly were named as Zurich protocols, have also been widely discussed. The opponents of the protocols criticized every single sentence and tried to undermine their credibility. Others were critical of the atmosphere by arguing that Turkey was not genuine in its efforts.

What was left out from the discussion, however, was a set of questions: Why sign two protocols when the whole purpose of negotiations was to establish diplomatic relations? And: Why put two separate issues—diplomatic relations and the development of relations—into one basket, creating much confusion and inherent problems? The decision to bring these two documents together was a methodological flaw that cost the entire process dearly.

The crux of the problem has to do with the fact that bringing together the process of normalization and reconciliation carried a risk that the two parties were not capable of overcoming. I have discussed that problem elsewhere. Likewise, one of the experienced Armenian diplomats, Rouben Shougarian, has recently discussed that problem in his newly published monograph on Armenian foreign policy. What we agree upon is that normalization of relations and the establishment of diplomatic relations between countries that have a disputed past and a troubled present requires a completely different toolbox and set of policy initiatives than the process of reconciliation. Underestimation of these significant differences had serious implications for the entire process.

When starting the negotiations, both parties had different and sometimes diametrically opposed expectations for the process. For the Armenian side, it was crucial that Turkey would continue the negotiations without any preconditions. The short-term goal for the Armenian side was to establish diplomatic relations with a hope to secure the opening of the border with Turkey, thereby removing the economic and communication blockade imposed on Armenia by Turkey.

For the Turkish side, the objectives were quite different, as Turkey never concealed the true reasons for not establishing diplomatic relations and for not opening the border. Since 1991, the Turkish side has presented at least three reasons for not opening the border: Armenian Genocide claims and worldwide recognition campaigns, the border disputes between Turkey and Armenia, and the Karabagh conflict. However, since 1993, the last reason started to dominate Turkey’s list of preconditions, effectively pushing the first two into the background. This short explanation alone was sufficient to understand that the two parties sought different objectives and hence sought different strategies in attaining their goals. For the Armenian side, the normalization of relations came first, while for Turkey the conditions for the reconciliation process were much more crucial and significant. These different views were reflected in the two protocols and instead of devising a short and plain document about the establishment of diplomatic relations, the parties took the most complex road by bringing together all the complications of their relations and putting them into two documents with multiple cross-references. Thus, the failure to disentangle normalization from reconciliation has deadlocked the entire process.

This important dimension should be taken into account in all future efforts that will aim to bring these two nations together. The reasons for the lack of official relations between Turkey and Armenia have different facets and layers. Some of the existing problems may be addressed through official documents, some may be solved through mere contacts between two nations and by better knowing each other, and some may remain unsolvable for some time to come. Hence, Turkish-Armenian relations should be separated from Turkey-Armenia relations. The officials from both countries should retake the difficult road of normalization of official relations, but leave the reconciliation process to the artists, scholars, and civil society members of the two nations. The states can facilitate the reconciliation but, given the sensitive nature of relations, should not direct the process. The lessons of the Zurich protocols should not be ignored.

Vahram Ter-Matevosyan is an assistant professor at the American University of Armenia.He is also the head of the Turkish Department at the Institute for Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. He studied at the University of Bergen (Norway), Lund University (Sweden), and the Institute of Oriental Studies and Yerevan State University (Armenia). He was a visiting professor at Duke University (North Carolina), a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley (California), and a visiting scholar at the University of Washington, Seattle (Washington). He authored an award-winning monograph “Islam in the Social and Political Life of Turkey, 1970-2001” in 2008, and co-authored “History of Turkish Republic” in 2014. He has published extensively on Turkish domestic and foreign policy issues as well as on regional security problems.