Along with the then journalist of “Azg” newspaper Tatul Hakobyan I was invited to Istanbul to cover NATO Summit in June, 2014.
It happened so that the Ataturk Airport deemed as the main in Turkey and Istanbul was overloaded with the reception of leaders of various countries and before landing we were informed our airplane would land at another airport, which was located 30 kilometers from Istanbul but they said there was no reason for concern as there were buses there that would immediately take us... Laleli fair. This news sparked excitement among almost all passengers but I got concerned. After purchasing the visa (resembling a post stamp) from a strange person and crossing the border, I took the bus which, as the driver claimed, was going to the center of Istanbul. I realized on the road that I was in the eastern part of Istanbul and not in the European. And when the bus stopped close to a ferry-boat, and the driver said it’s the last stop I realized I will have to cross the Bosphorus. As the traffic was limited in the city center, I then changed a bus and a tram and finally got to my hotel located nearby Taksim Square. I say this is for you to understand that I did not enter Turkey through the front entrance, as many people do, but through the backdoor, where to put it mildly, not everything was magical.
NATO Summit was highly important for Turkey and newly appointed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and that is why the Turks had done their best to organize the event on the highest level and hospitality to such a degree that phone network and Internet were free of charge for the journalists. But local and western journalists were especially delighted by the free food and beverages available at the site of the Summit and accounted by this, they had moved their workplace to the open-air lunchroom.
Armenia was taking part in the Summit on Foreign Minister level; Vardan Oskanyan had arrived to get acquainted with newly elected Prime Minister Erdogan and newly appointed Gul rather than to resolve specific issues. A number of Armenian journalists had also arrived with Oskanyan, however, poor them, they were not allowed to cover the event itself, instead they were taken for sightseeing to the Armenian places of interest as if they were tourists and not journalists. Eventually, on the Armenian part, only two of us were more or less fully covering this historic event where issues related to the expansion of the Alliance, Georgia’s future membership and development of cooperation between partner countries were being decided.
At the end of the second day of the Summit when the important foreign figures had already left and the declaration had been adopted, I accidentally noticed on one of the illuminated call-outs that the Prime Minister of the hosting country – Erdogan – would hold a press conference. From the very start I found it less likely I would have a chance to ask a question; during such press conferences spokespersons usually promise an opportunity of a question to those who they know. Moreover, it’s an open secret that in many countries they even ask the journalists they know or stand close to them to ask questions the answers to which their leaders already have in front of them.
Nevertheless, my partner Ara Tadevosyan who was on watch in Yerevan encouraged me saying: “Pluck up your courage and go and ask your question as soon as you have the chance”.
I went... The press conference was held in a large oval auditorium capable of accommodating up to 500 people. Half of the seats were already taken by Turkish officials who had organized the event as well as journalists the majority of which were Turkish as well. Some climate of admiration ruled in the air. Everybody was happy and delighted. I just had to spoil it... And I proceeded to my business.
I would like to recommend my young partners not to hurry up – wait until you have a good chance. As soon as you get it, seize it and don’t let it slip through your fingers.
Everybody wanted to voice their questions to Erdogan – both journalists and non-journalists who probably wanted to arrest the attention of their boss. At some moment Erdogan fell into euphoria and got oblivious of the spokesperson. He started deciding who should ask the next question. The questions of Turkish journalists to which Erdogan and Gul were giving short answers more resembled a toast that made them blush like newlyweds. I noticed a certain sequence – the PM was giving the floor by turn to the journalists on the left, then to the journalists in the center and finally, to the journalists on the right. Journalists on the right were obviously fewer in number and if I sat there, then sooner or later it would be my turn. So I changed my seat and sat in a place that would be well visible for both Erdogan and the video cameras.
Let me make lyrical outpourings here... Erdogan has eyes of wolf and not everyone can look him in the eyes for a long time; at least, his subordinates used to lower their eyes guiltily, even if they had not done anything improper.
However, when the Turkish Prime Minister made his next turn and our eyes met, I literally jumped out of my seat and Erdogan who had no idea of what was awaiting him pointed at me. The microphone was brought to me:
“Mr. Prime Minister, I represent Armenian “Mediamax” Media Agency. Shortly before you said that you commend development of relations between NATO partner states. But how can we – Armenians – develop relations with the Alliance if our only NATO member neighbor, which is Turkey, has closed borders with Armenia and is not willing to open them? Thank you”.
A pause... The wolf’s eyes were “sawing” me to such an extent that it felt like they wanted to pierce a hole in my brain and see what there was in it. The day was irrevocably ruined. “Armenians again came to the Turk’s house and ruined everything”. The Turkish journalists were darting baleful looks full of hatred and were trying to turn me to dust and ashes. Finally Erdogan recalled it was a question that requires an answer and said the following:
“Thank you for this important question. We hope Armenia and Turkey will manage to improve their relations in the near future. At yesterday’s meeting with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, we discussed issues related to peace and stability in the South Caucasus. I hope those meetings will provide a ground for us to find such solutions to regional issues in case of which there will be no losers and winners”.
The curtain falls... Pay attention to the question and the answer – there is no relation between them. But do you really think I was expecting Erdogan to repent, kneel and apologize to the entire Armenian nation and promptly order to open the Armenian-Turkish border? I am not that naïve – my task was to voice the question as rephrasing the famous saying “only part of a question is actually a question”. After hearing the answer to my question I put together my items and walked out of the auditorium. Turkish journalists continued “annihilating” me with their eyes but I felt happy as I managed to slightly shake the overall idyll.
I returned to the hotel. I was on CNN Turk; the channel was televising me at the moment I was asking question. It was then followed by the commentator’s remark from which I didn’t get a thing. But I neither was greatly interested in it. The task was accomplished…
Davit Alaverdyan is the Chief Editor of Mediamax.