Talks on normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey

Following the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Ankara did not exclude out reopening relations with Yerevan. On November 16, 2021, during a speech in Azerbaijan’s parliament, the Turkish leader stated that not just Azerbaijan, but all of the region’s countries, including Armenia, will profit from the development of peace and stability in the South Caucasus; Erdogan’s words drew a positive response in Yerevan. On December 13, 2021, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated unequivocally that a new chapter in relations between Ankara and Yerevan had begun, noting that former Turkish Ambassador to Washington Serdar Kiliç had been appointed as a special envoy for the normalization of relations with Armenia, while Armenian Vice Speaker Ruben Rubinyan was appointed as a special envoy for dialogue with Turkey. As a consequence, the first meeting of Turkey’s and Armenia’s special representatives on relations restoration took place in Moscow on January 14 of 2022. Since 2009, the two nations’ representatives have met for the first time to discuss normalization of relations. The parties decided to resume discussions without preconditions with the goal of achieving complete normalization (Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2022).

Turkish and Armenian nations have never maintained official relations since their relationship was tarnished by the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 massacre and forced relocation of Armenians. While Armenia regards the slaughter as genocide, Turkey disputes both Yerevan’s estimates and its classification of the murders as a genocide. Negotiations between the two states began in 1992 and lasted for several years, even when conflict broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan months later over Nagorno-Karabakh. Finally, Turkey blocked the border, thus Armenia was isolated from both east and west for three decades. Given these circumstances, it’s unsurprising that Armenia’s population and political leaders reacted negatively to the current normalization of relations with Turkey.

As genocide is inextricably linked to Armenian identity and self-consciousness, it is a powerful marker that cannot be lessened politically, given the development of the “collective intellection.” Especially representatives of the diaspora have made major contributions to Armenian modern “collective intellection”. While there are different inflated numbers claiming that the Armenian diaspora reaches ten million outside of Armenia (Bolsajian, M., 2018), it is still significantly larger than Armenia’s population of three million (United Nations Population Division, 2020). For the diaspora, normalizing relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan is a true red line. However, it is easy for them to advocate for a “tough policy” toward Turkey and Azerbaijan since they do not live in the country – they live abroad, they are not subjected to the same economic blockade as Armenians in the homeland, and they do not suffer the same economic repercussions. Thus, restoration of ties with Turkey will begin with the internal Armenian population’s collective mindset and then expand to the diaspora, which is still “dreaming” of the return of ancient Western Armenia. As Harut Sassounian, publisher of The California Courier, put it, “relations with Turkey are a pan-Armenian problem, not just a domestic issue for the Republic of Armenia.” Essentially, it is supported by the belief that the Armenian diaspora is so vast and diversified as a result of the murders carried out in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, which drove migration of Armenians in the twentieth century.

As a result, the majority of Armenians today hold an opinion that is diametrically opposed to that of Armenia’s President, Nikol Pashinyan. One such example is former Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, who criticized the presidential office’s restricted powers as enshrined in Armenia’s Constitution. He asserted that the President is powerless to affect matters of war and peace and lacks the requisite capabilities to impact radical domestic and foreign policy processes. (Sarkissian, A., 2022) Sarkissian had previously urged Pashinyan to resign as Prime Minister and for the formation of a new government in the aftermath of Armenia’s loss in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Despite the formation of relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia and Azerbaijan have yet to reach a peace accord, and what if the conflict in Karabakh re-ignites? Armenia acknowledged defeat during the Karabakh conflict, but did it truly? If the third Karabakh conflict begins, it will have ramifications for Turkey-Armenia ties, halting normalization immediately. Nonetheless, the Armenian people are not prepared to reject the Karabakh at this juncture, given the historical backdrop. Today, the Second Karabakh War has been added to this narrative, which might become the “Third” at any point.

This scenario, however, is less plausible, as the portion of Nagorno-Karabakh that stays under Armenian control will have fewer Armenians, as Azerbaijan is rapidly settling in the bordering areas of Karabakh. Eventually, Karabakh factor will gradually fade from Armenian internal politics over time, especially given the lack of hope for revenge in the near future. Armenia as it exists today, even hypothetically, poses no threat to Turkey or Azerbaijan. Additionally, neutrality would benefit Armenia more than an Armenia under Russian hyper-influence, as Turkey is Armenia’s gateway to the EU and Middle East states. Normalization of ties will contribute to regional stability, since Armenia is a member of the same economic bloc, and the inauguration of a railway via Azerbaijan will be beneficial.
At the same time, normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations will assist Ankara in mending its own post-war relations with Yerevan by demonstrating the benefits of transitioning from a war stance to an all-wins approach to commerce. Additionally, if Turkey wishes to create a stable and long-lasting influence in the area, it must establish regular ties with all three South Caucasus countries. Otherwise, Iran, Russia, and the West would always have a strategic edge over Turkey. Turkey, for its part, seeks to expand its regional dominance through improved transport and commercial linkages that will benefit its economy, which is currently the region’s largest.

On January 1, 2022, Armenia lifted the ban on the import of Turkish goods, which was in force from December 2020. These steps gave hope to the restoration of Turkish-Armenian relations. Also on February 2, 2022, charter flights between Yerevan and Istanbul were resumed. Currently the demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, signing a peace treaty with Azerbaijan, overcoming the internal political crisis and normalization of relations with Turkey are on the agenda of the Armenian government as well. On February 24, special envoys from two states met in Vienna for the second round of normalization discourse, confirming that the ultimate goal of the negotiations is complete normalization between the two nations. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, 2022) Anyway, sooner or later the genocide issue should appear during negotiations, and while Armenia has strong support and quite successful campaign with various international organizations and states such as United States, Germany, France, Russia to formally recognize the genocide – it remains unclear if Turkey is ready to give back positions to create a stable and long-lasting influence in the area for itself.

Muraz Safoev

FPC Research Fellow

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