Author: Ilgar VELIZADE
There are many examples in history when countries united and formed alliances in order to achieve specific goals, develop or survive, or even become allies against other parties. Such alliances went through stress tests over time and fell apart as soon as they accomplished their missions, or disintegrated due to the conflict of interests among their members, as they were fragile structures. However, the alliance discussed below is impressing because it’s contradictory and unnatural from the moment of inception. This is a trilateral format of relations between Greece-Cyprus-Armenia, which pursues a single objective to oppose Turkish influence in the region.
The trilateral format was established on June 5, 2019, when the foreign ministers of Armenia, Greece and Cyprus met in Nicosia. Joint final declaration provided for cooperation between the three countries in economy, trade, investment, agriculture, education, science, IT and innovation, health care, crisis management, culture and tourism. Three ministers paid a special attention to the discussion of regional problems, including “violation of the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey,” a fair (in the Armenian sense of the word) solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, etc. However, the participation of Armenia in any anti-Turkish projects promises an increase in the capitalisation of her foreign policy. In fact, Yerevan is "selling" its conflict potential with Turkey to its neighbors in the region to ensure mutual benefit. Apparently, Turkey's neighbors, Greece and Cyprus, do not mind taking advantage of the situation. The intensity of meetings in trilateral format in the subsequent period also confirms this. Yerevan suggested and the parties agreed to hold a summit of the troika in January 2020 in Yerevan.
Apparently, the Armenian side was in such a hurry with the preparation of the summit that they forgot to agree the agenda of the meeting and the schedule of visits of the leaders. Therefore, it was decided to postpone the summit. But this fact did not embarrass Armenian diplomats, as they continued to take a very active part in subsequent meetings. In February 2020, a meeting of the defense ministers of Armenia, Greece and Cyprus took place in Athens, where the parties adopted a trilateral action plan for 2020. The plan includes more than 20 joint activities in Greece and Armenia, which have been largely adjusted due to the lockdown.
Since it was the military that raised the issues of regional security and mutual regional challenges for the parties, the situation raises concerns. Indeed, now the emerging trilateral format also has military-political context. The military-political cooperation of the three countries has a pronounced militaristic context against the interests of Turkey, given the existing conflict between the Greek and Turkish populations of Cyprus, which is exacerbated by the Greek-Turkish and Armenian-Turkish contradictions. If we look at the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is not difficult to guess Yerevan's desire to direct the negative potential of the new union against the interests of Azerbaijan as well.
On June 15, Armenia, Greece and Cyprus blocked the candidacy of the Turkish representative, diplomat and politician Volkan Bozkir for the post of chairman of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in 2020-2021. Bozkir was nominated for the post by the group Western Europe and Others, which also includes Turkey. Three states, in violation of the silence procedure, sent letters to the chairman of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, Tijani Muhammad-Banda, demanding the vote on this issue. Moreover, Armenia and Cyprus presented a joint letter, which states that "Turkey threatens the peace and security of the entire region for domination in it, periodically violates the UN Charter and the norms of international law, including the UN sanctions." This is an aggressive line of behavior towards Turkey, which is clearly visible in the actions of the troika members.
On August 5, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian held telephone conversations with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Denidas and Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides. During the talks, the Armenian side declared its support for Greece and Cyprus in the issue of delimiting the boundaries of economic zones in the Eastern Mediterranean and called on Turkey to "respect international law."
In this context, Mnatsakanian reaffirmed Armenia's unconditional support for Greece and Cyprus.
Trilateral format: Baku is unhappy
Armenia's zealous participation in the anti-Turkish alliance amid Yerevan's military preparations against Azerbaijan causes serious concerns of Baku as well. Thus, on September 2, accepting the credentials of the new Greek ambassador to Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev said that the trilateral format of cooperation worries Azerbaijan. “Of course, every country does what it thinks is right. That’s why we do not have any intention to block or prevent your progress in any form. However, I think it is good that you hear our concern from me. I explained you the reason of this concern as well. Azerbaijan did not occupy the lands of Armenia, but Armenia did occupy the territory of Azerbaijan.
“It’s no secret that Turkey is not only our friend and partner but also a fraternal country. We do not hesitate to support Turkey in any circumstances. We see the same level of support from our Turkish brothers. They support Azerbaijan in all matters, and we support them in all matters, including the Turkish exploitation works in the Eastern Mediterranean. I want you to know our position. On my instructions, this position has already been officially announced by the government of Azerbaijan. I can tell you again that Turkey is not only a friendly but also a fraternal country for us. Turks are our brothers. We will support them in all matters,” President Aliyev said to the Greek ambassador.
Baku made it clear that if an anti-Turkish union is formed in the region, particularly with Armenia's active role in the establishment, Azerbaijan is ready to become part of the union with Turkey against the plans of Yerevan and its new partners.
Obviously, the further development of the troika Yerevan-Athens-Nicosia will contribute the strengthening the Baku-Ankara axis, which means the extrapolation of the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean to the South Caucasus and vice versa.
Voyage to the pharaohs
Remarkably, Yerevan does not limit its plans to activities within the troika. After Greece signed an agreement with Egypt on the demarcation of maritime borders and the establishment of an exclusive economic zone on August 6, Armenian diplomacy began to look for opportunities for rapprochement with Cairo.
A month later, on September 12-15, Zohrab Mnatsakanian made his first official visit to Egypt, where he reiterated his government’s support to the actions of Greece and Cyprus, hence reaffirming Armenia’s commitment to the trilateral format. He also promoted the idea of the need to counter Turkey. “Any attempt to export instability and escalation to other regions as a projection of power is regrettable, be it in North Africa or the South Caucasus,” Mnatsakanian said. In fact, Armenian officials usually use expressions like "export of instability" in relation to Ankara's actions, considering that Turkey, being involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as Azerbaijan’s partner, "exports" tension to the South Caucasus. “In this context, Armenia highly appreciates Egypt's firm commitment to peace and stability throughout the world, including in Libya. We very much welcome your efforts in this direction,” Mnatsakanian said. Thus, he made it clear that in the context of the situation in Libya and amid the growing Turkish-Egyptian contradictions over Libya, Armenia demonstratively sides with Cairo.
Prospects of the trilateral format
Armenia has been particular active within the format in the past period. On the contrary, Greece and Cyprus rely mainly on the EU tools, bilateral contacts with regional countries, as well as the Union for the Mediterranean with France being the leader of the union.
Cyprus and Greece do not view Armenia as their trade and economic partner. Nor is Armenia part of the format because of the ethnic or confessional grounds. For Athens and Nicosia, this is nothing more than an alliance against Turkey. For Armenia, on the contrary, it is not just about an alliance against Ankara, but also an alliance promising Armenia closer relations with the EU. Armenia is trying to adjust to the destructive processes taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean trying to sell its conflict potential to Athens and Nicosia. Yerevan has nothing more to sell. However, this is a dubious product. Greece and Cyprus are mainly interested in stability. Multibillion-dollar projects in the region, which have already been invested or are about to be invested amid unstable energy prices and permanent military tensions, are expensive and look ineffective. Everyone understands that sooner or later they will have to negotiate. So the prospects for the Yerevan-Athens-Nicosia trilateral format seem more than dubious.
But the Armenian media nowadays prefers to promote the so called return of Armenia to the Middle East policy. As funny as it sounds, they also refer to the Eastern Mediterranean as the Armenian Gulf. The visits of the Armenian Foreign Minister to Cyprus, Egypt, the opening of the Armenian Embassy in Israel (on the shore of the "Armenian Gulf"), by and large, bring nothing good to the region, which is already teeming with its own problems.