25 June 2022

Saturday, 11:32

HOW MUCH IS THE ARMENIAN HESITATION?

When can we expect peace between Armenia and Turkey?

Author:

01.01.2022

Experts actively discuss the likely positive shifts between Armenia and Turkey again. First, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, made a rather sensational statement in the parliament: Turkey and Armenia will appoint special envoys to normalise relations and resume charter flights. Then the spokesperson of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Vahan Hunanyan, confirmed: yes, Yerevan will appoint a special representative to regulate relations with Turkey. A few days later, the details of agreement surfaced. Former Turkish ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kilic, was appointed a special envoy from Turkey; his counterpart from Armenia will be the Deputy Speaker of the parliament, Ruben Rubinyan.

Officials also provided some details about the charter flights. According to Mr. Cavusoglu, the flights between Istanbul and Yerevan will be carried out by Pegasus Airline (Turkey), and FlyOne Armenia, which has been intensively prepared to be the national air carrier of Armenia.

On December 27, Mr. Cavusoglu said that Armenia supported the idea of holding the first meeting of the special envoys of Turkey and Armenia in Moscow.

 

Chances of warming

Experts believe that there are indeed chances for the normalisation of relations. Border between Armenia and Turkey was closed in 1993 in response to the Armenian occupation of the Azerbaijani lands. All along the conflict Ankara has repeatedly emphasised the impossibility of establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan or opening the borders unless Armenia leaves the occupied territories.

Now, after the victory of Azerbaijan in Garabagh, the situation has changed radically. The main and the most difficult problem has been eliminated. Baku also welcomes the normalisation process between Ankara and Yerevan. It is clear that the reconciliation process triggered after Azerbaijan’;s victory is part of a peaceful future for the entire region.

Finally, although they prefer not to mention this in press releases, the current situation is fundamentally different from the sensational ‘football diplomacy’ and the Zurich talks in 2010, when Azerbaijan was categorically against the reconciliation. Many informed sources believe that it was Baku's negative reaction that played an instrumental role in the failure of the Zurich talks.

Now the situation is fundamentally different. Ankara insists on holding the negotiations with Armenia in close coordination with Baku. The liberation of occupied territories of Azerbaijan does indeed pave the way to a peaceful future. Ankara and Baku proposed a new format of regional cooperation 3+3, which includes both Turkey and Armenia.

 

Russian intrigue

One more aspect of the issue is the position of Moscow. Thus, the Russian expert community voices quite unexpected views. Some regard the reconciliation of Ankara and Yerevan as a purely American project, interpreting this through the appointment of the former Turkish ambassador to the US as a special envoy. Some media outlets controlled by Aram Gabrelyanov even wonder whom Ankara and Yerevan intend to be friends against. They think that the reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey may be one of the tactical moves to withdraw Armenia from the Russian influence.

Back in November, the Russian Foreign Ministry officially announced that Armenia had asked Moscow to mediate in establishing relations with Turkey. “Yes, I can confirm that Armenia applied for assistance in mediation between Yerevan and Ankara. Russia is interested and made efforts in this process to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations,” said the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova.

Surely, the incumbent Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan can occasionally use pro-Western slogans, appoint the Soros grantees to key positions in his team, and even beg the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to hold his ‘mediation’ meeting. But Yerevan takes cardinal political decisions with an eye to the Kremlin. This is quite expected and logical for a country whose border with Turkey is guarded by Russian troops, who also control the airport checkpoints. Under such a situation, it is illogical to expect political breakthroughs from Yerevan, especially when it concerns relations with Turkey.

 

Pitfalls

It looks like Armenia should be more interested in the success of the current ‘diplomatic rapprochement’, at least because it can help suspend the long-awaited blockade of the country through unblocking communications.

But whether Armenia is ready for real peace is still an open question. While the Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan expresses his intention to travel to Ankara and Baku, Secretary of the Armenian Security Council Armen Grigoryan makes an indicative statement: “There was a public trial about the conditional start of the Armenian-Turkish relations. Armenia has responded to positive signals from Turkey regarding the normalisation of relations. As for the agenda, we have said many times that we must sit down at the negotiating table and know what kind of agenda can be developed. But in general there is no agenda yet.”

This statement is more serious than it might seem at first glance. The parties have a ‘pool of options’ to choose from without adopting fundamental decisions yet. These include the resumption of flights, appointment of special envoys and even meetings between them. However, the agenda of negotiations requires concise statements. Real normalisation, reconciliation, establishment of diplomatic relations, etc. does not start with flights or lifting the embargo on Turkish goods in Armenia (which has most likely gone unnoticed in the Turkish market). It must start with the recognition of state borders.

But whether Armenia is brave enough to publicly renounce its territorial claims against Turkey is a big question. Unfortunately, a culture of nostalgia for the ‘lost lands’ of Eastern Anatolia supposed to be transformed into ‘Western Armenia’ has been cultivated in the Armenian society for over a hundred years. In addition, the coat of arms of Armenia bears an image of the Mount Agridag, or Biblical Ararat, which is also located in Turkey, but perfectly visible from Yerevan in clear weather. So, will the current leadership of Armenia have enough brevity to abandon the idea, which has been almost the core of political life in Armenia for more than a hundred years?

As the patriarch of the Armenian diplomacy Zhirayr Libaridian noted a year ago in his sensational interview, "this summer (2020, R+), the president and prime minister of Armenia made statements regarding the anniversary of the Sevres Peace Treaty, which can be regarded as the declaration of territorial claims against Turkey." Moreover, this ‘betrayal of the ideals of the Armenian cause’ will surely be used by the opposition, which is categorically against the unblocking of communications and a possible inflow of Turkish investments into Armenia.

In 2010, when the Zurich Protocols were signed, the Armenian elite could still comfort itself that it was Turkey that was ‘forced’ to make concessions to Yerevan and the negotiations would proceed in line with an Armenian scenario. It seems there is no room for such illusions today. But when the head of the Armenian Security Council declares the absence of any agenda for the talks, this may indicate that Yerevan is not ready to resolve fundamental issues and recognise the borders of Turkey, the Moscow and Kars treaties, etc.

What will be the price Armenia will pay for its hesitation?



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