Davit Safaryan

Regulation of Armenian-Turkish Relations: A New Attempt or a New Hotbed of Tension?


By Davit Safaryan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Experts interested in the improvement of Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations supposed that early parliamentary elections in Armenia would lead to intense processes of re-opening of closed communication routes and borders, and to launching various new projects of economic cooperation in the South Caucasus. President Vladimir Putin is consistently implementing a policy of reopening communications between Armenia and Azerbaijan with the goal of unlocking the full potential of trade and economic cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran. In this respect, it would be interesting to analyze how the process of Armenian-Turkish dialogue might develop, considering that not too long ago the main obstacle in its way was the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Under these new circumstances it is worth recalling some basic details of the “Football Diplomacy” of 2009-2011, which may serve as a precedent for our diplomacy and political thought in the course of renewing that process.

Current State of Regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

At the summit of Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) held in 2010, the foreign minister of Turkey was attempting to convince his Armenian counterparts to concede just one district of the “Liberated Areas” so that Turkey could announce the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border and its positive attitude towards the establishment of diplomatic relations. He was turned down. Thus the Protocols signed in Zurich were suspended by the Great National Assembly of Turkey.

Presently, as we all understand, there is a qualitatively different situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. The Armenian forces have surrendered 7 districts that passed under Armenian control as a result of military operations that took place 27 years ago, and the entire frontline between Artsakh and Azerbaijan is controlled by a Russian peacemaker brigade. At first glance, it seems that there is no obstacle for Turkey to announce the establishment of diplomatic relations and open its borders with Armenia. However, let me remind readers that both diplomatic initiatives – the so-called “Armenian-Turkish Reconciliation Commission” and “Football Diplomacy,” had been pushed forward due to the urging of the US as well as diplomatic pressure on Armenia, and Turkish enthusiasm was greatly conditioned by a desire to neutralize the influence of American mediation by the simulation of an active process.

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Currently although the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group formally continues to be a mediator in the Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation process, all mediation is practically realized by the Russian Federation. Our monitoring of the Turkish and Azerbaijani media during the years of “Football Diplomacy” indisputably showed that on the way to establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia, Turkey was under the strong influence of Azerbaijani public opinion and would never take any step that contradicted the declared interests of Azerbaijan. We have been quite confident while stating it a few years ago and it came true.

Generally, readers should know that as regards Armenia, Turkey from May, 1918, had steadily oriented itself in line with Azerbaijani political and public opinion and had not taken any step that could to even the smallest extent weaken Azerbaijan’s positions. It proved true in June, 1918 in Batumi, then on December 2, 1920 in Alexandropol, and afterwards while signing the Moscow and Kars Treaties.

That is why, despite the radical and substantive changes of the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone, Turkey will not hurry to start the process of normalizing relations with Armenia unless there is complete consensus with Azerbaijan. We should also understand that Azerbaijan is sure that legal economic collaboration between Armenia and Turkey will strengthen Armenia. That is why official Baku will do whatever it can to hinder Turkey from taking any step in Armenian direction without its consent. On the other hand, there is no American mediation or pressure now. On the contrary, tensions in Russia-US relations compel the US to think twice about the necessity of taking Turkey’s interests into consideration and at the same time to possibly obstruct the development of the current Russian-Turkish “partnership/rivalry” ties.

As regards Russia, based on its special relations both with Armenia and Azerbaijan, it will be a consistent mediator and will steadily push forward the process of regulation of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. We should also bear in mind that in view of such special relationships there is a strong desire in Russia to see Azerbaijan in the Eurasian Economic Union and in the Organization of the Collective Security Agreement or in some newly formed post-Soviet integration processes, even though Azerbaijan and Turkey have exclusive alliance within the ideological frames of “one nation two states.” A well-known Russian political analyst, Vladimir Lepekhin, believes that Turkey is going to establish a military base in Azerbaijan but even in these circumstances Russia does not stop rapidly developing relations with Azerbaijan and looking for the ways of strengthening its influence there. Therefore, the Turkish signal for regularizing Armenian Turkish relations may be expected only under the conditions of the successful development of some serious dialogue aimed at Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation in the South Caucasus.

The Process of International Recognition and Condemnation of the Armenian Genocide

As we know the second strongest prerequisite of Turkey on its way to establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia was the demand to abandon the Armenian policy of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. US President Joe Biden finally recognized what happened with the Armenians in 1915 as Genocide. This recognition may bring forward many changes in international political and public opinion. At this point, we should note that the Republic of Armenia is pursuing the issue of international recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide for the sake of protecting its national security and disallowance of any further genocidal actions in respect of Armenians. If the further recognition of the US and other countries contribute to our security, then we may consider the process is successfully going on. But the official recognition of the fact of Armenian Genocide even at that highest level, while ignoring or not taking seriously the present dangers threatening the Armenians in Armenia and Artsakh, may mean that our cause would be just a small and dirty bargaining chip in the complex and unfavorable diplomatic games.

So the question arises as to whether the Armenians in Armenia, Artsakh and the diaspora are able to pursue, with a new and strenuous collective effort, the process of Armenian Genocide recognition under the new political conditions in the South Caucasus. It means hard work both in the states that have already recognized and condemned the Genocide and in the states where it should be still done. It seems very difficult under the conditions of the current fragmentation, internal intolerance and unprecedented disorganization of Armenian society. In his Facebook post, one of our Americanists, Suren Sargsyan, even described a pessimistic scenario according to which Armenia will be compelled to abandon the cause of Armenian Genocide recognition though it seems that even the turbulent state of the regional policy cannot radically change the Armenian vision. That is to say, concerning the development of a new Armenian-Turkish dialogue, we haven’t yet shaped a better approach than normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations and opening of the border without any preliminary conditions. If the Armenian authorities suddenly decide to go along the path of least resistance and agree to abandon this strong position, the gap between the motherland and diaspora will be still deepening and Armenia will be left even in a weaker position in front of the Turk-Azerbaijani tandem. Thus, it would be useful to start a new intra-Armenian discussion about the fundamental values based on which we could move forward and settle the problem of our relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Emotional Approaches and the Imperatives of Real Politics

Beginning with the signature of the infamous Agreement of November 9, 2020 between Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, there is a strong concern in Armenia that re-opening of communications between Armenia and Azerbaijan may practically lead to the possibility of unimpeded communication between Turkey and Azerbaijan through Armenia as was presumed by the Batumi and Alexandropol treaties. To let Armenia also benefit from the proclaimed advantages of the proposed agreement, Armenia needs internal public consolidation on which our military and diplomats might rely on. To reach such consolidation, we must be able (under international urges and possibly also pressure) to shape a consensus in regards to Turkey and Azerbaijan. Such a consensus may be reached only if it is professionally grounded and results from politically literate, scholarly, expert and political discussions, simply provided that such discussions will not weaken us or turn into a new reason for hatred, but will strengthen us, turning the state into a more efficient instrument.

At this moment there seems to be a very good alternative of preparing our society for a deliberative referendum where Armenian citizens should answer two questions: whether they agree to start peace negotiations with Azerbaijan about normalizing our relations; and secondly, whether they agree to restart negotiations with Turkey for establishing relations and opening the borders without any preconditions. This referendum might stimulate pan-Armenian discussions and show which inner forces could Armenia rely on while pursuing its official interests.


Davit Safaryan, PhD in History, was born in 1989 in Yerevan, Armenia. Graduate of the Department of Turkic Studies, Faculty of Oriental Studies of the Yerevan State University (bachelor and master degrees), post-graduate of the Institute of Oriental Studies, NAS RA, co-author of one monograph and author of a number of articles, and participant of international conferences, he worked at the National Assembly of Armenia, Ministry of Diaspora, Noravank Scientific-Educational Foundation and at the provost administration of Yerevan State University.

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