The Hazardous Road of Negotiations with Turkey’s ‘No Preconditions’ Approach

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Representatives of Armenia and Turkey met in Moscow on January 14 for a session aimed at starting official negotiations soon.

The meeting was hailed in many quarters. Even during a period of increased tensions between the US and Russia, the reactions from those two opposing capitals converged.

The US, Russia, the European Union, NATO and other corners welcomed the initiative, particularly when Armenia and Turkey issued identical statements indicating that the meeting had taken place in a positive atmosphere with constructive approaches on both sides.

Of course, these declarative statements do not mean much, because there is no roadmap yet nor an agenda on the table to start substantive negotiations.

This rapprochement was mediated by Russia and had Washington’s blessing for different reasons. Armenia is treading cautiously so as not to give any cause for concerns to Moscow, but many believe that face-to-face negotiations may prove to be more productive than those mediated by third parties, because the latter may interject their own interests in the deal.

The situation is not without some ironies. In Russia’s case, we have to ask why is it important for Moscow to restore Armenia’s normal relations with Turkey when Russia has invested so much in the fear that Armenia harbors against Turkey. For many years, Armenia’s unconditional cooperation with the Russian side has been fueled by that fear and Russia has used that as a political asset in dealing with Armenia. The Russian military base number 102 in Gyumri is proof of that, where Armenia, despite its weak economy, has assumed to host it and cater to it.

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The other issue, at the start of these negotiations, is the timing; indeed, how will these talks be impacted in the shadow of the current Washington-Moscow standoff over Ukraine?

The factor driving Moscow and Washington to encourage these negotiations is that both parties are currently weak and they may give in to international pressure. Of course, this weakness is relative; Armenia is on its knees after its defeat in the recent war, and Turkey has become the victim of its own expansionist ambitions, which have led the country to the brink of economic collapse.

It is public knowledge that President Joe Biden has personally advised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lift the blockade on Armenia and initiate diplomatic relations.

In order to make headway, Armenia has to study Ankara’s negotiation tactics and the possible pitfalls awaiting it.

In order to satisfy President Biden’s request, Mr. Erdogan surprised the world and announced that Turkey is negotiating with Armenia without preconditions but during the negotiations, it will certainly corner Armenia in an impasse and come up with clean hands before Washington.

Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan of the Academy of Sciences in Armenia states that this is the fourth attempt for the two countries to negotiate, following the 2009 Zurich protocols, “football diplomacy” and the “track-two” diplomacy of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC).

Two of those efforts were encouraged by the United States. He believes that this round has a better chance because it is advocated by both the US and Russia. But he has a caveat: Safrastyan underscores that the new Armenian-Turkish process can succeed only “If Turkey, under pressure from the US, Russia and France, recognizes the Armenian Genocide.”

And his cautious optimism at this time is based on the fact that the three co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group — Russia, the US and France — tasked with settling the Karabakh issue, now officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, which was not the case in the previous instances.

All that President Biden has asked of Turkey is to lift the blockade and establish diplomatic relations. If Turkey has just achieved that goal, it must not be rewarded for good behavior. After all, Ankara had breached international law by closing its borders and blockading a country deprived of a marine outlet in the first place. On the contrary, Turkey must be held accountable for its conduct as an international outlaw.

Instead of viewing the situation from that perspective, Ankara is sitting at the negotiating table to resolve century-old problems and Yerevan is giving in to this diplomatic ruse.

No one can predict how long these negotiations may last and what outcome they may yield, but Armenia has to be prepared for the economic impact which may result from the opening of the borders, and accordingly must set tariffs and put in place regulatory systems to protect Armenia’s flagging economy.

One component of Turkey’s expansionist policy has been economic penetration. A case in point is Turkey’s presence in Africa. This past fall, Mr. Erdogan was in Africa, from where he returned with hefty economic deals from the oil-rich country of Angola. Similarly, Russia is beholden to the Turkish economy as well as the Turkic nations in Central Asia.

Armenia must not pin its hopes on economic relations with Turkey; the latter can offer Armenia one deal which is an intangible factor in itself yet very tangible for Amenia: peace and security on its borders.

Turkey and Azerbaijan are stifling Armenia militarily and economically to depopulate it. Both Erdogan and Aliyev have publicly stated that Armenia is being swiftly depopulated which will lead the country to implode, making it an easy prey for Turkish takeover.

Today in Armenia, even those with secure jobs want to leave the country, worrying that there is no security and no hope for their children.

Turkey’s contention that it will be negotiating without preconditions can fool very few people as it has its barely-hidden agenda with many preconditions; its perennial demand from Armenia to give up the pursuit of genocide recognition, ratify the Kars Treaty of 1921 which has set the current boundaries between Armenia and Turkey, and make peace with Azerbaijan so that Turkey can open the border.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu has stated time and again that in every step of the negotiations, Turkey will consult Azerbaijan. President Erdogan himself has instructed Armenia to sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan.

Down the road, if Ankara conditions its deal in tandem with Baku, the Armenian side must make a counter condition of consulting with the diaspora. Armenia is the only entity which can plead the case of genocide and the compensation emanating from it, but it cannot sideline the diaspora when it comes to the genocide issue without coordinating with the diasporan Armenians who are the descendants of the survivors of that genocide.

At a conference in Chicago, Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesperson, stated that when Turkey and Armenia strike a deal, the case of the diaspora Armenians will collapse.

In his turn, Foreign Minister Çavusoglu has warned diaspora Armenians not to destroy the negotiations by their independent actions.

Therefore, it is clear that diasporan activism is a real thorn in the side of Ankara.

There is precedent for the inclusion of diasporan considerations. In 1920, at the Paris Peace Conference, the Armenian government delegation was headed by Avedis Aharonian, who signed the Sevres Treaty. But alongside Aharonian’s signature was that of Boghos Nubar, the head of the Armenian National Delegation, representing the displaced Armenians of the diaspora, and Turkey recognized both signatories.

If Azerbaijan weighs in at the negotiations, these talks may come to a grinding halt, because the leader of that country has been seeking an outrageous price for his consent.

Mr. Aliyev has been insisting on wresting the Zangezur Corridor from the sovereign territory of Armenia. That corridor is crucial for Turkey as well, to pursue its own pan-Turkic agenda, although with the recent development in Kazakhstan, that plan has suffered a setback. Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was an ardent supporter of pan-Turanism, and was still the power behind the throne of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was removed from the scene and Russia tightened its economic control of the region. However, the Turks do not design their politics on incidents; they plan for centuries down the road and therefore a comeback is still on their agenda.

The reason Turkey is so interested in pursuing that bypass in Armenia is that during the recent war, Iran and Georgia blocked the movement of its military. Otherwise, both Baku and Ankara have corridors and roads for civilian use through those countries.

The current border incidents are the result of Aliyev’s frustrations. He had banked his policies on Turkey’s flourishing global role. But Turkey’s current state and the meltdown in Kazakhstan have turned out to be game-changing developments and also indicate that the writing is on the wall for post-Soviet despots.

Perhaps as a result of this new upheaval, Aliyev has been acting rashly. He held a press conference recently to insult and ridicule the OSCE Minsk Group. He stated that the Minsk Group has no business anymore as Azerbaijan has already solved the Karabakh impasse. “By the way, this year is the 30th anniversary of that group. They can celebrate the occasion and go home,” he said.

On the other hand, he said that he will disrupt the OSCE activities in the region, a challenge thrown down at the international community.

As far as the corridor is concerned, “we will build railways and motorways there. In the future, we are considering powerlines to supply energy to Nakhichevan. We will also build gas pipelines. One may pass through Meghri. The other one through Kapan and another one through Sisian. Therefore, that corridor will encompass the entire region of Syunik,” Aliyev added.

Aliyev’s litany of insults also included a military threat; he indicated that Azerbaijan will continue rearming itself, but “we will watch carefully the revanchist activities of the Armenian side and we will destroy any threat, no matter how profound, that may be deployed.”

Of course, Aliyev’s peace plan imposed on Armenia seeks the latter to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, Karabakh included.

Continuing with his rash moves, Aliyev made a move that might actually play into Armenia’s hand; this past week he made a surprise trip to Ukraine, when the war trumpets are sounding between Russia and Ukraine, and signed a military treaty of mutual defense.

Thus far, Russia has let Aliyev off the hook when it made rash moves, but this time, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, reacted by announcing that demarcation and delimitation of the border are not related to the Karabakh issue, the latter being Aliyev’s demand.

Therefore, there are many roadblocks in the course of these negotiations.

Armenia has to sue for peace to buy time and develop its armed forces for the next round, which may not be too far in the future.

 

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