The Hazards of Negotiating ‘Without Preconditions’ with Turkey

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It was too good to be true: Turkey had agreed to hold negotiations with Armenia to normalize relations, to open the borders and establish diplomatic relations without preconditions.

After all, it was Turkey which had closed its borders unilaterally in the 1990s and there was no reason whatever for it to reverse that decision, once again, unilaterally.

Ankara has had no interest in normalizing relations with Armenia and held those relations hostage to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan’s favor. Even after Baku “settled” that conflict through military aggression, Turkey failed to make a move until it received a nudge from President Joe Biden.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cannot afford to aggravate relations with the US any further, since the standoff between Washington and Ankara has been escalating over the issues of the S-400 missiles, acquired by Turkey from Russia, and the threat of war with another NATO member, Greece.

Therefore, Mr. Erdogan, to ingratiate himself to Washington, consented to launch negotiations with Armenia, though half-heartedly. Representatives were assigned — Ruben Rubinyan from Armenia and Serdar Kiliç from Turkey. Four sessions yielded minimal results, in terms of opening the borders to third-country citizens and resumption of air cargo transportation between the two countries.

It has to be noted that after the first three sessions, news releases were issued, always containing the statement that the negotiations were held on condition that there be no preconditions.

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The fourth release, however, had deleted that reference, signifying that the talks had hit a snag.

Throughout the negotiations, the Turkish side always reminded everyone that it was coordinating its policies with Azerbaijan, wherein the preconditions lay. But the Armenian side pretended that it was not aware of the 800-pound gorilla in the room until Ankara made its preconditions public, accompanied by a threat for good measure.

Indeed, in an interview given to the Turkish State TV this week, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu stated: “We don’t yet see clear steps from Armenia on Zangezur [a corridor] and other projects or the peace treaty. Armenia’s leadership, headed by Prime Minister [Nikol] Pashinyan, should take positive steps for peace. Words alone are not enough.”

And then he continued, “Whether Armenia likes it or not, this is the reality: we are one nation and two states. That is why if there is to be peace in the region, everybody needs to take steps, including Georgia and the Central Asian countries. We expect concrete steps from Armenia on this issue, be it Zangezur, the comprehensive peace treaty or towards us.”

This last comment certainly threw the proverbial monkey wrench into the negotiations.

There are two conditions which when met, will pose an existential threat to Armenia: Azerbaijan’s comprehensive peace treaty and the Zangezur Corridor.

In the first instance, the peace treaty entails the recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, including Karabakh, as part of that territory. There is no taker of that argument: Karabakh has not been part of Azerbaijan’s territory. It always had its special status, its own legislature, as an autonomous oblast. What Azerbaijan intends to do is to dismantle that legal entity with the collusion of Armenia’s friends, Russia and Iran.

Çavusoglu’s condition is amplified by President Ilham Aliyev’s threat that if Armenia does not recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, then we will not recognize Armenia’s territorial integrity. Thus, the extension of that logic is that Armenia’s territory is fair game for Baku to attack and annex, since there is no peace treaty.

The other threat is the demand to lay claim on the Zangezur corridor’s sovereignty, slicing Armenia into two pieces, with its only mineral wealth of uranium, copper and molybdenum in the Syunik region exposed to outside threats.

Even the much-publicized meeting between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov, on July 16, through the good offices of Georgia, held in Tbilisi, did not yield much and offered the opportunity for the Azerbaijani side to demand the removal of Armenian military from Karabakh, to which the Secretary of Security Council Armen Grigoryan acquiesced: Armenia will withdraw its forces in September. The November 9 declaration stipulates that the forces would remain in their current position until a peace treaty was signed. Thus, Armenia is going even further than the harsh conditions set in the peace agreement.

These demands indicate that Armenia’s interlocutors do not have peace on their minds.

This is a challenge not only to Armenia but to the world community and particularly to parties which have a stake in the outcome of the negotiations and which have stated their positions clearly.

In the first place, it is a challenge for President Biden who has to own these negotiations with their potential outcome, as the initiator of the process.

Next, it is a challenge for Russia, whose foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, during his last visit to Armenia, stressed that all the roads and lines of communications which will be opened, will be controlled by the respective governments on whose soil they are located.

“There should be no equivocation about this issue,” he added. This means that the Kremlin endorses Armenia’s sovereignty in the Zangezur issue.

During the July 18 tripartite summit in Tehran amongst Presidents Vladimir Putin, Ebrahim Raisi and Erdogan, the supreme spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated that “The Islamic Republic will not tolerate policies or plans that lead to the closing of the Iran-Armenia border, because that border has a history of thousands of years.”

Analysts in Armenia interpreted this position as Iran’s support for Armenia, whereas it contains some self-serving elements; at best, it demonstrates a rare case of confluence of interests. When Armenia controlled large swathes of border land before the Azerbaijani conquest, Iran felt more secure. Now that Iran has a broader border with Azerbaijan, it is more vulnerable to Turkey’s designs to break up Iran along its ethnic fault lines, as well as expose it to Israeli surveillance and thus potential military operation.

Armenia is not alone facing the Turkish threats. That country’s collapsing economy can no longer sustain Mr. Erdogan’s maximalist military ambitions, though it is at the root of it. His popularity has hit a critical low point, endangering the prospects of his 2023 re-election. That is why he wishes to show a brave face to the world while domestically the inflation rate makes basic survival difficult for a majority of the population.

Michael Crowley, in an article published in the New York Times on July 23, states: “A senior U.S. official said that much of Mr. Erdogan’s problematic behavior was a function of his political weakness in Turkey, where the inflation rate climbed to almost 80 percent last month. Hoping to shift attention from his mismanaged economy, Mr. Erdogan has turned to chest-thumping displays of nationalism and demagogy over the threat from the P.K.K., a Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey, and Kurdish groups in Syria.”

Turkey, indeed, is pushing the envelope on many fronts: The Tehran summit was convened to discuss Syria, where Mr. Erdogan plans a fourth raid to occupy 30 more kilometers of that country’s territory and slaughter Syrian Kurds aligned with the US forces. Turkey’s partners at the meeting discouraged Mr. Erdogan from taking such actions. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the White House and even the Pentagon issued warnings that Mr. Erdogan’s plans will further destabilize the region. Ironically, even Israel, which had launched two missile strikes into Damascus airport a week before, advised against the raid, arguing that the action will enhance Iran’s position.

Although Mr. Erdogan continues to mull over his plans, this time around his military operation will not be a cakewalk, as Syria has been amassing forces on its border, supported by the Russian military and Iran’s proxy forces.

Tensions are rising on Turkey’s borders, with Cyprus and Greece, as well. Turkey’s Vice President Fuad Oktay warned: “The hydrocarbon resources of the Mediterranean are not the toys of the Greek Cypriots. Where our drilling ships will operate is determined by the decisions that Turkey will take alone as a sovereign state. No one should be disturbed by the activities that Turkey will carry out with its two ships in accordance with international law.”

Turkey, of course, is aware that it is alone in this confrontation against a consortium that has brought together Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. The last time Turkey challenged Greece to drill in its littoral waters, it ended up in a confrontation with a French warship.

In his turn, Erdogan, speaking on the occasion of the 99th anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty, issued a threat that Greece has militarized some of the Aegean islands in violation of the treaty. Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has also spoken out against the closure of four Turkish schools in Thrace, also evoking the Lausanne treaty, never mind that Turkey, a long time ago, had closed the Greek seminary in Haybeli and the Armenian Seminary of Soup Khach, in violation of the same treaty.

Last but not least, Mr. Erdogan, to test the limits of his aggression, bombed the Iraqi region of Zakho on July 20, killing at least eight civilians and wounding more than 20. The Baghdad government has recalled its ambassador from Turkey and has lodged a protest with the United Nations Security Council. That body, on July 25, said its members “expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured, and expressed their support for the Iraqi authorities in their investigations.”

The European Union, in particular Germany, and the US have condemned the attack swiftly and vigorously. This international outcry may bring some measure to Mr. Erdogan’s folly.

These events constitute the context of the political atmosphere that Turkey has created, and thus, placed Armenia in good company.

It is not clear at this point where Armenia’s negotiations with Turkey may lead or even if they will continue, but we must not harbor any illusions: Turkey’s ultimate goal is to destroy Armenia. It doesn’t bother to hide it. We need to remember that at the victory parade in Baku on December 10, 2020, Mr. Erdogan was very sincere when he announced, “We are here to complete what our ancestors began,” as he evoked the memory of Enver Pasha, one of the architects of the Armenian Genocide.

From the Armenian perspective the goal could only be to postpone the ultimate confrontation until such time that Armenia is in a position to neutralize the existential threat emanating from the Turkic world.

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