As we witness the controversy regarding a potential step towards the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, we see Armenians divided over contrasting visions of which strategy is in Armenia’s best interest. As they excite extreme emotions – from hopefulness to fear and anger, the real status of things seems to be obscured by rather dogmatic, binary narratives.

By following a “no preconditions” policy, the Armenian government proposes the separation of the symbolic from the practical, focusing on economy and politics and putting aside whatever appears as “old harms and recriminations.”

I have noticed that many individuals and institutions engaged in the Armenia-Turkey reconciliation process respond to recent developments with enthusiasm, assuming that normalization is the beginning of the reconciliation process. While technically justifiable, this assumption is based more on hopes and wishes than a realistic assessment. What we witness today, is, in fact, an attempt at superficial normalization, with the hope for further reconciliation in an undefined future. The expectation that both forgiveness and repentance will occur naturally, simply by people-to-people contact, is highly idealistic and extremely unrealistic.

What is not mentioned is that such reconciliation cannot happen without a complete change of narrative and the character of the Turkish government, which cannot occur without some sort of subsequent complete conceptual revolution and the reinvention of modern Turkey. Even the most profound people-to-people contact will not bring a mass change in consciousness without proper, long-term policy measures taken at the governmental level. There will be no reconciliation without the reestablishment of an elementary sense of justice.

On the other hand, the genocide issue is being brought up frequently by those who oppose the governmental plan. By following the “no-preconditions” agenda, the Armenian government indirectly promotes the idea that genocide can be considered as secondary, while to many Armenians it is central to the problem. This is not because of its scale and horror, and not even due to the obligation to the victims and survivors. It is critical simply because it embodies the attitude of the Turkish state towards Armenia, which is continuously hostile.

Considering Armenian-Turkish relations strictly in the limited framework of the aftermath of the 1915 events is convenient to Western politicians, as it takes away the pressure to confront multiple problems regarding contemporary Turkish foreign policy. The indirect acceptance of the Turkish policy of genocide denial by the Armenian government, is painful mainly because it occurs in the context of extreme imbalance between the capacities of Turkey and Armenia to shape the narrative and subsequently, to set the conditions for normalization. The “no-preconditions” policy is problematic not because it takes place, but because it is obviously not a choice, but simply the only way to reach the discussed normalization.

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As Armenia attempts to show good will, Turkey continues implementing its agenda. However, a good start for showing good intentions would be to stop persecuting Armenian minority in Turkey (a still pending issue reported on recently by journalist Aris Nalci) and bullying foreign states to stay silent on the genocide issue.

As long as foreign diplomats will be forced to pretend they did not visit Tsitsernakaberd, any normalization will only remain a façade covering extremely unbalanced and toxic relations. The “no-preconditions” policy lures Armenian citizens with the promise of security. We seem to follow the logic that showing compliance or giving Turkey something she needs or wants (a permeable sales market, a foreign policy success, a potential improvement in connectivity with the rest of Turkish world) may assure peace and stability in the region.

Politically, we seem to follow the approach that any relations are always better than none and economically, putting it simply, that more trade is always better than less trade. These statements are technically true in the most simplified way, but the issue is not simple. It is in fact complicated beyond measure.

What we are missing from the bigger picture is that the reluctance of many Armenians to support this agenda stems not from the idea itself, but rather from the justifiable doubts regarding the Armenian government’s ability to maneuver through an extremely unequal and imbalanced set of circumstances. Whoever doubts this capacity is quickly labelled as nationalist and accused of an anti-reconciliation stand, two labels which do not go well in the contemporary world with its neo-liberal narrative constituting the mainstream.

A “no preconditions” policy may seem visionary to some, but at the same time it raises questions regarding how far the Armenian political elite is willing to go and what it is ready to sacrifice to make it all happen. A dogmatic approach on both sides takes away the need to engage in a constructive debate on how to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations in a way that will secure Armenian economic and political interest. The available analysis on the subject is predominantly shallow and focus entirely on the estimated annual trade volume raising from the potential open exchange, which is an insufficient factor for foreseeing the entire range of potential consequences. In fact, the total range of economic benefits for Turkey seems to outweigh the ones from Armenia. Without a competent government showing enough professionalism to look deeply into every detail of this exchange, this step will cause an economic downside for many Armenians equal to its potential benefits.

The frequent answer that these concerns are irrelevant, as Armenia will soon become an innovation and technology hub, is not sufficient, and in fact misleading. As recently pointed out by Ani Avetisyan, despite rapid growth, the IT sector still constitutes only 4% of Armenian GDP, and we must not forget that IT companies have a rather limited potential in terms of creating jobs. Additionally, the Russian IT businesses recently transferred to Armenia enjoy tax-free privileges. What is more important, according to Veronika Movchan of the German Economic Team, is that the estimated value of imports from Turkey will be at least 3.5 times higher than exports. I see no valid governmental strategy to protect most vulnerable businesses and to support Armenian industry and agriculture in general, while one in five Armenians relies on farming as a source of income.

In a way, it is all about the genocide, but not in the way it seems. It is not because it did happen and is being continuously denied. In fact, this is not about the past, but strictly about the present and the future. The genocide and its denial are the symbol of many problems we face – the weakness and insignificance of Armenia in global geopolitics, the hypocrisy and indolence of Western politics, and the politization and marketization of the international press (I always notice that Al Jazeera, for example, tends not to use the term genocide). It reflects the attempts to reach a global political balance by possibly lowering Russia’s influence in Caucasus, at the cost of regional imbalance. It exposes the lack of integrity of those from whom we expect it the most, such as Ursula von der Leyen or Abdulla Shahid.

The past two weeks were telling. The president of the European Commission was very enthusiastic about the deepened cooperation with Azerbaijan, the president of the United Nations General Assembly deleted his tweet on his visit to the Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan, and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged both sides to show restraint after the recent violation of the ceasefire by Azerbaijan. These actions expose the inability of the Western world to deal with Turkey and Azerbaijan and the dearth of any significant attempts to do so. While normalization is being discussed, a deep concern has been created about the possibility of a subsequent “Palestinization” of the Armenian case internationally and the deepening of its entanglement in a structural and symbolical set of unequal circumstances.

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