Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan

Armenia–Turkey Normalization Process: A Road to Nowhere?

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Armenia and Turkey started a new phase of normalization at the end of 2021, appointing special representatives to draw up recommendations. From the beginning, Turkey stated that the process should be carried out without any preconditions. However, in the last two years Ankara has put forward various preconditions and failed to take steps agreed upon during negotiations.

Armenia–Turkey relations have always been a significant factor impacting regional geopolitics in the South Caucasus. In the period between the first and the second Nagorno-Karabakh wars, many viewed normalization of Armenia–Turkey relations as having the power to help settle the conflict. Another significant factor influencing the process was the West’s perception that Armenia–Turkey normalization might enable Armenia to reduce its dependence on Russia, as “without fear of Turkey, Armenia will need Russia less.”

Several initiatives have been launched to normalize relations between the two countries on track 2, track 1.5, and track 1 levels, such as the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission in 2001–2004 and “Football Diplomacy” in 2008–2009. However, these did not bring any tangible results, as Turkey repeatedly imposed preconditions, including the “de-occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh,” and abandonment of the Armenian state policy of supporting international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

When, after the second Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020, Armenia and Turkey embarked upon a new process of normalization it was supported by both the West and Russia. The West’s motives were the same: Armenia–Turkey normalization would make Armenia less afraid of Turkey, enabling Yerevan to take tangible steps to move away from Russia. As Armenia–Russia relations began to deteriorate in 2022, the potential benefits of Armenia–Turkey normalization as a tool to pull Armenia away from Russia became more substantial.

Russia, on the other hand, was interested in Armenia–Turkey normalization as an essential step in stabilizing the South Caucasus and opening new communication routes to connect Russia with Turkey via Azerbaijan and Armenia. This task has become more pressing for Russia since the start of the Russia–Ukraine War, as Moscow is looking for alternative supply routes.

Armenia and Turkey officially started the new normalization process in January 2022 when their respective special representatives met in Moscow. A second meeting took place in Vienna in February 2022, and a third, again in Vienna, in May 2022. After each of these meetings, the parties confirmed that the goal of the negotiations was to achieve full normalization between Armenia and Turkey and reiterated their agreement to continue the process without preconditions. It seemed that the process was gaining momentum in July 2022, when after their fourth meeting in Vienna, Armenia and Turkey agreed to enable the crossing of the land border between Armenia and Turkey for third-country citizens visiting Armenia and Turkey, respectively, and to inaugurate direct air cargo trade between Armenia and Turkey.

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The Armenia–Turkey normalization process was parallel to active Armenia–Azerbaijan negotiations mediated by the European Union. After April, May, and August 2022 meetings in Brussels, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a joint statement in Prague in October 2022 together with the president of France and the president of the European Council, and hopes were high that Armenia and Azerbaijan might conclude an agreement by the end of 2022, despite Azerbaijan’s large-scale September 2022 attack against Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had also met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Prague in October 2022 to boost the normalization process. As a goodwill gesture, Armenia sent humanitarian assistance to Turkey after the February 2023 earthquake. The Armenian foreign affairs minister visited Ankara the same month, and Prime Minister Pashinyan attended the inauguration ceremony of Turkish President Erdoğan in June 2023.

However, 20 months after Armenia and Turkey reached an agreement to open the border for citizens of third countries, and even though Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers reconfirmed that agreement in February 2023, Turkey has done nothing toward that end. Meanwhile, during that period, Turkey has continued to provide full support to Azerbaijan, including during the September 2023 military takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan and the forced displacement of Armenians from their homeland. While after every meeting between special representatives Turkey states that the process should continue without any preconditions, Ankara continues to put forward preconditions, insisting that nothing should happen between Armenia and Turkey as long as there is no agreement signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan and claiming that Turkey closely coordinates the Armenia–Turkey normalization process with Azerbaijan. When Armenia renovated the Margara border crossing-point to facilitate the implementation of the July 2022 agreement, almost nothing was done from the Turkish side.

Thus, more than two years after the start of the new phase of the Armenia–Turkey normalization process, Turkey continues to reject the implementation of any agreements already reached between the two sides, to put forward preconditions, and to directly connect the Armenia–Turkey process with Armenia–Azerbaijan negotiations.

Analysis of Ankara’s policy leads to the conclusion that Turkey has no intention of normalizing relations with Armenia. It is taking part in the negotiations for show only and using them as a bargaining chip and image improvement tool in its relations with the West. Simultaneously, Turkey is using the process as leverage against Armenia, putting additional pressure on Yerevan to accept Azerbaijani ultimatums, such as the establishment of an extraterritorial corridor via Armenia, changing the Armenian constitution and other laws, and agreeing to give the so-called enclaves to Azerbaijan.

In the current environment, instead of participating in the Antalya diplomatic forum and contributing to Turkey’s mimicry of a normalization process, Armenia should make clear that Turkey is undermining the normalization process and playing a negative role by increasing tension in the South Caucasus. Armenia should state openly that Turkey is only taking part in the process for show, and that there is no sense in new discussions and meetings with the Turkish side as long as Ankara continues to renege on previous agreements.

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