Will Armenia and Turkey Shake Hands Ever?

Complex and tense relations between Turkey and Armenia are a well known fact. Since 1993, Turkey has been maintaining a closed border with Armenia. How long will this continue? Will the two countries make peace?

For several years their diplomacies have been trying to find a way to normalize their relations, first in a closed niche, and then publicly. On April 23, 2009, Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries announced their plans to design a “road map” for the negotiation process, and after a few months the parties were able to reach very specific arrangements with the help of Switzerland.

On October 10 of the last year in Zurich, Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu and Edward Nalbandian signed two documents, the importance of which is obvious from their titles alone: the “Protocol on establishing diplomatic relations” and “Protocol for the development of bilateral relations.” The value of these documents was also emphasized by the presence at the signing of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and EU High Representative Javier Solana. Public opinion in most countries is optimistic about the prospects of Armenian-Turkish settlement. Nearly a year has passed since then .

Felix Stanevsky, department head of the Caucasus Institute of the CIS and Russia's Ambassador, talked about current situation with these prospects in an interview with Pravda.ru.

“Why are these relations still not normalized?”

“The Armenian-Turkish protocols signed in Zurich should be ratified by the parliaments of the two countries. At first, many thought that this was the issue of three or four months. There were statements of the kind that documents can be approved by the Parliament before the end of 2009. But the burden of the past turned out to be heavier than it looked like for those overly optimistic. Perhaps, the most difficult thing is a fundamental difference between the parties with respect to the events that took place 95 years ago, on April 24, 1915. The Armenian side has insisted that the Ottoman Empire carried out genocide of the Armenians then living in Turkey.

For the population of present-day Armenia and for the large Armenian Diaspora scattered around many countries of the world, it is a fact that can neither be forgotten nor justified. Armenia is seeking recognition of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey by as many countries as possible. Turkey is actively opposed to it, convinced that no genocide took place.

It seems that it would be possible, without abandoning their positions, to establish diplomatic relations, open borders, and address other specific issues. But the mutual distrust in both countries is a serious constraint in the normalization of relations. In Armenia, there is a concern that the settlement of relations with Turkey could lead to obliteration of the genocide. The Armenian Diaspora in particular raises the question, and among its members there are many of those who insist on the return to Armenia of the lands which now belong to Turkey. Here, I will say that confrontation of the parties on the subject of genocide is not the only factor that complicates the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations. “

“You mentioned the Armenian Diaspora. What role does it play? It is believed that the Armenian lobby in several countries has helped the adoption of decisions beneficial for Yerevan. Is it true ?”

“The Armenian Diaspora helps Armenia in many ways. For example, financial support is significant. The role of Armenian communities in several countries is significant. This includes support of Armenia's positions in international affairs and in its relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Diaspora often facilitates the adoption of the decisions favorable for Yerevan in Western countries, including the United States. Another thing is that the issue of normalizing relations with Turkey is not always looked at the same way by the Armenians of Armenia and Diaspora Armenians. But this is understandable as one group has to live close to Turkey, and the other one does not.”

“On March 4 of this year, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution where the actions of the Ottoman Empire against Armenians in 1915 are recognized as genocide. How has this affected bilateral relation ?”

“The adopted resolution did not improve understanding between the U.S. and Turkey. If it is soon approved by the Congress, it is clear that it would considerably complicate the relationship between the United States and Turkey. That is why the Obama Administration opposed this option. Since then, Congress has not discussed this resolution. It is more than doubtful that U.S. lawmakers will accept it in the foreseeable future. Even in the Committee it passed by a margin of only one vote.”

“Until recently, the Armenian-Turkish relations have been poisoned by the state of “neither peace nor war” which, in fact, is the state of affairs between Armenia and Azerbaijan. What is the situation like now ?”

“The main difficulty in the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia is the Karabakh issue. The war ended in 1994, and since then Nagorno-Karabakh issue has been a topic of negotiation between the parties with the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by Russia, USA and France. Negotiations are difficult, because the starting positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan were diametrically opposed. Baku believes that Nagorno-Karabakh should belong to Azerbaijan, as it was before the Soviet collapse and the ensuing war.

Yerevan is convinced that Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent state, where the Armenian population that constitutes the majority has a right for self-determination. Despite all the difficulties, both the conflicting parties and mediators see an advance in the settlement of the issue. It is worth emphasizing that Russia does not link the Karabakh issue to the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations.

If these two separate difficult processes are brought together, there will be a chaos which will make it harder for Armenia and Turkey, and Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a mutually acceptable solution. In any case, Baku is not interested in opening the Armenian-Turkish border before the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh is solved.

Ankara takes this approach into account, both because the inner opposition to normalization of relations is felt, and because the differences with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh would be fraught with the loss of Turkish influence in Azerbaijan and, consequently, in the South Caucasus as a whole. Of course, there is a strong pressure on Turkey from the U.S. in favor of ratification of the protocols and normalization of relations with Armenia. But honestly speaking, the impact of American influence in Turkey declined markedly compared to the recent past.”

“When can we expect implementation of the agreements?”

“Ratification of the already signed Armenian-Turkish protocols has grown into a problem whose solution is nowhere to be seen. Compared to the situation in 2009, the Armenian-Turkish relations have soured. In Turkey, the opposition to ratification of the protocols has proved so strong that in fact this issue has lost relevance.

In Armenia, where there is also the opposition to the adoption of these documents, the Government relies on the parliamentary majority, which would be inclined to ratify the protocol, if Turkey did the same. Yerevan, understandably, did not want and does not want to make a blank shot. The protocols ratified by only one party would make no sense. In principle, the question of normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations remains on the agenda, and the contacts between the parties take place. But there is no diplomatic relations, and the Armenian-Turkish border remains closed. However, the objective interest of both parties in the normal relations is obvious.

“It seems that Turkey needs such relations with Armenia?”

“Everybody needs them. Turkey needs them to make it easier to solve the problem of entry into the EU and, which is important, to improve the economy of its underdeveloped north-eastern regions. Armenia needs them to emerge from the transport semi-isolation it finds itself in now, and remove the hostility from the powerful southern neighbor.

Over time, Azerbaijan would benefit from the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations. Azerbaijan, rich in natural resources, would benefit from the stability in the region, both in trade and economic terms, and politically. Russia also needs stability in the South Caucasus, as well as in the Caucasus in general. And it would be in everybody’s interest to ease the tension in the region. Armenian-Turkish settlement could significantly contribute to this.”

Sergei Balmasov

Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, RSS!

Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov