BAKU: Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement: Time To Re-Consider?

Nov 10 2011

by Zaur Shiriyev, analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies under
the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The international media has shown renewed interest in the
revitalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, which has spawned a
number of conferences and meetings. It comes as no surprise that
during the Annual Conference on U.S-Turkey relations on 31 October,
U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that progress in
Armenian-Turkish relations would be a positive step [if] the Turkish
government will ratify the Armenian-Turkish protocol. Clinton’s remark
that “normalization takes bold choices and strong political will, not
only on the part of Turkey, but on the part of all of the countries”
indirectly underscored Azerbaijan’s role in this process.

Following the earthquake in Van (a city in south-eastern Turkey),
Armenian officials declared their readiness to send a planeload of
humanitarian aid to the survivors. The same response came from Israel,
indicating that both countries are keen to use the Van eearthquake
as a diplomatic tool, to open or revitalize diplomatic relations with
Turkey. This “earthquake diplomacy” has a precedent- Greece provided
assistance to Turkey, its historical rival, after thousands died in
the 1999 Izmit earthquake. It is important to remember, however, that
the rapprochement process between Greece and Turkey pre-dated Izmit,
and that both countries’ foreign ministers (George Papandreou of Greece
and Ismail Cem of Turkey) were crucially involved in discussions.

However, as Armenian media coverage shows, the responses of the
Armenian government and the Armenian public to the Van earthquake have
not been not entirely consistent, a factor which has implications for
diplomatic relations. In Armenian Public radio’s 2 November report,
Armenian experts discussed the situation of “Armenian monuments”,
referring to Van as historical Armenian land. On 24 October,
website reported the earthquake in Van was most discussed topic
on social media by Armenian users. The tragedy prompted different
feelings among Armenians: some expressed sympathy, while others
were indifferent. These examples indicate that there is significant
variation in public attitudes towards the earthquake, which throws
into doubt the Armenian government’s “earthquake diplomacy” strategy-
suggesting that it is motivated more by diplomatic image-building and
PR concerns than genuine compassion. By its very nature, humanitarian
aid must be non-ideological and must underscore the fact that humans,
regardless of their differences, are victims of a shared tragedy –
this not seen in Armenia.

Given the international media’s interest in the prospects of
Turkish-Armenian normalization, the following question must be
addressed: what changed two years after the protocols were signed?

Two Years after the Protocols

Exactly two years have passed since Turkey and Armenia signed two
protocols in Zurich, one on the establishment of diplomatic relations,
the other on the development of bilateral relations. On 29-30 October,
important academic discussions were held in Istanbul, under the title,
“The Normalization Process between Turkey and Armenia: Prospects for
Revitalization”. In attendance were experts from Turkey, Armenia,
and Azerbaijan as well as international representatives. This was,
significantly, the first time Azerbaijani experts have participated
in rapprochement discussions. A number of Armenian experts declared
that “the protocols are dead”, but that Track 2 diplomacy (civil
society engagement) remains in play. One Armenian expert, Richard
Giragosian, expressed his anxiety that [if] the stars don’t realign,
and normalization doesn’t return to Track 1 state level, there is
a danger that next time we try this it will be that much harder, as
he said to on 1 November. It is interesting that Armenian
experts are not denying that the Armenian Diaspora will force Turkey’s
acknowledgment of the 1915 events as genocide – one Armenian expert
presented this attitude in a heartfelt and personalized manner:
‘Denying “genocide” is denying the existence of my grandfather”. By
all accounts, most experts agreed that normalization requires progress
on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by the Minsk Group,
and progress in that area does not seem possible [for now].

Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement: Bullish forecasts, Miscalculations
& Mistakes

In fact, despite the hopeful forecasts by some analysts in the wake
of the 2009 Turkish-Armenian protocols, an assessment two years on
reveals the miscalculations and false assumptions that were made:

1.Turkish-Armenian rapprochement will enable Armenia’s integration
to the West

It was assumed both in the West and in Turkey that via the
normalization process, Armenia would turn its face to the West. In
terms of geography, Armenia’s only access to Europe is via Turkey,
and opening the border will be facilitate politically integration
to Europe. Improvements in relations between Ankara and Yerevan,
most U.S strategists contended, would help not only to stabilize
the volatile South Caucasus but also to reduce Armenia’s political
and economic dependence on Russia and Iran – which clearly serves
American interests.

However, it is common knowledge that for as long as there are
Russian military bases inside Armenia and along her borders, and
Armenian airspace is under the protection of Russian forces, Armenia
can easily resist any sort of pressure from Azerbaijan or Turkey,
and can safely deter any threat to forcefully liberate the occupied
territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. After all, it is clear to Russia and
many others that peace with Turkey alone is not enough to integrate
Yerevan to West or to reduce Russian influence in this country. This
was proven, in part, when Armenia signed an agreement to prolong
the lease for Russian military bases on its territory in mid-2010,
a move which strengthened Russia’s position in Armenia.

2.Recognition of 1915 events as genocide would not happen with the
normalization of relations with Armenia

U.S President Barack Obama explicitly declared during his election
campaign that the 1915 events should be recognized by U.S as genocide.

Thus, in order to prevent “April Syndrome” – every year the U.S
president makes a speech regarding the 1915 events, and Turkey always
waits to see whether or not the term “genocide” will be used- the
Turkish government chose a way to cooperate with the U.S-led peace and
normalization process. The Obama administration played the role of a
catalyst rather than a founder, since secret negotiations had already
started between the two parties long before Obama was elected. While
aiming to reduce international pressure regarding the genocide issue
by improving relations with Armenia, Turkey risked losing its closest
ally – Azerbaijan. In Armenia, the January 12 2010 session of the
Constitutional Court emphasized that Armenia will continue its effort
to achieve international recognition of the 1915 events as genocide
– and indeed, on March 4 2010, the House of Representatives Foreign
Affairs Committee of the U.S voted ‘yes’ with 23-22 votes to HR 252.

This development reignited the debates in Turkey about the possible
consequences of the U.S’s genocide recognition, and the chances of
salvaging the stalled “normalization process” with Armenia.

3.Turkey will happily go against Azerbaijani interests

The miscalculations on Armenia’s part were based on the belief
that Turkey would not balk at following policies running counter to
Azerbaijani interests, and that the rapprochement would damage this
strategic partnership. Turkish-Azerbaijani relations occasionally
deteriorated, and sometimes were in crisis, but the Turkish-Armenian
rapprochement has also had a positive impact on Turkish-Azerbaijani
relations; last year, the two countries signed not only a Strategic
Partnership Agreement, but also more recently an agreement regarding
selling gas to Turkey. Additionally, NGOs, media, and educational
institutions intensified and expanded their relations.

4.Azerbaijan is an observer and will react to the normalization
process based on emotions

The opening of the Turkey-Armenia border has been subject to criticism
from both the opposition and ruling party in Azerbaijan. When Turkey
and Armenia agreed to begin negotiations on diplomatic relations,
this raised concerns in government and amongst the Azerbaijani
public, across extreme nationalist groups and moderates, giving
rise to discussions of Turkey’s policy aims in Armenia. Generally,
the public dismissed Turkish attitudes as “naive”. The government
was not emotional and did not voice its position until the official
declaration of the “road map” for Turkish-Armenian relations in April
2009, and the signing of the Protocols in October 2009.

Then Azerbaijan appealed to Turkish public opinion, reaching out
across Turkey’s government, political parties, civil society, and
population at large, calling upon them to take Azerbaijan’s interests
into account. Thus, this process prompted Azerbaijan to exercise its
regional veto power, revealing the changing dynamics of international
foreign policy, to act in time to protect national interest.

The observer during the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process was
Georgia, where public opinion saw the thaw between Turkey and Armenia
as a U.S project whereby Georgia’s position region was supposed
to be taken over by Armenia. In general, Georgia believed that the
Turkish-Armenian rapprochement would weaken its position as a major
transit country in the region, and that Tbilisi would lose its place
in energy projects. Secondly, Armenia’s reduced dependency on Georgia
would enable it to be more active in supporting Armenian nationalist
groups active in the Georgian province of Samtskhe-Javakheti, thereby
destabilizing the region.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijani political circles remain unopposed to the
normalization of Turkish-Armenians relations per se; however, they
would like to see this process tied to the withdrawal of Armenian
military forces from the occupied Azerbaijani territories. At present,
there is relatively little pressure on Turkey but in anticipation
of 2015, which will be the 100th anniversary of the events in 1915,
it may increase, and could, as a result, be a crucial date for
the protocols. This is the main issue that Turkish policy makers
should be thinking about. Undoubtedly the 2012 elections in Georgia,
Russia and Armenia – as well as in the France and U.S – will change
the political face of the region and beyond, and these changes will
resonate internationally. This could be an opportunity, but it is
also true that there is less chance of peace being achieved close
to elections.


In this context, it is of particular importance that the U.S. and
the EU get more seriously involved in the resolution of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict if they want to see tangible progress in
the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. Turkish-Armenian
negotiations brought about the signing of the protocols in 2009,
in which the leaders of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs countries were
involved; Azerbaijanis want to see same “picture” for the resolution
of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In short: the protocol-based normalization process will neither end
campaigns for the recognition of the 1915 events as genocide nor
necessarily advance the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,
as long as the process remains in limbo. Overcoming the traditional
way of thinking is necessary in order to change the status quo in
the Armenian-Azerbaijani-Turkish triangle. Armenia must foresee the
implications of its policy decisions in the context of the broader
geopolitical agenda of the Caucasus. Azerbaijan will accept the
opening of the Armenian -Turkish border, but because the reason
for closing it in 1993 was Armenia’s occupation of the Azerbaijani
district of Kelbajar, this move will not change the dynamics of
conflict resolution; nor contribute to the foreseeable revitalization
of Turkish-Armenian relations at the level of Track 1 diplomacy.

Zaur Shiriyev is a Foreign Policy Analyst at the Center for Strategic
Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan and the Executive Editor of Caucasus
International journal.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS