What the Turkish election means for Armenia-Turkey relations

London School of Economics, UK

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will challenge incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the second round of the Turkish presidential election on 28 May. Armine Avetisyan and Kübra Zeynep Sarıaslan examine what the outcome of the vote could mean for Armenia-Turkey relations.

The parliamentary election held in Turkey on 14 May produced an overwhelming majority for nationalist parties in the country’s parliament. Nevertheless, the presidential election, which was held simultaneously, will now go to a second round of voting. Although Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main Turkish opposition, finished behind incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the first round, he remains in the race for the presidency.

Kılıçdaroğlu had promised to pursue a radical break from Erdoğan’s approach in a variety of policy areas, including foreign policy. His inclusive rhetoric and commitment to reconciling with marginalised groups had raised hopes among those who support closer relations between Turkey and Armenia.

The traumatic history of antagonism between the two countries and the Armenian genocide dispute continue to complicate Armenia-Turkey relations. However, while the Turkish and Armenian governments have failed to establish diplomatic ties, civil society actors on both sides have done a great deal of work to foster closer cooperation across the realms of arts and culture, the media, education, business, and tourism, among others.

But these initiatives have suffered greatly from the unpredictable and unstable foreign policies of Erdoğan’s governments over the last two decades, underlined by Turkey’s military support for Azerbaijan during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. They have also been undermined by the ultranationalist tone of one of Erdoğan’s key allies, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Turkey was one of the first nations to recognise the independent Republic of Armenia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Yet the mutual trust and commitment to dialogue needed to restore full diplomatic relations between the two countries has never materialised. Initial normalisation efforts were derailed by the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, which took place between 1992 and 1994. The so-called Zurich Protocols, which were signed by Armenia and Turkey in 2009 as a step toward normalising relations, failed to be ratified in the two parliaments, under pressure from Azerbaijan.

In 2020, after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia signed a statement which also mentioned opening all trade routes in the region. In 2021, Turkey and Armenia started a new normalisation process by appointing diplomatic representatives. As part of this process, it was announced in 2022 that the land border between Turkey and Armenia would be opened to third-country nationals, however no concrete steps have yet been taken to open the border.

One week before the 2023 Turkish elections, Kılıçdaroğlu announced proposals for a new Silk Road project connecting Europe to China without mentioning Azerbaijan, which signalled distance from the long-lasting ‘one nation two states’ motto that encapsulates the close relationship between Ankara and Baku.

Although Kılıçdaroğlu and his team have not said anything about favouring relations with Armenia over Azerbaijan, and made no comment over the recent closure of Turkish air space for Armenian flights, they have at least signalled they would not establish the same kind of relationship with Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, that Erdoğan has had.

It is not clear to what extent this approach to Aliyev, a popular figure among Turkish nationalists, influenced the results of the first round of the presidential election, but the unexpectedly high votes for the third candidate with Azerbaijani descent, Sinan Oğan, along with the weight of representatives from nationalist political parties in parliament perhaps give some indication.

Kılıçdaroğlu had said he will work to improve Turkey’s poor human rights record and release political prisoners. Turkey’s civil society has suffered through difficult times ever since the failed coup attempt in 2016 and the two-year period of emergency that followed. The subsequent government crackdown on civil society organisations in Turkey, according to both Turkish and Armenian civil society actors, set back some of the progress made in the preceding decades.

This is underlined by the arrest of Osman Kavala in October 2017 during the state of emergency. Kavala was a key figure in programmes promoting civil dialogue and normalisation with Armenia. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2022 for allegedly organising the 2013 Gezi Park protests and the failed coup attempt. Six activists, including Çiğdem Mater, another key figure in the Armenia-Turkey dialogue working for the NGO Anadolu Kültür, were sentenced to 18 years in prison for participating in the Gezi Park protests and supporting Kavala.

Human rights defenders have argued that the prosecution of Kavala and his associates is based on insufficient evidence, and in 2019 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated Kavala’s fundamental rights and demanded his immediate release. Referring to this decision, Kılıçdaroğlu indicated that “no one should be imprisoned for their thoughts.” The outcome of the second round of the election could therefore have major significance for wider efforts to establish cooperation with Armenia.

The opposition in Turkey was confident that it could revive EU accession negotiations very quickly if it won the elections. The EU has played and is expected to play an important role in the reconciliation efforts between Armenia and Turkey. EU financial support for civil society has been particularly important in ensuring the sustainability of activities in this field during turbulent times.

However, there is a chronological mismatch in Turkey and Armenia’s engagement with Europe. On the one hand, Armenia, as a former Soviet state that cares about maintaining close ties with Russia, aspires to adopt western values, while Turkey, as a NATO member, has almost entirely abandoned the goal of joining the EU, especially in the last few years under Erdoğan. In addition, civil society has secured more freedom in Armenia since the Velvet Revolution in 2018, though it remains a target for the political opposition. In contrast, Erdoğan’s governments have remained distant from civil society and in some cases even hostile towards it.

Erdoğan currently holds the upper hand ahead of the second round of the presidential election, but supporters of Kılıçdaroğlu concerned with Turkey’s relations with Armenia remain hopeful about his prospects and about the potential to develop future cooperation with Armenia on the basis of shared democratic values. In this scenario, Turkey would undoubtedly gain more credibility in efforts to reach stability in Armenia’s relations with Azerbaijan.

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: © 2023 The Office to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia (CC BY-ND 3.0)

Armine Avetisyan is a peacebuilding practitioner and researcher. She holds a dual MA in Conflict Studies from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University (USA) and Cultural Management from Istanbul Bilgi University (Turkey).

Kübra Zeynep Sarıaslan is a Visiting Fellow at LSE’s Chair of Contemporary Turkish Studies and at the University of Cambridge. She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Zurich (Switzerland).

Belgium to open an embassy in Armenia




YEREVAN, MAY 13, ARMENPRESS. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, Hadja Lahbib, announced the opening of the Belgian embassy in Armenia. Lahbib also stated that Belgium wants to contribute to the EU observation mission in Armenia.

ARMENPRESS reports, Lahbib announced, “In the Caucasus, Belgium will also be present in Armenia. The country was covered until now by our Embassy in Moscow, and geopolitical developments require monitoring on the ground. Belgium's increased diplomatic attention in a country and a region which has a strong Russian influence is part of the European neighborhood policy with regard to the countries to the east of the EU and bears witness to the concern for preserving security and stability in this strategically important region.

Belgium fully supports European efforts that can contribute to the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in particular through an EU civilian observation mission in Armenia, to which Belgium wishes to contribute. Our country also attaches great importance to stability and good neighborliness in the South Caucasus. The opening of a diplomatic mission in Yerevan, in addition to our already existing embassy in Baku (Azerbaijan), stems from this vision”.

There are many children in Nagorno-Karabakh who have problems with access to food – Anna Hakobyan




YEREVAN, MAY 10, ARMENPRESS. Anna Hakobyan, the wife of the Prime Minister of Armenia, is on a two-day visit to the Republic of Croatia. She is participating in the "Summit of Spouses of European Leaders".

On May 9, at the invitation of Croatian President Zoran Milanović, Anna Hakobyan participated in the welcoming dinner served in honor of the high-ranking guests who arrived in the country, ARMENPRESS was informed from the Office of Anna Hakobyan.

First ladies and gentlemen from around 10 countries attended the dinner. Together with Anna Hakobyan, Queen Letizia of Spain, Mrs. Linda Rama, wife of the Prime Minister of Albania, Mrs. Aigul Zhaparova, wife of the President of Kyrgyzstan, First Lady of Latvia Andra Levite, Mrs. Lydia Abela, wife of the Prime Minister of Malta, Husband of the President of Hungary István Veres, Husband of the President of Slovenia Aleš Musar, First Lady of Serbia Tamara Đukanović, representatives of the diplomatic corps, the World Health Organization and other senior officials attended the dinner.

During the dinner, Prime Minister's wife Anna Hakobyan had a series of short conversations with those present.

On the second day of her visit to the Republic of Croatia, Prime Minister's wife Anna Hakobyan participated in the "Summit of Spouses of European Leaders".

After the portrait ceremony, the summit started with the participation of Armenian Prime Minister’s wife Anna Hakobyan, Croatia's First Lady Sanja Milanović, Queen Letizia of Spain and spouses of more than a dozen countries' leaders.

One of the topics of discussion was the issue of preventing and combating childhood obesity, during which first ladies of different countries made statements, presenting their country's experience, innovative solutions and established priorities.

The participants of the discussion noted that every third school-aged child in the European region has a tendency to obesity. They noted that obesity, especially at an early age, is a challenge for all countries, and the fight against it is possible only with joint efforts.

During the discussion, Armenian Prime Minister’s wife Anna Hakobyan gave a brief speech.

"I must honestly say that this topic was not in the center of my attention, perhaps for objective reasons, due to such important issues as the war, the blockade of the Lachin Corridor and the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. There are many children in Nagorno-Karabakh who have problems with access to food. But I attach great importance to this topic, thank you for the invitation to be here. The government of the Republic of Armenia is making efforts to prevent the problems discussed here, from now on the issue will be in the center of my attention as well. We have to fight against the problem in the early stage, so that it doesn't get more complicated later," said Mrs. Hakobyan.

At the end of the discussion, the Zagreb Declaration was adopted, according to which the representatives of the countries participating in the summit declare and accept the need for joint work in the fight against childhood obesity, undertake to provide the necessary environment for healthy food and physical activity for children.

A cultural visit to the Croatian National Theater, as well as vocal and ballet performances, were also organized for the first ladies who arrived in Zagreb.

Secretary Blinken at the Bilateral Peace Negotiation Closing Session with Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov

U.S. Department of State
May 4 2023

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone. I want to start by thanking our colleagues, both foreign ministers, their delegations for traveling here and for spending the time here in – at the Foreign Service Institute, and especially for their commitment to dialogue, and I think a recognition on the part of both Armenia and Azerbaijan that the only path to a lasting, durable peace is through dialogue.  The United States is very happy to continue to offer its support, its engagement, its good offices to host this discussion and any future ones toward an enduring peace.  That is the objective.

The two sides have discussed some very tough issues over the last few days and they’ve made tangible progress on a durable peace agreement.  I hope that they see – and I believe that they do, as I do – that there is an agreement within sight, within reach.  And achieving that agreement would be, I think, not only historic, but would be profoundly in the interests of the people of Azerbaijan and Armenia, and would have very positive effects even beyond their two countries.

I think the pace of the negotiations and the foundation that our colleagues have built shows that we really are within reach of an agreement.  The last mile of any marathon is always the hardest; we know that.  But the United States is here to continue to help both of our friends cross the finish line.  And as I say, I think we’re very much within reach of that.

I have to say, finally, that the leadership that we’re seeing from both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and from my friends the foreign ministers, is inspiring.  None of this is easy, but the commitment, the determination to move forward, to deal with the remaining challenging issues is real.  And we feel, coming out of these few days, that, as I said, we’ve made very tangible progress.  A final agreement is within reach, and we’re determined to continue to help our friends achieve it.

So with thanks to both of you, to both of your delegations, as well as to Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev for sending you here.  I thank everyone, and we look forward to continuing.


Peace deal ‘within reach’ in Armenia-Azerbaijan talks

May 5 2023

AFP: A peace deal to end Armenia and Azerbaijan's three-decade-old dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave is "within reach" after four days of talks in Washington, US top diplomat Antony Blinken said Thursday.

The discussions between Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov did not result in a deal to end the territorial conflict between the two ex-Soviet republics, but Blinken said progress had been made.

"The two sides have discussed some very tough issues over the last few days, and they've made tangible progress on a durable peace agreement," the secretary of state said.

"I hope that they see and I believe that they do, as I do, that there is an agreement within sight, within reach," he said.

Blinken added later that the two sides "demonstrated a sincere commitment" to normalizing relations and ending their longstanding conflict.

"Both Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed in principle to certain terms and have a better understanding of one another's positions on outstanding issues," he said.

The two countries put out identical statements following the talks, saying they had laid out their positions on normalization.

"The Ministers and their teams advanced mutual understanding on some articles of the draft bilateral Agreement on Peace and Establishment of Interstate Relations," the statements said.

Both sides acknowledged, however, "that the positions on some key issues remain divergent."

Armenia and Azerbaijan were both republics of the Soviet Union and gained their independence when it broke up in 1991.

The two sides have gone to war twice over disputed territories, mainly Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan.

Tens of thousands were killed in the wars, one lasting six years and ending in 1994, and the second in 2020, which ended in a Russia-negotiated peace deal.

But clashes have broken out regularly since then.

Azerbaijan injected new tensions last week when it placed a checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor, the only land link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia views the move as a violation of a ceasefire negotiated between the two sides.

– 'The last mile' –

The four days of talks between Mirzoyan and Bayramov took place out of the view of media in a secure State Department facility in Arlington, a suburb of the US capital.

Ahead of the talks, a US official said they wanted the sides to sit down together and the primary aim was to move toward normalizing relations.

Blinken praised the foreign ministers for their leadership.

"None of this is easy, but the commitment, the determination to move forward to deal with the remaining challenging issues is real," he said.

"The last mile of any marathon is always the hardest. We know that," he added.

"But the United States is here to continue to help both of our friends cross the finish line."

He said he had proposed the two ministers return to their capitals "to share with their governments the perspective that, with additional goodwill, flexibility and compromise, an agreement is within reach."

Earlier this week, however, Russia said there was "no alternative" to a deal it signed with the two warring countries in 2020.

"For the moment, there is no other legal basis that would help a resolution. There is no alternative to these trilateral documents," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.


Russian Foreign Ministry on Armenia-Azerbaijan ministerial in Washington D.C.



 14:25, 3 May 2023

YEREVAN, MAY 3, ARMENPRESS. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has refused to comment on the foreign ministerial talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the United States 'because these negotiations are proceeding without Russia’s participation'.

Zakharova said at a press briefing that Moscow will be able to express its opinion when there will be statements released by the parties.

She once again stressed the importance of implementing the trilateral agreements.

“We remain committed to the implementation of all terms of the trilateral agreements reached between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020-2022,” Zakharova added.

Regarding prospects of a planned meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Russia, Zakharova noted that both Yerevan and Baku have expressed readiness for such a meeting. “We will inform about the timeframes later,” Zakharova said.

Samantha Power continues dodging questions about lack of USAID assistance to Artsakh

WASHINGTON, DC – US Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Samantha Power has established a two-year pattern of dodging straightforward Congressional inquiries – both in-person during legislative hearings and in writing from dozens of legislators – regarding the lack of USAID programs in Artsakh, a troubling trend that was on display, once again, during her most recent appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Asked straightforward questions about the status of US aid for Artsakh by the panel’s chairman, Bob Menendez, Power – who has been in office two years – again deferred, refusing to answer his question or even meaningfully address the senator’s broader point, by saying, “I don’t have that figure off the top of my head.” Power took credit for conducting “two assessment missions to the region,” failing to note that these were only conducted belatedly as a result of a Congressional mandate spearheaded by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). Asked to provide the Foreign Relations Committee with these assessments, Power agreed.

“Clever dodges and mumbled deferrals don’t distract anyone from the fact that USAID – under President Biden and Administrator Power – has operated zero U.S. humanitarian assistance programs in Artsakh,” said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. “After countless Congressional inquiries during its two years in office, it is all too clear that they lack the will to help Artsakh, the strength to stand up to Azerbaijan, or the courage to take ownership of this deeply flawed policy.”

In his opening remarks at the April 26th Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Chairman Menendez complained that at times USAID’s response to crises is “slower than molasses,” noting, “Case in point: The humanitarian crisis for Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh is only getting worse. Where are we? Why aren’t we airlifting humanitarian supplies to those Armenians facing blockade? We need to respond to events quickly and we also need to address root causes.”

With strong support from the ANCA, Congresswoman Lee was successful late last year in including language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L.117-103) directing that the US Department of State and US Agency for International Development provide Congress with an “assistance strategy for addressing humanitarian and recovery needs arising from the [Artsakh] conflict” that identifies the US “resources and programs,” available for this purpose. The Artsakh provision included a 60-day timeline for the Biden Administration to report back to Congress. The deadline to submit the assistance strategy was March 1st; Senate and House members have yet to gain access to the report.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCA actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

Armenpress: Azerbaijan stops Armenians returning to Nagorno Karabakh at checkpoint to film staged passage



 11:09, 1 May 2023

YEREVAN, MAY 1, ARMENPRESS. Azerbaijanis have stopped Armenians who were returning from Goris to Nagorno Karabakh accompanied by Russian peacekeepers at the checkpoint in Lachin Corridor and staged a performance attempting to falsely show that the road is open, the State Minister of Nagorno Karabakh Gurgen Nersisyan said on May 1.

“On April 23, 2023, Azerbaijan illegally set up a checkpoint on the Artsakh-Armenia border line (in Lachin Corridor), which resulted in the towns of Shushi region of Artsakh appearing in a total blockade, being cut off both from Stepanakert and Armenia. The humanitarian condition of the residents of the towns of Mets Shen, Hin Shen, Yeghtsahogh and Lisagor of Shushi region began deteriorating each day since April 23, we’ve attempted to supply food and medication through the Artsakh office of the Red Cross, but these efforts gave no results. During the initial days, three minors were taken back to their parents from Goris with support of the Russian peacekeepers, but the return of the remaining persons was banned by Azerbaijan. A group of residents requested the Russian peacekeepers on the ground to resolve the urgent humanitarian issues of the people who are in a full and two-sided blockade, who allowed passage for private cars without checks through the checkpoint on the Hakari Bridge, with assurances in advance that there will be no control interference by Azerbaijanis. Our citizens, with support of the peacekeepers, freely passed the road on one way, however, on the way back to their settlements together with the compatriots who were stranded in Goris as a result of the checkpoint they met Azerbaijanis at the checkpoint. The Azerbaijanis put our citizens in a desperate situation and forced them to comply with their demands and filmed the process to show off yet another performance.

This is yet another proof that the illegal Azerbaijani checkpoint is impeding the uninterrupted movement of Artsakh citizens, vehicles and cargo, in violation of the terms of the 9 November 2020 trilateral statement and the ruling of the UN International Court of Justice. The people of Artsakh are waiting for the restoration of the mode of the Lachin Corridor as defined under the trilateral statement – a 5km wide corridor exclusively under Russian peacekeeping forces’ control,” Nersisyan said.

Armenia’s representative presents objections to Azerbaijan’s case before the International Court of Justice

Armenia –

Today the Representative of the Republic of Armenia on International Legal Matters, Yeghishe Kirakosyan, submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) the Preliminary Objections of Armenia with respect to the Memorial of Azerbaijan in the case concerning Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Azerbaijan v. Armenia). Preliminary objections have been submitted to the entire text of Azerbaijan's lawsuit.

"It was reasoned that most of the claims set forth in Azerbaijan's lawsuit are outside the court's jurisdiction and inadmissible," the statement said.

The Court has suspended the proceedings of the case until the judgment on the issue of Preliminary Objections submitted by Armenia.

On February 22, the UN International Court of Justice granted Armenia's request for an interim measure and obliged Azerbaijan to ensure uninterrupted movement of citizens, vehicles, and goods in both directions through the Lachin corridor until the final decision on the "Armenia v. Azerbaijan" claim is rendered. Azerbaijan does not comply with this decision.

Armenian Prime Minister holds meeting with United States Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations, OSCE MG Co-Chair




YEREVAN, APRIL 20, ARMENPRESS. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has held a meeting with the United States Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations and United States Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group Louis Bono.

The Prime Minister attached importance to the US government’s efforts in the direction of ensuring stability and peace in the region and presented the Armenian side’s approaches in the resolution of existing key issues, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a readout.

PM Pashinyan said that the aggressive policy and belligerent rhetoric against the people of Nagorno Karabakh and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia are inadmissible.

Issues relating to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the formation of an international mechanism for dialogue between Stepanakert and Baku, the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno Karabakh resulting from the illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor by Azerbaijan, the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and unblocking of regional transport infrastructures were also discussed.