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Obstacles to the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia

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Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Turkey was one of the first countries that recognized Armenia’s independence, and diplomatic relations were established between the two sides, but the 1921 dispute between Yerevan and Ankara over the borders and the Treaty of Kars prevented the reopening of embassy. This trend was stopped in 1993 due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Meanwhile, the efforts of the two neighboring governments to break the deadlock in relations began in 2010 with a visit by Turkish President Abdullah Gul to Yerevan. The process was known as so-called football diplomacy. However, the two countries came close to signing a protocol to normalize relations, but after For nearly a decade, there have been significant conflicts and challenges to the normalization of relations. The following article examines the most important obstacles and challenges to the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Variable of Azerbaijan’s opposition to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations

In fact, the reason for the closure of Turkey’s borders with Armenia is the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the capturing of some territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan by Armenia. For the past two decades, Baku-Yerevan relations have been strained. In fact, since Azerbaijan and Turkey, as strategic partners, have linked their regional interests to each other, Azerbaijan have relied on Turkey’s support in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

From this point of view, Turkey, with its strategic interests in mind, has made the normalization of relations with Armenia dependent on the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, because the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations is a great loss for Baku and fears that by the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations lose the previous support from Turkey. Meanwhile, as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is difficult to resolve, Azerbaijan continues to be the main opponent of the normalization of relations between Yerevan and Ankara.

Disagreement over the Armenian Genocide of 1915

The Armenian defines the 1915 genocide as the forced killing and deportation of Armenians living in eastern Turkey (according to the Armenians of Western Armenia) by Ottoman Turks in the twentieth century, especially in 1915. This is quite different from the Turkish government’s position. Armenians emphasize on the systematic, targeted and organized genocide and the killing of more than 1.5 million people, but the Turkish government’s official narrative has always emphasized non-systematic, exaggerated numbers, the killing of other ethnic groups and nationalities.

Meanwhile, the main demands of the Armenians from the Turkish government as the successor government of the Ottoman Empire are the trial of the main and influential factors in the Armenian Genocide, the official recognition of the Armenian killing as genocide, the official apology, paying compensation to the survivors, and returning of lands ad residential areas to the remnant of the victims.

On the other hand, the Turkish government has so far refused to accept these requests and considers the direct follow-up (by the Armenian Diaspora) and indirect (by the Armenian government) as contrary to its own interests.

Armenian Diaspora approach and opposition to normalization of relations

The Diaspora Society of Armenia, with more than 7 million people in more than 100 countries, considers itself a survivor of the Armenian killing. They are important minorities with strong political lobbies in important European, American, and Eurasian countries. In addition to making demands and putting pressure on the Turkish government, the “Diaspora parties” also plays an important role in financial aid to Armenians in Armenia.

From the point of view of the Armenian Diaspora, the precondition for any normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey is the “official recognition of the Armenian genocide.” It should be noted that, in principle, the anti-Turkish view is still widespread in the Diaspora community, and they want important practical action from Turkey.

This is in conflict with the pragmatic approach of the Armenian government and the lack of a precondition for normalizing relations with Turkey. In fact, it seems that although Armenia has emphasized its readiness to establish relations with Ankara without any preconditions, in Diaspora’s point of view, the normalization of relations, regardless of their demands, is a betrayal of the history and nation of Armenia, distortion of facts, recognition of the existing borders of the two countries and disregarding of what Western Armenia considers.

In fact, although the Armenian government has always supported the international recognition of genocide, its approach in this regard is pragmatic. In other words, in addition to widespread political, economic, and military support for the Nagorno-Karabakh region (or Artsakh) and the lack of recognition of its independence, Yerevan does not consider the Armenian Genocide a precondition for relations with Turkey.

Turkey, on the other hand, sees Armenia’s minimalist approach to the global pursuit of recognizing the Armenian killings as “genocide” in the world and its international acceleration as the opposite of its own interests.

Public opinion and opponents of the normalization of relations

From the point of view of secular and nationalist movements of Turkey, the precondition for any normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey is ‘the Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh and its environs’.

Meanwhile, Ankara officials fear a sharp criticism from the Republican People’s Party (the largest opposition party) and the National Movement Party, and it cannot effectively remove the Nagorno-Karabakh issue from its list of preconditions for normalizing relations.

In contrast, the two countries’ public opinion is not yet ready to accept the issue of normalization of relations. Negative views and a historical background of a hundred years since the First World War and etc., have negatively affected the mentality of the people of the two countries. 

Armenian geopolitics and military and security divergence of both sides

Landlocked countries such as Armenia are trying to make the best use of the geopolitical and geoeconomic capabilities and potential of their surrounding countries to expand their regional and international exchanges. In fact, after independence, Armenia has common borders on five countries: Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan. However, the geopolitical problems of Armenia and the tensions with Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan have provided the space for the closure of a large part of the country’s borders and geopolitical isolation.

Under these circumstances, Yerevan and Ankara have, in fact, have moved at least in the past decade in a divergent trend in the military and security spheres.

On the one hand, the increase in coordination and the number of joint military exercises between Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan has increased compared to previous years. On the other hand, Armenia is pursuing military exercises in Nagorno-Karabakh, increasing military capabilities, joint military exercises with the Russian army, and greater security military convergence with Greece and Cyprus.

In addition, Armenia’s military, security, and nuclear approaches are considered as contrary to Turkish interests. In fact, the approach and policy of the country’s nuclear ambiguity (the possibility of buying or possessing nuclear weapons), and increasing deterrence against its two enemies (Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan) do not correspond to the process of solving problems.

In addition, Turkey, because of environmental reasons and preventing humanitarian and economic damage to its own interests, etc., considers the situation of the Armenian nuclear power plant unsuitable and dangerous, and emphasizes the closure and pursuit of international orzanizations.

Divergent regional alliances and coalitions

In fact, the two countries continue to move toward divergent regional alliances in their foreign policy and they have practically a divergent approach to the Syrian crisis. After the Syrian crisis began and Turkey entered the crisis, tensions between Armenia and Turkey entered a new phase. With the killing of part of the Armenian population in Syria, the destruction of churches by ISIS and terrorist groups and Turkey’s direct attack to Syria also increased the differences between the two sides.

In this regard, since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Armenian government has supported the government of Bashar al-Assad and stressed the need to ensure the security of the Armenians living in Syria, to preserve the Armenian heritage and to oppose Turkey’s policies. Yerevan officials also by holding various meeting with their Syrian counterparts to encourage the Syrian government to recognize the massacre of Armenians as genocide, have violated Turkish interests.

Vision

Although the goals and motives of Turkey and Armenia can overcome historical and political differences, many realities and challenges to the way of normalization of relations have left the two countries’ relations in the former orbit. In fact, there is still a wide range of differences between the two sides, including the Turkish side’s direct emphasis on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Armenian side’s indirect emphasis on accepting the 1915 Armenian Genocide as a precondition for normalizing relations.

Meanwhile, resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continues to face widespread domestic and international challenges. Naturally, in the current situation, the normalizing of relations in the short term is not expected. In the meantime, removing the major obstacles to relations and solving historical, legal, territorial problems, changing the direction and view of the people of the two countries in the opposite direction is not easy and is not possible in a short-term process.