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Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement: Renewed Interest?

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.


BY ZAUR SHIRIYEV | DECEMBER 14, 2011

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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 US-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 ratifies 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.

  • Two Years after the Protocols

The Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, which officially began in September 2008 with what became known as “football diplomacy”, concluded in October 2009 in Zurich with two protocols, one on the establishment of diplomatic relations, the other on the development of bilateral relations. This so-called “football diplomacy” has generated serious concerns in Azerbaijan, particularly with regard to how the improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations will affect the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is well known that the main reason for the closure of the Turkish-Armenian border was the Armenian occupation of Kelbajar, one of seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region, in 1993.  On April 22 2010, Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan issued a decree whereby the ratification procedure of the Armenia-Turkey protocols on normalization of relations between the two countries is “suspended”. Accordingly, on April 26, the bill on ratification of these protocols was withdrawn from the agenda of the National Assembly. After that, the trajectory of developments changed, while Armenia signed an agreement prolonging the lease for Russian military bases in Armenia, which strengthened Russia’s position in Armenia. The corollary of this development was the strengthening of strategic relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan; the two countries agreed upon a strategic partnership in September 2010. One of the controversial issues right now, believe many in Azerbaijan, is that the protocols are strongly connected to the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia has officially denied this, but experts there accept this notion. Last year, the international community awaited tangible results from the OSCE Astana Summit, but Armenian experts acknowledged that the revival of the normalization process was strongly dependent on the outcome of further steps in the resolution of NK conflict. In fact, after two years, it is not so difficult to assess the miscalculations and failed assumptions that have occurred following the Zurich protocols.

 

  • Bullish forecasts, Miscalculations & Mistakes

 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:

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. 

Armenia will recognize the territorial integrity of Turkey

Armenia’s August 23, 1990 declaration of independence states that “The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia”, which immediately complicates bilateral relations. According to the mainstream perspective in Turkey, the use of the term “Western Armenia” to refer to Eastern Anatolia implies territorial claims. One of the benefits Turkey saw in the 2009 protocols was Armenia’s acceptance of Turkey’s territorial integrity. However, although the Turkish-Armenian protocols were approved by the Armenian Constitutional Court on 12 January 2010, the Court stated that the implementation of the protocols did not entail Armenia’s official recognition of the existing Turkish-Armenian border established by the 1921 Treaty of Kars. In doing so, the Constitutional Court rejected one of the main premises of the protocols, i.e. “the mutual recognition of the existing border between the two countries as defined by relevant treaties of international law”.

Before the official Court decision, Armenian approach was consistent. The 22 September 2009 speech by Armenia’s former foreign minister Vartan Oskanian demonstrates Armenia’s position: In our region, even with our friendly brother country Georgia, we  have not ‘recognized current existing borders.’ Demarcation is an ongoing issue between us. The same is true for Georgia and Azerbaijan. There, demarcation hasn’t even begun. But there are diplomatic relations.  

Recognition of 1915 events as genocide would 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,  

After signing the protocols, Armenia will be contribute constructively to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

When Turkey and Armenia signed the protocols, the main criticism came from Azerbaijan, on the basis that the agreements did not mention the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Perhaps Turkey’s perceived obligation to link the normalization process to the Karabakh issue should have been indicated before the start of negotiations, given that the closure of the borders between Armenia and Turkey was itself the result of the occupation of Azerbaijani territory by Armenian forces. Nevertheless, due to the delicate nature of relations between Turkey and Armenia, which also caused problems during the signing of the protocols, this problem could not be put forward explicitly. However, opinions expressed by the Turkish media and in official statements suggest that during the signing of the protocols, Turkey wanted to use the Nagorno-Karabakh issue to encourage Armenia on the one hand, and to urge the Minsk Group’s Co-Chair countries to increase pressures on Armenia on the other hand. But after the signing of the protocols, which increased public tensions in Azerbaijan, Turkey can only link the ratification to the resolution of the NK conflict as such: “If the process [of Armenian and Azerbaijani negotiations] speeds up, the ratification of the protocols with Armenia will also accelerate,” which is what the prime minister said the day after signing the protocols. In fact, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan called for the combination of the two peace processes when he met with U.S. President Barack Obama on December 7 2009, and with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on January 13 2010- but Armenia refused this component, and the Armenian Court rejected any connection between the new agreement with Turkey and the Nagorno-Karabakh issue (January 12 2010).

 

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downloadbutton3Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 2  No. 4

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

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