Turkish-Armenian Relations Doomed to Failure: Why Does History Repeat Itself in The 21st Century?*

By Dr. Ayla Gol | 01 April 2010


Has anyone who is interested in Turkish and Armenian relations been really surprised that the most recent diplomatic attempts to normalise relations between Ankara and Yeravan reached stalemate again in January 2010? The answer is most probably a resounding ‘No’. As many Armenians and Turks predicted, the whole process of normalisation was ‘doomed to failure’ from the beginning. There are two residual issues since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire: the legacy of history and the ‘genocide’ debate. Under the shadow of these structural constraints, the normalisation process cannot be understood only with reference to the AKP’s (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – Justice and Development Party) new foreign policy orientations under the Ahmet Davutoglu’s foreign ministry leadership1.  However, a critical engagement with this process will show how other internal and external factors contributed towards normalising relations between Turks and Armenians and why the decisions of both governments in Ankara and Yerevan were shaped and constrained by internal and external pressures. Some Armenians argue that the failure of normalizing relations between the two sides has intensified the feelings of distrust between both sides: Armenians are ‘bullied’ and ‘defeated’ while Turkish policy-makers continue reproducing aggressive and ‘threatening’ nationalist discourses2.  However, these rushed judgments dismissed the historical, political and economic context that brought the normalisation process. The internal and external factors that lead up to it can be found in the post-Cold War politics of the 1990s.


Political Context: the Border Issue


Turkey was one of the first countries to recognise Armenia as a new state when Yerevan declared itself an independent republic from the Soviet Union in November 1991. Ankara unexpectedly found itself sharing a 268 km long border with a new neighbour. Although no official diplomatic relations were established between the two governments, Turkey allowed the passage of humanitarian aid to Armenia through its territory.


Under the initiatives of Turgut Ozal, Armenia was invited to be a member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation (BSEC) and the politics of inclusion were pursued in order to achieve new regional integration and stability in 1991. However, in the following two years Ankara decided to close its border with Armenia by sealing the Dogu Kapi (The East Gate – Akhourian in Armenian side) crossing in Kars, Turkey. The decision was taken in April 1993 as the Ankara’s response to firstly, the escalating conflict in Nagorno Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan (the Karabakh issue) and secondly, Yerevan’s contradictory statements about not recognising its common border with Turkey. Moreover, the new Armenian Parliament declared in February 1991 that it no longer recognised the Turkish-Armenian border demarcated by the Treaty of Kars in 1920. For Ankara, this declaration indicated an expansionist policy on the part of Yerevan towards the so-called ‘Western Armenia’ in Anatolia. It was better to be safe than sorry when dealing with a historical arch-enemy.


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* Published in the First Issue of Political Reflection Magazine (PR).

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