Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Prospects for Normalization between Armenia and Turkey: A View from Yerevan

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Prospects for Normalization between Armenia and Turkey: A View from Yerevan

Article excerpt

The current stage of the Armenia-A-Turkey rapprochement, culminating in the October 10, 2009 signing of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols in Zurich mediated by the Swiss, is consistent with Armenia's interests and commitments to ratify and implement the Protocols. However, in Armenia and especially among its large and influential Diaspora, public attitudes to rapprochement are controversial. Many people believe reconciliation should not take place unless Turkey recognizes the Armenian Genocide. Turkey's denial of the Genocide fosters general distrust of Turkey in Armenian society, as does the fact that Turkey backed Azerbaijan in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, including blocking land communication to Armenia. (1)

The central aim of the rapprochement initiated by Armenian leaders in the summer of 2008 was full-scale reconciliation with Turkey. Armenia was prepared to compromise and take bold decisions. However, Yerevan insisted that any negotiations or agreements must stay within the bilateral format and steer clear of third party involvement, such as Azerbaijan. Armenia made it clear that attempts to tie the Armenian-Turkish normalization process to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh would frustrate the rapprochement.

For Armenia and Turkey, reconciliation holds many positive opportunities in the field of trade, communication and energy transportation. So far, trade between the two countries goes via Georgia. Open borders are expected to increase trade turnover and benefit people on both sides. In Armenia, opinions are divided concerning the potential economic benefits of opening borders with Turkey. While most businesspeople look forward to reaching international markets at cheaper tariffs, some politicians are concerned that Armenian businesses may be less competitive against their Turkish counterparts or become too dependent on transportation routes via Turkey.

The Regional Context

Ankara's relations with Armenia are linked to its relations with Brussels and Washington. Both Europe and the U.S. feel the pressure and influence of their respective Armenian communities in their policies directed at Turkey. While the Armenian Diaspora's lobby uses their host countries to exert pressure on Turkey, Washington and Brussels use the Genocide issue and Turkey's sealed border with Armenia to criticize and contain Ankara.

In late 2008 and early 2009, a unique opportunity emerged with regard to Armenia-Turkey reconciliation prospects. New obstacles arose for Turkey in its bid for EU accession, which made Turkey more vulnerable to pressures from the West to normalize ties with Armenia. With the election of President Barack Obama in November 2008, the issue of the Armenian Genocide gained prominence in U.S. policies due to Obama's campaign promises to the American-Armenian community.

The Russia-Georgia Five Day War in August 2008 led Russia to modify its attitude towards an Armenian-Turkish reconciliation from one of disapproval to a neutral and even somewhat positive stance. Today, the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement is one of the only projects in the post-Soviet space where the interests of the U.S., the EU, and Russia coincide.

Georgia, in turn, is concerned that Armenian-Turkish reconciliation may undermine its privileged position in regional communication projects. Nevertheless, it expects this reconciliation to reduce Russian military and political presence in Armenia and the entire Southern Caucasus region, which would be a welcome development for Georgia. (2)

Azerbaijan remains the only country to unequivocally oppose the Armenian-Turkish normalization. Frustrated by losing a war, Azerbaijan tends to use zero-sum-game logic with regard to Armenia. Furthermore, since reconciliation with Turkey has clear advantages for Armenia, Azerbaijan seems only to see this prospect as detrimental to itself. Ever since the 1994 ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan has counted on the economic blockade against Armenia to weaken it and force it to make concessions. …

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