In the past two years, there have been rapid and very important developments in the Caucasus, which is one of the most unstable geographies of the world. Karabakh, which was included in the borders of Azerbaijan as “de jure”, was occupied by Armenians in 1994 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Armenians, who created a “de facto” situation with the help of the international conjuncture, maintained this position for a quarter of a century. However, after the rapidly intensifying conflicts that took place between September and November 2020, Azerbaijan defeated the Armenian forces and took the Karabakh lands back under its control.
Immediately after the end of the conflicts in Karabakh, surprisingly, constructive statements were made by the Turkish and Armenian leaders for the development of bilateral relations. Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gave messages that they are ready to normalize their relations without preconditions. In my opinion, the main objectives behind these messages are as follows: While the main goal of the Armenians is to open the closed border with Turkey and to communicate with the Western world; the main goal of the Turkish side is to get rid of the pressure of the “Armenian Genocide Allegations”, which so often bothers Turkey in the international arena, and to get rid of the dependency on Iran by communicating with the people of Turkistan through Armenia without interruption.
As a matter of fact, in December 2022, Turkey appointed Serdar Kılıç, the former Ambassador to Washington, to conduct the negotiations, while Armenia appointed Ruben Rubinyan, the Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament of Armenia, to conduct the negotiations. A month later, the two representatives and their delegations first met in Moscow on January 14, 2022 and agreed to continue the talks. Therefore, a long and very stressful process awaits the decision-makers of the two nations. For this reason, they should make the situation easier, instead of complicating it, and they should keep their people calm for the next processes.
Before evaluating the new talks between Turkey and Armenia, it would be appropriate to look at the past experiences of the two nations. Contrary to popular belief, Turkish-Armenian relations are quite ancient. With the arrival of the Turks from Central Asia to Anatolia, the two nations have been sharing the same geography, and therefore a common history, since the 11th century. In fact, in the Battle of Manzikert, in August 1071, which opened the gates of Anatolia to the Turks, the Armenians in the Byzantine army did not want to fight against the Turks. This was because the Byzantine administration of the period put pressure on the Armenians due to their sectarian differences. The warm relations between the two nations, which started during the Seljuk period, continued increasingly during the Ottoman period. Except for the last century, the two nations generally lived in peace and tranquility. As a matter of fact, when Turkish history is examined, Armenians have made innumerable contributions to Turkish culture and art, from politics to commerce, from music to sports, from literature to theatre, from food culture to architecture. The positive effects of Armenians on Turkish community life are also valid for the modern Turkey period, even if there were relatively troubled relations.
With the understanding of nationalism that developed after the French Revolution, the relations between the Armenians and the Ottoman administration gradually began to become tense. Relations between the two communities deteriorated during the provocations of especially the Dashnak (today’s Armenian Revolutionary Federation) and Hinchak separatist Armenians, who saw the establishment of the states of Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria as their precedent, and finally, during the implementation of the harsh measures taken by the Ottoman administration against these provocations. During the First World War, both nations had to pay a heavy price during the execution of the Relocation Law in 1915 and during the mutual conflicts that took place after it. There is no doubt that the Ottoman Armenians paid a higher price. The seeds of dissent planted between the two nations by foreign powers such as the Russian Empire, the British Empire and France, which had colonial goals in the Ottoman geography, were also influential in this situation.
After the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and in 1923, independent Turkey was established. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1918, a short-term Armenia was established in the South Caucasus, but this state entered the Soviet hegemony in 1920. Due to the bipolar balance of the Cold War, Turkish and Armenian relations took a negative course in this period. Likewise, the operations carried out by Armenian terrorist organizations such as Hinchak supported-ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and Dashnak supported-JCAG-ARA (Justice Commandos of Armenian Genocide-Armenian Revolutionary Federation) against Turkish diplomats and their families in many regions of the world, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, further strained the relations between the two nations.
On the other hand, one of the first states to unconditionally recognize Armenia, which declared its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was Turkey (December 1991). The relations among them had been good at first but later deteriorated in a short time. After the Armenians occupied Karabakh, Turkey closed its border with Armenia (April 1993). Therefore, Armenia has been relatively closed to the outside world and had to continue its trade and transportation through Iran, Georgia, and Russia.
The relations between the two countries were attempted to be re-developed after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey (2002). The “zero problems with neighbors” policy, which the AKP administration promoted until 2010, has been an important factor in this. The fact that Turkey and Armenia competed in the same league during the 2010 World Cup games gave both of them the opportunity to follow the policy called “Football Diplomacy”. In this context, Turkish President Abdullah Gul went to Armenia in September 2008 to watch the match between the Turkish and Armenian teams. With this opportunity, he met with the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan came to Turkey in October 2009 and watched the match with Gul. Meanwhile, on October 10, 2009, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia Ahmet Davutoğlu and Eduard Nalbandyan signed the Zurich Protocols (https://www.mfa.gov.tr/site_media/html/zurih-protokolleri-en.pdf) aimed at improving relations between the two countries. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner attended the signing ceremony and showed their support. However, Turkey’s relations with Armenia before the occupation of Karabakh by the Armenians ended, caused Azerbaijan, which has a strategic partnership with Turkey, to protest Turkey aggressively. Thereupon, AKP leader and Prime Minister of the time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who prioritized the political balances within Turkey, promised that he would not have any positive relations with Armenians against Azerbaijan. The Armenian administration of the period, which was already under severe criticism from a group of Armenian diasporas because it signed a protocol with Turkey “without preconditions”, was also reluctant to implement the protocols, similar to the domestic political concerns of the Turkish government. Therefore, the bilateral negotiations and the signed protocols that started with great enthusiasm became “stillborn”. The biggest “root problem” in front of the development of Turkish-Armenian relations and the reopening of the border between Turkey and Armenia was the occupation of Karabakh by the Armenians. Between 2010 and 2020, relations between Turkey and Armenia evolved into a relatively stagnant process.
With Azerbaijan regaining its control of the Karabakh lands as of November 2020, the “root problem” in front of the development of Turkish-Armenian relations has also been removed. Indeed, airline flights started between Istanbul and Yerevan. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said that Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan will also attend the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, which will take place in Turkey in March 2022. It would be appropriate to mention Nikol Pashinyan here. Pashinyan took a quick initiative when the Armenian public was in a very stressful atmosphere and said that negotiations with Turkey would begin as soon as the Karabakh War was over and allowed the process to come to its current position. Subsequently, he eliminated the memorandum of the Armenian generals and reassured him by holding early elections. The most likely President Armen Sarkissian also resigned from his post on January 22, 2022, because he did not approve of Pashinyan’s policies. All this is remarkable in terms of showing which powers Nikol Pashinyan is fighting in Armenia.
Developing relations between Turkey and Armenia has many benefits for the two states and the two nations. With the opening of the Turkish border, Armenia will be relatively freed from siege by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Transportation and trade will develop, and Armenia, the regional economy, and the Armenian people will greatly benefit from this. For example, the decrease in the population of Armenia, which is constantly decreasing due to economic difficulties, will stop. Most importantly, Armenia and the Armenian people, who will open up to the Western world through Turkey, will be freed from being condemned to Russia and Iran. With the development of bilateral relations, Turkey will also avoid being exposed to “Armenian Genocide Allegations”. As a matter of fact, Turkey was exposed to the latest example of this psychological pressure in Biden’s statements in April 2022. Thus, the negative feelings between the Turkish and Armenian nations will decrease over time, and in the long run, peace will come to the geography where Turks and Armenians live. Likewise, with the development of relations between Turkey and Armenia, Turkey will have reached Turkestan through the Caucasus without any intermediaries and will be freed from being dependent on Iran.
However, there are some obstacles to the development of relations between Turkey and Armenia. The administrations of the two states should be careful against the provocations of the ultra-racist sections in both societies and should intervene with common sense. Particularly, some Armenians, who are organized within the Armenian diaspora, who benefit financially and psychologically from the “genocide allegations” and have strong connections within the Armenian powers, will try to prevent the development of the process. Nikol Pashinyan and his team should be cautious against such negative work. Likewise, Turkey should withstand the public pressures that may come from its fellow third parties and Turkish leaders should persistently continue the process. There will undoubtedly be harmful long-term plans and provocations by third-party states such as Russia and Iran, which will have conflicts of interest in the normalization and development of relations between Turkey and Armenia. While Turkish and Armenian decision-makers are preparing their “conflict management plans”, they should have alternatives and “chaos management plans” against all the negativities mentioned above.
In conclusion, the common interests of the Turkish and Armenian people, who have shared the same geography and history for hundreds of years, depend on their willingness to act together and develop friendly relations. A good future awaits Turkey and Armenia if they join their powers and plan their strategic programs jointly. Both states should understand that their differences are actually richness, and that they should focus on their common interests rather than seeking the condition of reciprocity in developing relations. It is obvious that the tense relations experienced in the last century have brought nothing but evil to both nations and that the common enemies of the two peoples have benefited from this situation.