'3 + 3' or '3 + 2'։ New format for solving problems in South Caucasus
Turkey’s influence in the South Caucasus region is growing
The war in Karabakh in 2020 and its results led to the transformation of the existing decision-making system. Now Turkey has a clear influence on the processes taking place in the region. The Turkish armed forces are present in Azerbaijan, and joint military exercises of the two countries are regularly held. Armenia is forced to accept new realities and establish ties with a neighboring state.
The leaders of the two countries exchanged several statements about their readiness to establish a dialogue. But the main question that arises in this situation is what Ankara will demand in return from the loser of the war and clearly weakened Yerevan.
How relations between Armenia and Turkey have been developing lately: analysis of the situation, attitude of society, expert opinion.
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Feeling the soil: statements by Pashinyan and Erdogan
Armenia has always been in favor of improving relations with Turkey. It put forward one condition – no preconditions. This principle was presented most conceptually in 2008, when the parties, through the mediation of Russia, the United States and France, signed protocols on improving relations.
The reconciliation process was called “football diplomacy”, as it began with the visit of the Turkish President to Yerevan at the invitation of the Armenian President for the qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup between the national teams of Armenia and Turkey. Then, in 2009, at the invitation of Abdullah Gul, Serzh Sargsyan went to the return match in the city of Bursa. The meetings and negotiations of the presidents took place after the football matches.
But the Armenian-Turkish protocols were never ratified in the parliaments and the seemingly promising process was drowned out.
If we trace the reason for the lack of diplomatic relations between the countries, it becomes clear that the process of “football diplomacy” did not have much chance of success.
Turkey in 1993 unilaterally closed the border with Armenia, thus expressing support for Azerbaijan in the first Karabakh war. All these years, Ankara has repeatedly declared: Armenia is obliged to return the lands, which, according to international law, belong to Azerbaijan.
In the conditions of the unresolved Karabakh conflict and the status quo that existed before the second war, Turkey would not have agreed to any “warming” of relations.
But the second Karabakh war and the change in this very status quo led to new realities, and the parties had a formal reason to talk to each other.
“In these statements we see an opportunity to talk about the normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations, the resumption of the work of the Armenian-Turkish railway and highways. We are ready for such a conversation. By and large, we are talking about turning our region into a crossroads connecting west to east, north to south”.
Thus, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan commented on the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about his readiness to gradually normalize relations with Armenia. Later, information appeared about Pashinyan’s proposal to Erdogan to hold a meeting, transmitted through the Prime Minister of Georgia.
The meeting has not yet taken place, but Turkey and Armenia periodically continue to exchange statements.
If Yerevan is timidly trying to promote the same condition “without conditions”, then Ankara now has a different agenda. The so-called “Zangezur Corridor” replaced the demands for the return of land.
This is a road running through the southern Syunik region of Armenia, which will connect Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhichevan. According to Turkish and Azerbaijani politicians, this road “will unite the entire Turkic world”. However, the Armenian authorities have repeatedly stated in response that they are ready to unblock communications in the region, but will not provide the neighbors with roads in the logic of “corridors”, that is, without preserving their sovereign control over it.
Can Armenia negotiate with Turkey on equal terms?
This is perhaps the main question that the Armenian society is asking in the context of establishing relations with Turkey. The country’s authorities abruptly changed their rhetoric after a 44-day war, during which the neighboring country was called an enemy and aggressor. But in society, Turkey continues to be perceived exclusively as an enemy state.
This raises the question: what to do in conditions when dialogue with Ankara is necessary, but not on its terms. Does Armenia have the opportunity to really improve its relations with Turkey without preconditions? The ruling party of Armenia is sure that there is. MP from Civil Contract Gurgen Arsenyan stated:
“The political leadership of Armenia, the team of which I am a part of, have fixed that we have a paramount agenda for peace. For its implementation, we are ready for discussions with all our neighbors. Without any preconditions, we are ready to discuss any painful issue and meet with any leader”.
The “Zangezur Corridor”, which the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey are constantly talking about, if implemented, will not be a standard transit road.
The concept of “transport corridor” has a different legal status. Often, the country through which the corridor is laid not only does not control it and does not receive dividends for transit, but also loses jurisdiction over this territory. As, for example, in the case of Azerbaijan itself, which does not have access to the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia with Karabakh.
It is in the notorious corridor that the Armenian opposition sees as the problem, but is not against the very fact of establishing relations with Turkey, while being sure that the Pashinyan government is unable to do this without compromising the national interests of the country.
“Our position is as follows: we support the establishment of relations with Turkey, but without any preconditions. However, Turkey not only keeps the issue of Karabakh on the agenda, but promotes the idea of providing Armenia with a corridor through the Syunik region. Under these conditions, the process of normalizing relations does not correspond to the national interests of our country”, said Tigran Abrahamyan, a member of the opposition I Have Honor faction.
New format in the South Caucasus. How will decisions be made?
After the 44-day war, the Armenian authorities have consistently and categorically denied any possibility of providing a “corridor” to Azerbaijan and Turkey. But there is no confidence that Yerevan will be able to defend its position, because the balance of power in the region has changed.
Turkey has put forward a new format for resolving regional issues called “3 + 3”. It involves the participation of Turkey, Iran and Russia on the one hand, and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia on the other.
Tehran and Moscow reacted favorably to the initiative. For Moscow, this is an opportunity to make decisions in the South Caucasus without the participation of the West. Turkey thus strengthens its position. And Iran is trying to keep up and regain positions lost after the second Karabakh war.
Azerbaijan also supports the initiative of the “elder brother”. But the Georgian authorities have stated that they are not going to take any part in the format where Russia is present.
As for Armenia, the country’s authorities are cautious about the “3 + 3”. Yerevan intends to understand what issues will be discussed in the new format.
Recently Pashinyan stated that the Armenian government is interested in all opportunities for regional cooperation and expressed a special opinion regarding the “3 + 3” format:
“Our position is as follows: the possible ‘3 + 3’ format should not have on its agenda such issues that we are already discussing in other formats. In particular, the issue of opening regional communications, the issue of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and so on”.
But it is clear that if it comes to concrete steps, then Armenia will not have the opportunity not to take part in it.
Is the new decision-making system in the region acceptable for Yerevan? Will Armenia be able to defend its national interests in such a configuration? Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan is sure that Turkey is thus trying to finally gain a foothold in the South Caucasus region:
“This is a proposal from Turkey, the goal of which is to divide the South Caucasus into spheres of influence of Russia and Turkey. Iran is also expected to participate there, but we all understand that it is secondary. What does it mean to divide the South Caucasus in geopolitical terms? From the point of view of Turkey, this is a victory. Because Turkey will have the legal right to act in the region as a dictating force”.
According to the expert, within the framework of this format, Ankara will also continue to put pressure on Yerevan. The result of this process will be a change in the format of the solution to the Karabakh issue:
“One of the ultimate goals of the project is to supplant the Minsk Group format. It is no coincidence that Turkey’s statements that the Minsk Group is useless in this situation, that Turkey and Russia should determine the development in the region – including issues related to the Karabakh issue”.
Changing the format of the Minsk Group cannot be in the interests of Armenia, Safrastyan believes. After the war, Armenia has repeatedly stated that the Karabakh conflict has not been resolved and that it is necessary to resume the negotiation process within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.