Armenian-Turkish ‘normalisation’ efforts continue amid third round of Vienna talks
The third meeting of the special representatives of Armenia and Turkey on the normalization of bilateral relations has ended. Vice Speaker of the Parliament Ruben Rubinyan and Ambassador Serdar Kılıç met in Vienna. The official report following the meeting says that the parties reaffirmed the goal of this negotiation process – to achieve a full settlement of relations between Armenia and Turkey.
The message, published on the website of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, also says that a sincere and productive exchange of views took place between the special representatives aimed at achieving tangible progress. The negotiators once again “reiterated their agreement to continue the process without preconditions”.
What else is known about the third round of talks of special representatives, what preceded it and what happened in parallel, as well as expert opinion on the process as a whole and possible outcomes.
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“The main condition for a settlement is political will”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was the first to announce that there was an agreement to hold a third meeting of special representatives. Live on the Turkish channel NTV, Cavusoglu called on Armenia to be bolder and move meetings of representatives from third countries to Ankara and Yerevan.
In 2022, two meetings of special representatives within the framework of normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations have already taken place. The first took place in January in Moscow, the second – in February in Vienna. In both cases, however, as after the third meeting, official Yerevan and Ankara provided meager and almost identical information. The statements of the foreign ministries spoke only of the productivity of the negotiations, it was reported that the ultimate goal of the process is a full settlement of relations without preconditions.
Responding to the Turkish Foreign Minister’s statement, the Armenian side recalled that in the course of previous attempts to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations, meetings were held both in Armenia and Turkey, but “they did not lead to any results”.
“The main thing in achieving a settlement is political will and readiness for concrete substantive steps. We show them and expect the same from Turkey. If there is a will, the meeting place will become a purely technical matter.
The Armenian side fully agrees with the need to take bold steps. We have repeatedly demonstrated our readiness to move forward, including the participation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the diplomatic forum in Antalya [in March 2022] and the lifting of the economic embargo [imposed by Armenia during the 2020 Karabakh war]. The resumption of air communication between Armenia and Turkey was also an important bilateral step”, Vahan Hunanyan, spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, said at the time.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan became the first high-ranking Armenian official to visit Turkey in more than 10 years. Prior to this, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan visited Turkey, who at that time came up with the initiative to normalize relations with Turkey. The process he started in 2008 was called “football diplomacy”.
First, at the invitation of Serzh Sargsyan, Turkish President Abdullah Gul arrived in Armenia. Together with the President of Armenia, they watched a football match between the national teams of the two countries. Then, in 2009, the Armenian president went to Turkey, where the match between the teams was again held.
The result of “football diplomacy” was the so-called Zurich Protocols, signed in 2009 by foreign ministers. These were documents on the establishment of diplomatic relations and on the principles of mutual relations. However, the protocols were not ratified by the parties.
At the same time, the press secretary of the Armenian Foreign Ministry said that the proposal to hold meetings of special representatives in Armenia and Turkey indicates that the Turkish side considers the process to be bilateral:
“And in this case, it would be logical not to hear almost weekly statements from Turkish representatives that they are advancing the process by coordinating their actions with Azerbaijan”.
According to Vahan Hunanyan, the only way to advance the normalization process that has been started is by continuing clear actions:
“In particular, we proposed to the Turkish side to open the land border for persons with diplomatic passports at the first stage, but the Turkish side is slow. We believe that this will be a small, but substantive and, importantly, logical step. We hope that we will be able to achieve results in this matter”.
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Turkey talks about the need to define borders
Referring to the agenda of the third meeting of special representatives, the Turkish Foreign Minister said that “various steps that will be taken in the near future” will be discussed.
Cavusoglu said that an agreement had been reached to “define the borders again” between the two countries. At the same time, he did not rule out the possibility of creating a joint commission, as is envisaged in the case of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
However, the Armenian Foreign Ministry responded by saying that there was no such issue on the agenda of the talks.
Even before official information about the outcome of the Rubinyan-Kylych meeting emerged, political analyst Areg Kochinyan told JAMnews that “nothing of a turning point nature” should be expected from it. He believes that steps to normalize relations will become tangible if the parties show “sufficient political will”.
According to the political scientist, there are prerequisites for the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations:
• Appropriate work in this direction by the United States, a country that has long been interested in the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations;
Since May 2, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan has been on a working visit to the United States. He has already met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. According to the Foreign Ministry, the Minister briefed the Secretary of State on the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey: “Secretary Blinken noted that the United States fully supports the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey and supports Armenia’s constructive efforts in this process”.
- Armenia’s interest in the settlement, as this is the shortest and most realistic way to mitigate security challenges, the opportunity to make them more controllable;
- positive signals from Turkey, connected not with the desire to help Armenia, but with their own national interests, since Turkey is more profitable for the existence of an independent Armenia, and not as part of the Russian Empire.
According to Areg Kochinyan, the result of negotiations with Turkey depends on the work of the parties:
“This includes our work, our readiness for peace, for concessions – yes, one-sided, painful concessions, because the defeated in the war makes concessions, this is an axiom. After a defeat like the one we suffered in the war, it is impossible to hope that something will be conceded to us too.
According to the political scientist, the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations is considered by major players as one of the steps or stages in the settlement of the regional situation:
“If Armenia demonstrates rational, reasonable and realistic behavior and policies, I see an interest in resolving the situation of both regional players and global actors”.
Kochinyan does not understand the position of the Armenian authorities, who prefer to hold meetings of special representatives in third countries. He believes that in order to move towards the normalization of relations, it is necessary and important that they take place in Yerevan and Ankara.
Referring to the statement of the Turkish Foreign Minister that the border with Armenia should be clarified, the political scientist spoke about the need for a clear presentation of the position of the Armenian side. He believes that official Yerevan, in addition to a refutation, should explain what the statement of the Turkish Foreign Minister is connected with and what it means:
“It is becoming a tradition that we learn news or details about the negotiation process from Turkish or Azerbaijani sources. This is not a good practice, it will not lead to anything good”.
Areg Kochinyan also notes that Armenia’s attempt to normalize relations with Turkey is perceived in Russia as a threat:
“No one in Armenia is trying to question or harm the interests of Russia, only an attempt is being made to normalize relations with Turkey. Another thing is that Russia perceives this as a danger and a threat, but, naturally, for us, at least for the citizens of Armenia who do not have another homeland, the interests of Armenia are primary”.
What needs to be normalized: Armenian-Turkish relations
In 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, Turkey officially recognized the Republic of Armenia, but still refuses to establish diplomatic relations. In 1993, Turkey unilaterally closed its air and land borders with Armenia. The air border was reopened in 1995, according to the website of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, “under pressure from the international community”.
After the Karabakh war in the early 90s, Turkey put forward a number of conditions for opening of the land border and establishment of diplomatic relations, one of which was the return to Azerbaijan of the regions under the control of the unrecognized NKR. This condition is no longer valid, since these territories are already under the control of Azerbaijan as a result of the second Karabakh war in 2020.
Turkey’s other condition has always been the rejection of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. This refers to the massacre that took place in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. Prior to that, about two and a half million Armenians lived in the territory of the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the killings and mass deportation, more than half of them died. Armenia, several Western countries and international organizations officially recognize these events as genocide. Turkey categorically rejects such a formulation.