What is the right strategy for Armenia, stuck between the foreign policy ambitions of Russia and Turkey?
What are the implications of the upcoming Armenia-Turkey negations?
On the eve of negotiations on the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey, which are scheduled for January 14, 2022 in Moscow, the entire Armenian society and experts are discussing their possible agenda and results of the meeting. No significant changes are expected in Armenia.
They only fear possible blunders by the Armenian side – due to the inexperience of their negotiator, vice-speaker of parliament Ruben Rubinyan, as well as strong pressure from the Turkish side, due to the personality of the special representative from Turkey. Everyone speaks of Serdar Kylych as an experienced diplomat who has distinguished himself by his anti-Armenian stance over the years of his career.
Discussions are also taking place outside Armenia. Armenians from across the world are also watching the process closely. They are especially concerned that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has agreed to negotiations with Turkey, without even asking the opinion of the Armenian diaspora and compatriots living abroad – precisely because of the events that took place in the early 20th century in Ottoman Turkey.
The massacre of Armenians took place in 1915. Before that, about two and a half million Armenians lived in the territory of the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the killings and mass deportations, more than half of the Armenian population, which previously resided in the Ottoman Empire died. Survivors settled in different countries of the world, and a large Armenian diaspora was formed. Armenia, several Western countries and international organizations officially recognize the events of the early 20th century as genocide. Turkey categorically rejects such a formulation.
Harut Sassounian, publisher and editor of The California Courier, has published his opinion on the upcoming negotiations and possible developments. His critical approach generally reflects the opinion of foreign Armenians, and is shared by many in Armenia itself. Among local political scientists, security expert Areg Kochinyan expressed relative optimism and a different opinion about the upcoming negotiations.
- Armenia, Turkey appoint envoys to normalize relations – what are the prospects for reconciliation?
- Armenian-Turkish negotiations: old agenda in new realities. What to expect?
- Op-ed: national interests of Armenia are an obstacle to peace agreement with Azerbaijan
Harut Sassounian, the publisher and editor of The California Courier. Pitfalls of Armenia’s Unnecessary Negotiations with Turkey
“To begin with, Armenia does not need to negotiate with Turkey to
have the border opened. Such negotiations took place shortly after
Armenia’s independence in 1991, when Armenia and Turkey opened their
mutual border, until Turkey shut down its side of the border in 1993.
Since Turkey is the one that closed its border with Armenia
unilaterally, it can now open it also unilaterally. I fear that
Turkey’s intent to hold such unnecessary negotiations is aimed at
extorting concessions from Armenia.
After its overwhelming loss during the 2020 war, Armenia’s defeated
leader will be negotiating from a position of weakness. A devastated
leader cannot have the mental and moral fortitude to negotiate
properly with such a problematic and cunning enemy. New leaders must
first come to power in Armenia so they can start the discussions, if
necessary, from a non-defeatist attitude.
There is a fundamental problem with Armenia normalizing its
relations with Turkey, a nation that committed genocide, killing 1.5
million Armenians in 1915. A century later, Turkey still lies about
its mass crimes and denies their occurrence. An unrepentant
genocidaire cannot be a trusted party with which one can negotiate in
In addition to its past crimes, Turkey outrageously participated in
a new massacre of Armenians, killing and wounding thousands of young
Armenian soldiers in last year’s Artsakh war. To make matters worse,
Turkey recruited Jihadist terrorists from Syria and arranged for their
transportation to Azerbaijan during the war. How can Armenia’s Prime
Minister engage in discussions with an enemy with such recurring
Just imagine if Germany, a country that committed genocide
against six million Jews, would attack today’s Israel and kill
thousands of Israelis. Do you think Israeli leaders would then sit
down with today’s German leaders and negotiate with them as if nothing
happened? Every Jew in the world would be up in arms over such a
prospect. Armenia’s leaders seem to be oblivious about Turkey’s past
and present crimes.
They are more than happy to negotiate with the
criminals in Ankara with a callous attitude. If the Armenian leaders
won’t defend their nation’s rights, how can they expect outsiders to
care about Armenia more than them?
Prime Minister Pashinyan came to power rejecting the rule of former
President Serzh Sargsyan with the slogan “Merjir Serzhin” (Reject
Serzh). Why is Pashinyan then copying Sargsyan’s flawed policies with
Turkey? Armenians in and out of Armenia were up in arms over the
previous president’s ill-fated 2009 Armenian-Turkish Protocols. It
does not look like Pashinyan has learned anything from that failed
“Negotiations without preconditions” is another mantra repeated by
Armenian’s previous and current leaders. But the fact is that, rather
than Armenia placing preconditions on Turkey, it is Turkey that is
advancing preconditions. During the 2009 Protocols negotiations,
Turkey said it did not have any preconditions, nevertheless, several
Turkish preconditions ended up in the agreement.
Pres. Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, confirmed such Armenian concerns when he said at the end of December while visiting Chicago: “we want the border to be opened and diplomatic relations to begin. For this,
certain conditions must be met and certain issues must be negotiated”.
The Protocols failed in 2009 because Azerbaijan objected to Turkey
opening its border with Armenia. That helped save Armenia’s interests
that were supposed to be protected not by Azerbaijan, but by the
President of Armenia! The current negotiations may fail also, unless
Pashinyan is ready to concede whatever Erdogan asks for.
Turkey is now demanding that Armenia accept the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan by signing a peace treaty, thus giving up Artsakh and Nakhichevan for good, and allowing the so-called “Zangezur Corridor,” not just a road, linking Azerbaijan East with Nakhichevan.
The Armenian authorities have repeatedly stated that they are ready to unblock the roads, but do not intend to provide a “corridor” through the south of the country, as this term implies the loss of sovereign control over it.
Finally, if Turkey comes to the table with preconditions, Armenia should be prepared to walk away or counter with its own preconditions: recognition of the Armenian Genocide, restitution for consequent Armenian losses, and return of occupied Western Armenia [the Western part of historical Armenia, which became part of the Ottoman Empire].
Before signing the 2009 Armenia-Turkey Protocols, Pres. Sargsyan
made a half-hearted attempt to visit several Diaspora communities
ostensibly to hear their views. Pashinyan has made no such attempt. He
has not consulted with anyone from the Diaspora. Pashinyan should
realize that relations with Turkey are a pan-Armenian issue, not
solely a domestic matter of the Republic of Armenia.
He should take into consideration Diaspora’s views, even if he is the one who makes the final decision. Moreover, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut
Cavusoglu recently stated that “extremist groups” in the Armenian
Diaspora “should not put pressure on Yerevan,” to disrupt the
Armenia-Turkey relations. In addition, Erdogan’s spokesman Kalin said
in Chicago recently: “the current Armenia-Turkey normalization process
will destroy the Armenian community of the United States.” Such a
statement is an unwelcome interference in intra-Armenian affairs.
Turkish officials’ unwarranted statements should galvanize all
Armenians to reject their unacceptable intervention.
The qualifications of the person conducting the negotiations on
behalf of Armenia are extremely important. Erdogan appointed as
Turkey’s negotiator the seasoned diplomat, former Turkish Ambassador
to the United States, and notorious genocide denialist Serdar Kilic.
Pashinyan, on the other hand, in line with his many other unqualified
appointments, named Ruben Rubinyan, a young neophyte with zero
His only claim to fame is that he is a member of Pashinyan’s political party and Deputy Chairman of the Armenian Parliament. Amazingly, when questioned about Rubinyan’s qualifications, Pashinyan and his political colleagues claimed that Rubinyan’s party affiliation is much more important than his inexperience, thereby putting their party’s interests ahead of that of the nation. Thus, the outcome of the upcoming negotiations is crystal clear since the wolf will be facing the lamb! There must be more
competent and experienced Armenian diplomats who can conduct such
Pashinyan keeps repeating proudly that the leaders of Russia, the United States, and France support his plans to negotiate with Turkey.
Let’s not forget that Azerbaijan and Turkey also support this
initiative. All of these countries are simply advancing their own
interests, not that of Armenia.
Finally, Pashinyan’s much touted claim of economic benefits to
Armenia as a result of opening the Armenian-Turkish border is a
dubious expectation. Already, without the border being open, Turkish
products have flooded the Armenian market. The opening of the border
would mean that the cheaper Turkish products will destroy Armenia’s
domestic production. A tiny country with a small population cannot
compete with Turkish products which enjoy the advantage of “economies
of scale” (higher volume at lower cost).
To make matters worse, Pashinyan just threw away the only bargaining chip Armenia had by lifting the temporary ban on the import of Turkish goods, thus depriving Armenia of its trump card in these negotiations.
Turkey, a destitute country with a failing economy, collapsed Lira, 12
percent unemployment, 36 percent inflation, and raging coronavirus
(7th highest number of infections in the world), is desperate to
ameliorate its domestic dismal conditions and mend its damaged ties
with the United States, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab
Emirates, and Egypt.
An astute Armenian negotiator, realizing the Turkish eagerness to impress the world, would attempt to extract more favorable terms for normalizing relations with Turkey.
No one opposes negotiations with Turkey as long as the negotiator
representing Armenia is a competent person who is able to bring
benefits to Armenia’s interests”.
Areg Kochinyan, the security expert. "Yerevan between Moscow and Ankara"
“All previous rounds of the process of normalizing Armenian-Turkish relations have failed, but it would be a methodological mistake to doom the future to failure due to the previous ones. History is replete with precedents of success after dozens of failures. Previous failures were a product of time, geopolitical alignment, goal-setting features of the parties and multi-regional Russian-Turkish relations. All these parameters have undergone significant transformations.
The current round, in fact, began with another escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The West, opposing Russia’s actions, gave an asymmetrical answer: a decision was made, including through Turkey, to weaken Russia’s positions on its most extensive sphere of influence – the South Caucasus.
The main anchor of Russia’s presence there is the unsettled Armenian-Turkish relations. Only in conditions of bad Armenian-Turkish relations can Russia act as an exclusive guarantor of Armenia’s security, positioning our state as an outpost. If the Armenian-Turkish relations normalize, then Russia’s position in the South Caucasus will noticeably weaken, since, firstly, its influence has already weakened in Georgia and Azerbaijan, moreover, without the need for security guarantees, Russia’s influence in Armenia is qualitatively changing.
The 44-day war transformed the situation in the South Caucasus and, to a certain extent, reduced the growth of Armenia’s regional influence. It seems that there is no need to list the hardships and negative aspects: a country faced with a disaster could not avoid bitter losses, but even in such a situation, with a well-adjusted policy, new horizons can be opened.
Today’s Armenia, even hypothetically, does not pose a threat to Turkey; moreover, an Armenia that has chosen the path of neutrality would be more beneficial to Turkey than an Armenia under Russian hyper-influence. In addition, if Turkey wants to gain a stable and long-term influence in the region, it needs to establish normal relations with all three countries of the region. Otherwise, Iran, Russia and the West will always have a positional advantage against Turkey.
Taking advantage of the current situation, Turkey may not follow the logic of these long-term actions and try to hit the maximum jackpot without taking real steps to normalize relations and incite Russia against Armenia. From the moment Armenia begins to take real steps towards normalization, it will face active opposition from Russia, and this is a great risk, given that there are no guarantees that Turkey will go half way.
But a lot depends on us. They play a serious game and hold serious negotiations with serious players, protecting their sovereignty and ability to fight for their interests. This, in turn, manifests itself in everything, including the choice of the negotiator. It seems that until now Armenia has done everything possible to disrupt the normalization process: mediation by Russia, an inexperienced negotiator without political weight, and so on.
Many people understand deep integration by “negotiations” or “normalization” – the opening of borders, uncontrolled migration, but this, of course, is absurd. At this stage, at best, we can talk about establishing diplomatic relations and, of course, communications – opening highways or railways within the strict framework of state legislation and customs control.
That is, negotiations do not imply a political marriage, negotiations are conducted with the enemy. It is also important to begin the process of normalizing relations without intermediaries: be it Russia or the United States. This process has chances of success only in one case: if there are only two negotiators – Armenia and Turkey.
At the same time, the settlement may pose economic risks, but the role of the state is to neutralize them. Moreover, self-isolation is not the best way to mitigate economic risks. And, finally, our main challenges are not economic risks, not the future political status of Artsakh, not border disputes and not the so-called “Zangezur corridor”, but the loss of Armenian statehood.
The process of the incorporation of Armenia into Russia after the war gained unprecedented momentum, and to prevent this, Armenia needs regional stability and normalization of relations with all of its neighbors.
The worst scenario, according to which events can develop and according to which they are developing now, is the disruption of the process from the Armenian side under pressure from Russia. Thus, Turkey stated that Armenia proposed to hold the first meeting of special negotiators in Moscow. If this is combined with Prime Minister Pashinyan’s call for Moscow to become a mediator in the Armenian-Turkish normalization, the aforementioned scenario will surely become a reality.
Armenia, apparently, cannot overcome Russian taboos for sovereign participation in the normalization process. There is a great threat that the political elite of Armenia does not even realize the importance of the process and the need to reduce the growing influence of Russia.
While maintaining such a pace of building up Russia’s influence, Armenia in the near future will face the need to join the Union State. In turn, the Union State, in the foreseeable future, will turn into the USSR 2.0 and turn the last page of the independent Armenian statehood.
In order to avoid such a grim scenario, it is necessary for Armenia to insulate itself from security challenges, for which the country would need Russian guarantees to meet. The most realistic way to achieve this is to normalize relations with Turkey. Armenia needs regional prosperity and peace. The 44-day war proved that the state is not ready to independently confront the challenges of the conflict-torn region.
The time has come when we, as a society, must make a choice:
- do we want to preserve our statehood or are we ready to assimilate it as part of a great power?
- are we able to enter the space of modern political thinking or are we still in the grip of the archaic one?
- do we choose war or peace?
- should we adhere to ambitions for a pathetic historical homeland or are we aiming for another level of state thinking?
- do we remain a tool in the hands of a number of states for solving regional problems, or are we trying to be guided by our own agenda, etc?
In this choice, as in the solution of the issue under discussion, there is not and cannot be any guarantees of the correctness of the chosen option. No one can say for sure whether the current round will be successful and whether we will get at least the minimum level of what we want. But this is the path of independence: to make decisions and be able to bear responsibility for them”.