As Armenians headed to the polls on Sunday, expectations were low that new life would be breathed into an unratified deal signed by the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia in 2009 to normalize relations.
Armenian officials and politicians accuse Turkey of holding the ratification process hostage through its insistence that Armenia must first agree to a solution to the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh issue as a precondition for normalization.
Armenian Parliament head Samvel Nikoyan, who spoke to Turkish reporters who came to Armenia as part of the program sponsored by the Hrant Dink Foundation and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Association accused Turkey’s policy of threatening the process, remarking: “We are seeing that any kind of provision, especially the precondition of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as devastating the process of talks. To move talks forward … it’s necessary that we vote on the protocols without preconditions.”
Galust Sahakyan, leader of the Republican Party of Armenia parliamentary faction, meanwhile, indicated that Armenian leaders had their own red lines that will take priority over the reconciliation pact, stating to the press, “For us, the Karabakh problem and the genocide issue are more important than a restart in relations with Turkey.”
Nonetheless, Sahakyan said he thinks of Turkey as the key to solving the region’s most pressing problems, saying of the protocol’s future: “We aren’t going to take any steps back. But if Turkey announces that it is withdrawing officially from the protocol, we will also do what’s necessary.”
Armenia’s third-largest expected winner at this year’s election, the Heritage Party, meanwhile, indicated that it was against the protocol, with party leader Raffi Hovannisian stating that it was necessary to restart the talks without preconditions. “If Turkey insists on preconditions, the Armenian side will have to develop a symmetric response.”
Nikoyan, commenting on the deadlock before the elections, said the disagreements still do not constitute a major rift between the two countries. “In a situation in which there are no official diplomatic relations and the border is closed, our communications are strong. At this moment commerce isn’t being supported, but we know there’s the potential for [re-establishing] trade. There are Turkish businessmen in Armenia, and Armenian businessmen in Turkey.”
Richard giragosian of the Regional Studies Center also said the rift was less formidable than portrayed, noting, “I am optimistic about Armenian-Turkish normalization.”
Indicating that significant pressure exists to re-establish relations before the 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacres in 2015, Giragosian said, “It’s possible that some of the unofficial diplomatic ties will be made more official.” Giragosian believes that the Turkish Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, could be accredited by Yerevan or that relations could be formally established through the Swiss Embassy there. He also suggested that certain border gates could be opened. Such measures are not without cost, however, and Giragosian warns that they could meet heavy opposition in Azerbaijan.
Eurasia Partnership Foundation Country Director Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan, meanwhile, speculated that the prospective relations change would be tied to changes in Armenia’s government. “The elections can in the medium run create new chances if the government changes and new and more energetic people come to power who are ready to engage more vocally in international organizations and thus induce Turkey to take some steps with regard to confidence-building measures,” he stated.
“I think the Turkish governments’ statements are sometimes too emotional, just like the Armenians, and more calm pragmatism is needed on both sides,” he added.
Turkish-Armenian relations also appear imperiled by Armenia’s continued appeal to territorial rights over territories possessed by Turkey. In the elections run-up, Nikoyan stated that for Armenia Mount Ararat must remain as one of the state’s symbols. Calls for recognition of the 1915 killings of Armenians as genocide also remain high on politicians’ priorities.
The coming 100th anniversary of that event is also likely to upset relations between the two countries, with analysts predicting that 2015 will see major demonstrations, especially among Turkey’s minority Armenian community.
Turkey and Armenia’s renewed push to negotiate an opening of the border gates between the two countries might also be viewed in the framework of the latter’s close ties to Russia. According to Giragosian, Armenia remains “tied to a fundamental degree to Russia.” An Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) official, who asked not to be named, said Armenia should strive to be “small and transparent” in the future. “In foreign policy, they’re going to try to develop close relations with the EU and the West.” Ter-Gabrielyan agreed. “In the times to come, Russian interest is going to diminish even further because Armenia is getting closer and closer to Europe,” he commented.
Commenting on the possibility of starting Turkish-Armenian normalization process, Salpi Ghazarian, director of The Civilitas Foundation, based in Yerevan said “I dont know if it will. Because it is in Turkey’s hand”