On March 15, in an interview with Turkish news agency Anadolu, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said the nation hopes to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey and open borders with the neighboring country. His statement came days after meeting his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at a side meeting of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum, which was held from March 11-13. This meeting was described as “productive and constructive”.
The Antalya meeting was the first since 2009 to bring together the foreign ministers of the two countries, and is part of mutual efforts to restore diplomatic alliances, broken since the beginning of the 1990s.
For the first time in the history of the two countries, Turkey and Armenia are ready to leave behind the Armenian Genocide and the disputes over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that have soured their diplomatic relations for decades. Turkey has refused to recognize the events of 1915 as genocide, as well as supporting Azerbaijan in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia in 2020.
Although Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence in 1991, relations broke down in 1993 when Ankara closed the borders in a show of Turkish solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. At that time, Azerbaijan lost control of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and seven adjacent territories.
In 2008, when Turkey and Armenia expressed their mutual interest in reconciliation, the process was halted due to strong opposition from Azerbaijan. As a result, the Zurich Protocols, also known as “football diplomacy”, failed and further alienated the two countries diplomatically.
The consequences of the second Karabakh war changed the fabric of their diplomatic relations. As Azebaijan regained control of its seven territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenia had lost, “Turkey began to show signs of willingness to start new talks with Armenia”, wrote the International Crisis Group in an analysis published today. normalization.
The first round of talks was held on January 14, 2022 in the Russian capital of Moscow and it raised hopes for normalization and even a possible opening of borders.
According to officials in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the latter could have an impact on the economic, social and cultural relations between the two countries and their citizens. On March 14, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said: “Opening the borders will have a positive impact on regular communication between the two countries, trade and economic relations, people-to-people contacts and stability in the region in general. He added that according to polls, the majority of Armenians approve of normalization.
According to a recent poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI) published in January 2022, 90% of Armenians believe that Turkey is the greatest political and security threat to their country. IRI’s program director in Armenia, James De Witt, said in an interview with Global Voices: “Armenian society blames Turkey for the lost war. [en 2020] and sees in it a continuation of the policy of genocide [de Turquía]”.
Luego de las conversaciones de enero en Moscú, el 2 de febrero de 2022 Estambul y Yerevan reanudaron los vuelos chárter y se reunieron por segunda vez en Viena el 24 de febrero, donde ambas partes reiteraron su compromiso de continuar con las negotiations para normalizar las relations totally. The reopening of flights has been well received in Turkey. Garo Paylan, a parliamentarian from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP, as he is known in Turkish) in Turkey, told reporters that resuming flights was “an important step” and encouraged politicians “to make this window of opportunity results in peace.”
“There may be problems, but we can have diplomats on both sides, open borders, launch regional economic programs that will benefit both [tanto como] people from Armenia and Turkey,” said Paylan, who is from an Armenian family in Istanbul, as quoted on February 15.
Already the TABDC (Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council) has calculated that the volume of trade between these two countries could reach the figure of one billion dollars in three years, in addition to income from tourism if the borders were open.
Since February 2, citizens can choose between Turkish low-cost airline Pegasus and Moldovan low-cost airline FlyOne for flights that operate between the two countries three times a week.
Aybars Gorgulu, managing director of the Istanbul-based Center for Public Policy and Democracy Studies think tank, told Global Voices that the rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan and the opening of borders will have economic and social repercussions. He said, “Especially in border towns like Kars and Iğdır, tourism and commercial vitality will be felt; in this way, social reconciliation will be achieved over time.
Agreeing with Paylan, Noyan Soyak, vice president of the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council, told Global Voices that opening borders and trade means historical and political issues will be overcome, bringing two distant nations closer together. . “Trade will be a factor that will bring peace between the two societies and it will be another opportunity to reintroduce them, who live in the same territory but are physically far apart.
Soyak added that the Doğukapı Kars Railway, which is still in good condition despite the closed borders, will create new opportunities for international projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative which promotes land transport routes between Europe. and China, and is naturally aligned with unlocking potential. transit in the South Caucasus. He said: “The geographical position of Azerbaijan on the shores of the Caspian Sea and Armenia with its neighbor Turkey is very attractive to connect the two economic powers of Eurasia: the European Union and the East Asia”.
Additional attempts to defuse relations between these two countries are also visible. In early January, Armenia lifted an embargo on Turkish goods. In March 2022, Turkey invited Armenian officials to the Diplomatic Forum in Anatolia, where the two counterparts met. The chances of Azerbaijan intervening as they did in 2008 are slim. In December 2021, Baku officials reiterated that the country will not be an obstacle to the rapprochement of Ankara and Yerevan.
Bottom-up or top-down approach
However, while the leaders are likely to move on, the naysayers remain. Calling the new talks a top-down process led by Turkish and Armenian political leaders, Thomas de Waal, Carnegie Europe’s top regional expert, said the two sides lacked a strategy to win over opponents.
Philip Gamaghelyan, a longtime peacemaker from Yerevan and founder of the peacebuilding initiative Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation, also agrees. “What we have today between Turkey and Armenia is strictly an official process that has almost no community support,” Gamaghelyan told Global Voices, adding, “The focus is no longer on the reconciliation, but on “difficult” issues such as borders and transport links.
The reality is compounded by the lack of peacemakers on the diplomatic scene. Gamaghelyan told Global Voices that the main reason was the transition of former peacemakers to government positions in Armenia and the lack of collaboration between the almost non-existent Azerbaijani and Turkish civil society peacebuilding initiatives. .
Aybars Gorgulu is more optimistic in his analysis. For him, the opening of borders and the establishment of diplomatic relations are only the beginning of a much longer process of reconciliation, even on issues as traumatic as the recognition of the genocide. He believes that these and other problems can only be solved with the normalization process and the relations between Armenians and Turks.
The feelings on the ground, at least in Turkey, show it. İlim Göktaş, who lives in the village of Kalkankale and worked at Doğukapı (East Gate) station in Kars for six years in the 1990s, told Anadolu Agency that he hoped “the gate will would open, that peace and quiet would come to the region and our economy [local] will be reactivated.