Amidst Russia-Ukraine War, Armenia Seeks to Normalize Relations With Turkey

On March 15, following a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, Armenia’s top diplomat, Ararat Mirzoyan, told the Turkish Anadolu Agency that Yerevan was ready to resume bilateral relations with Ankara. Mirzoyan welcomed his Turkish counterpart’s statement that political will in this direction existed in Ankara, and he posited that the two states should not hesitate to take concrete actions toward this goal “amid the rapidly developing situation in the world.” Referring to public opinion polls, the Armenian official underscored that there is popular support in his own country for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and bilateral rapprochement (Mfa.am, March 15).

The Antalya talks of the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers came on the heels of a pair of earlier meetings of their special representatives in Moscow (January 14) and Vienna (February 24). The sides had appointed special representatives in December 2021 to pursue negotiations on diplomatic normalization. According to Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the second meeting was more focused on concrete steps and reaffirmed the previous agreement to pursue the process without preconditions (Armenpress.am, February 24).

The Turkish-Armenian efforts at reconciliation gained new meaning and significance in the wake of Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine, which the Kremlin launched on February 24. Prior to this sharp and broad military escalation involving Russian forces, Moscow had declared support to the restoration of Armenian-Turkish diplomatic relations and even hosted the first meeting of their special representatives, while not taking part in the bilateral talks itself. Similar support to this process was declared by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after the Antalya assembly of Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers (Panarmenian.net, March 16). Nonetheless, the Russian-Ukrainian war, the unprecedented sanctions by the West against Russia, and the new security situation in the region could combine to set in motion entirely new dynamics in the Armenian-Turkish dialogue.

Some Armenian political experts see the Russo-Ukrainian war as a looming threat to Armenia, due to the conflict potentially impelling Russia to strengthen its control over the countries in its periphery (see EDM, March 16). They believe, however, that this threat could be neutralized or mitigated by Armenia repairing its relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

For example, Samson Martirosyan, an Armenian journalist from the prominent media outlet Hetq.am, tweeted that “against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine,” the normalization of Armenia’s relations with its Turkic neighbors “becomes vital” and could provide space for maneuvering “should [Armenia] face harsh choices” (Twitter.com/sammartirosyan9, March 6). Analyst Areg Kochinian also believes that the normalization of Armenia’s relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey “should be seen as an opportunity for Armenia.” “Otherwise, our statehood will be under threat in the medium term,” he concluded (Jam-news, March 13).

The interest in a quick normalization of ties with Turkey is additionally affected by the United States’ secondary sanctions against countries and companies involved with helping Russia circumvent or mitigate the impact of Western sanctions. In mid-February, prior to Russia’s large-scale re-invasion of Ukraine, the US embassy in Yerevan warned Armenia of possible negative economic consequences if the latter pursues cooperative deals with Russian military-intelligence companies (Azatutyun.am, February 15).

Since the war in Ukraine began, the scope of these sanctions has dramatically grown. And Armenia, as a Russian ally within the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), was put on notice. In a March 14 telephone call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken explicitly vowed “to hold Moscow and its supporters […] accountable for the Kremlin’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine” (State.gov, March 14)—a likely warning against anyone considering inter alia engaging in activities that would help Moscow ride out the sanctions.

Leaving aside any possible growth in Russian political pressure in the future, the threats of sanctions is, at the moment, a serious-enough reason in its own right for the Armenian government to want to mend relations with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member and leading regional economy Turkey. Amicable relations between Turkey and Armenia and the development of bilateral economic and trade ties would help Yerevan to significantly mitigate the negative consequences for itself of the West’s anti-Russian sanctions.

In turn, the shaky situation in Armenia, and in general in the South Caucasus, provides Turkey with a good opportunity to boost its ties with the regional countries. Turkey treats the negotiations with Armenia on the restoration of diplomatic relations and the re-opening of the Turkish-Armenian border as part of a larger conflict-resolution process in the region that includes Armenian-Azerbaijani peace negotiations. Turkish leaders have, therefore, repeatedly pledged to pursue the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations in parallel with the Armenian-Azerbaijani track (Anadolu Agency, October 26, 2021). This was reaffirmed recently by Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, who said that Ankara will not take up any critical issues in its talks with Yerevan without Baku’s consent (Hurriyet, March 31).

For Turkey, this is also an opportune moment to re-arrange the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process in the bilateral format without the mediation of third parties. “In my opinion, there should be no need for a third party to get involved in [the Armenia-Azerbaijan] negotiations for a peace agreement,” Çavuşoğlu said on March 13, at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum (Azernews.az, March 14). Notably, negotiations between Baku and Yerevan have progressed primarily under the mediation of the Russian side since the end of the 2020 Second Karabakh War. Although the European Union gained some role in this process toward the end of last year, the EU-mediated meetings (in Brussels, on December 14, 2021; an online summit, February 4, 2022) failed to bring about new dynamics in the negotiations and largely reaffirmed the agreements already achieved in the Russia-arbitrated meetings (Commonspace.eu, December 16, 2021).

However, it remains to be seen to what extent the Armenian government will be able to pursue an independent foreign policy, neutralize threats to its sovereignty, and safeguard its national interests amidst the present security situation in the larger region. The upcoming visit of Prime Minister Pashinian to Moscow in April will be a critical moment in this respect. Some revanchist forces persist in the parliamentary opposition who oppose the peace process between Armenia and its Turkic neighbors and advocate for Armenia’s membership in the Russia-Belarus Union State (Massispost.com, March 27). But importantly, the majority of political experts and the society in Armenia apparently have come to the conclusion that the normalization of their country’s relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey is indispensable for Armenian prosperity and continued independent statehood.

https://jamestown.org/program/amidst-russia-ukraine-war-armenia-seeks-to-normalize-relations-with-turkey/