On 14 January 2022, Russia hosted a meeting of Special Representatives for the Normalisation Process between Türkiye and Armenia, Ambassador Serdar Kılıç and Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament, Ruben Rubinyan. Kılıç and Rubinyan discussed the possibility of ending the decades-long animosity between Türkiye and Armenia.
According to a press release posted on the website of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, “the Special Representatives exchanged their preliminary views regarding the normalisation process through dialogue between Türkiye and Armenia.”
The press release also stated that the “parties agreed to continue negotiations without preconditions aiming at full normalisation,” but they did not decide the date and venue of their second meeting, noting that it “will be decided in due time through diplomatic channels.”
Al Jazeera English news website reported the Armenian Foreign Ministry giving similar positive remarks about the mutual meeting hosted by Moscow. But will the neighbour countries, which had no diplomatic or commercial ties since the 1990s due to various issues, including the alleged Turkish genocide against the Armenians in 1915 and the Armenian occupation of Azeri province of Nagorno-Karabakh, be able to end their hostilities?
Since before the Armenian-Azeri war over Nagorno-Karabakh which happened in 2020, there have been indications that showed a glimpse of hope that the two neighbours were going towards ending their hostilities. In 2009, Armenia and Turkey signed a landmark peace accord to restore ties and open their borders, which have been closed since 1993, but the deal was never ratified and ties have remained tense.
After the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, Turkey and Armenia appointed their special envoys in December 2021, and Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said the two countries would begin charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan as well. According to Al Jazeera, the flights are set to begin in early February.
“With borders closed,” according to official Turkish data reported by Al Jazeera, “Turkey and Armenia have no direct trade routes. Indirect trade has risen marginally since 2013, but was just $3.8m in 2021.”
In fact, economic issue is central for the Armenian side. “Armenia’s isolation has excluded it from the major energy and transportation projects in the South Caucasus, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline carrying Caspian Sea oil to the Mediterranean, the South Caucasus Gas Pipeline bearing gas headed for Europe and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars rail network,” the International Crisis Group said.
In addition to being out of such major economic projects, the closure of Armenia’s borders with Turkey has forced it to use lengthier and costlier mountainous trade routes via Georgia and Iran. So that, the International Crisis Group said: “An open border with Turkey would offer a direct path for Armenia to trade through Turkish Black Sea ports, relieving the need to rely on more circuitous routes.”
Turkish journalist, Ismail Yasha, told me that both Türkiye and Armenia would get solid benefit of the normalisation of ties and ending hostilities. The International Crisis Croup said that “an open border would permit Turkish goods, such as construction materials, to compete with often more expensive Russian imports in Armenia, while also allowing for the sale of Armenian produce and agricultural goods in Türkiye. Opening up trade would likely also be a boon to business in eastern Turkey.”
If only the economic and trade side of the matter was considered, I think the normalisation process will reach a full agreement between the two neighbours, and all the differences between them are expected to be ignored, at least temporarily, if not resolved.
Russia’s TASS news agency cited Armenia’s Foreign Ministry as saying that Yerevan expected the latest talks to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of frontiers closed since 1993. “The two countries will reach full normalisation for economic reasons and borders and gates will be reopened,” Yasha told me.
There are two major issues that might pose obstacles ahead of the normalisation, Yasha said. “Armenia will continue claiming that Türkiye carried out genocide, and Türkiye will keep a close eye on this at this stage,” he told me. “The other issue,” he said, “is the Armenian occupation of Azeri lands. So that, Türkiye will not go ahead alone, but along with Azerbaijan.”
Eurasianet reported yesterday, 19 January 2022, that “Armenia has established a working group to prepare plans for restoring a Soviet-era railroad connecting the country to Azerbaijan, the most concrete step Yerevan has yet taken in restoring transportation ties with the country to which it lost a war in 2020.”
The news website also revealed that “Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, met with Azerbaijan President, Ilham Aliyev, twice – in Sochi in November, then in Brussels in December – to work out the details of rebuilding the line connecting the two capitals, Yerevan and Baku, via Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan.”
Following the meeting held in Brussels between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents on 14 December 2021, the EU President Charles Michel said: “It was agreed to proceed with the restoration of railway lines, with appropriate arrangements for border and customs controls, based on the principle of reciprocity.”
The Turkish Foreign Minister said, last year, that Turkey would coordinate all normalisation steps with Azerbaijan. Reuters has reported Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as saying that Armenia needed to form good ties with Azerbaijan for the normalisation effort to yield results.
While some monitors say that any actual breakthrough would not be easy because of the Armenian occupation of Azeri territories, but Yasha said: “While Azerbaijan is ready to normalise ties with Armenia, Türkiye does not have any reason to delay the normalisation with its neighbour for the interest of both countries.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.