"There should be realistic expectations of what can result from ongoing discussions on the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Turkey", writes Benyamin Poghosyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "Given the current situation in the South Caucasus, the region is far away from peace, and no one should have hopes that Armenia – Turkey normalization will solve conflicts and bring an era of peace to the region. However, in the current situation, even a contribution to regional stability is too significant an opportunity to miss."
The 2020 Karabakh war has significantly changed the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and triggered new processes. Turkey’s war involvement seemed to worsen further Armenia – Turkey relations. The Armenian government imposed a ban on imports from Turkey from January 2021 due to Turkey's open and evident promotion and support for the Azerbaijani war effort. However, after the early parliamentary elections in Armenia held in June 2021, Armenian officials started to speak about the necessity to normalize relations with Turkey. These discussions ended with the assignment of a special representatives to start negotiations, and the first meeting took place on January 14, 2022.
The start of the war in Ukraine in late February 2022 shifted the world’s focus from this process. However, meetings between Armenian and Turkish special representatives quietly continued in Vienna. During the last meeting held on July 1, 2022, they agreed to enable third-country citizens to cross the land border between Armenia and Turkey and commence direct air cargo trade between Armenia and Turkey. The first tangible result of almost a year-long process added some momentum, but more interesting developments happened later. On July 11, 2022, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had a telephone conversation with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pashinyan congratulated Erdogan on Kurban Bayram, and Erdogan congratulated Pashinyan on the upcoming Vardavar – the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. During the conversation, the leaders emphasized the importance they attached to the bilateral normalization process between their respective countries and expressed their expectations for the early implementation of the agreements reached during the meeting between the special representatives of the two countries on July 1.
What are the prospects of the Armenia – Turkey relations in the context of the recent developments? First of all, it should be noted that currently, we are witnessing the process of normalization and not one of reconciliation or rapprochement. The proper use of terms is significant to avoid misperceptions and possible disappointments. The ultimate goal of normalization is to establish diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey and open land borders for everyone, while reconciliation is a much more complicated and long-term process. Establishing diplomatic relations does not automatically mean opening a Turkish embassy in Yerevan or an Armenian embassy in Ankara. The sides may well agree to use their embassies in neighbouring states – Russia or Georgia – to cover each other territories, at least for some initial period.
Let us be clear – the potential normalisation of relations – establishment of diplomatic relations, and opening of land borders – does not mean that Armenia and Turkey will not have disagreements, contradictions, or even will not act against each other in particular circumstances. The history of Russia – Ukraine diplomatic relations from March 2014 – to February 23, 2022, is a vivid example of how diplomatic relations and the functioning of embassies do not preclude confrontation and even war. The relations between India and Pakistan are another example of how states may simultaneously be in confrontation and have diplomatic relations. India has a High Commission in Pakistan, and Pakistan has a High Commission in India, but the two states still have territorial disputes. However, this does not mean that the normalization of relations will play no positive role. and will not contribute to stabilizing the situation in the South Caucasus.
As the war in Ukraine pushed the world into uncharted waters, and few clearly understand what the post-unipolar world order will resemble, the potential of regional flare-ups is rising. The military victory of Azerbaijan during the 2020 Karabakh war did not end the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, and while Russian peacekeepers deployed in Nagorno Karabakh prevent the restart of hostilities, the endgame is unclear. The statements from the Azerbaijani leadership that if Armenia continues to speak about the status of Nagorno Karabakh – and there is little doubt that Armenia will continue to do that – Azerbaijan will speak about its claims over Syunik and other regions of Armenia, do not bode well for the overall stability and security of the region. The conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been frozen since August 2008, but the ultimate endgame is not clear also here.
As many states come closer to more emphasis on coercive diplomacy and blatant use of force to push forward their national interests, the South Caucasus remains a region resembling a powder keg, and any significant change in the balance of power may unleash new war here. In this context, the normalization of Armenia – Turkey relations should be perceived as a modest step that will contribute to the region's stability. We should not confuse stability with peace. Given the current situation in the South Caucasus, the region is far away from peace, and no one should have hopes that Armenia – Turkey normalization will solve conflicts and bring an era of peace to the region. However, in the current situation, even a contribution to regional stability is too significant an opportunity to miss.