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In Focus: Turko-Armenian Relations

Thursday, July 15, 2010 - 09:56

Today settling the Turko-Armenian relations is one of the most widely discussed questions in these countries. Their interrelations contain a number of claims and problems that mostly determine their policies towards each other. For a long time these relations consisted only in mutual accusations and charges and there were no actual steps taken in the direction of settling the conflicts.
Today in the center of community’s attention is the visit of the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Babajan to Yerevan for participation in the Organization for the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Council. In fact the most discussed issue in the official circles in both Turkey and Armenia is the solution of problems related to the opening of the state borders that were closed during the Cold War by Turkey at their own discretion. One of the reasons for it was Yerevan’s initiative for the world community to acknowledge the fact of genocide of the Armenian people which went contrary to Ankara’s interests who supported the opposite point of view. We do not intend to go deep in history, we will just say that this problem is rather ambiguous and may be solved only by an investigation carried out by a special historical committee. However, even in this case an objective solution may hardly be reached as at least one of the parties is very unlikely to be fully satisfied.
Moreover, the situation was aggravated by the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. Originally this conflict arose between Armenia and Azerbaijan when the former introduced an initiative to annex the autonomous region. The Azerbaijani administration took countermeasures directed mainly at the solution of the conflict by force.
This conflict gained world-wide attention in the early 90 s when the USA, Russia and Turkey interfered in the confrontation. It should be noted that the interference of world powers in the conflict was determined by their own geopolitical interests in the South Caucasian region, particularly the rich oil accumulations in the territory of Azerbaijan.
As for Turkey we should note that being a powerful country in the region, it strives to consolidate its influence upon the relatively young neighboring republics. In the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia Turkey took the side of the former due to religious and ethnic similarity between the people of Azerbaijan. It resulted in economic sanctions against Armenia and closure of borders coupled with Turkey’s refusal to trade with Armenia. The “genocide” problem and the conflict in Nagorny Karabakh still aggravated the situation.
Involvement of a world arbitrators in the solution of the conflict is in itself a turning point in the relations between the countries of the region that are divided in two camps: Turkey and Azerbaijan on the one hand and Armenia — on the other. Moreover, due to the complexity of the problems and specificity of international relations, the solution of the Turko-Armenian conflict significantly influences the position of all the other countries involved in this process.
Thus, we see a number of countries observing the development of the conflict and their roles in it. First of all, it is the USA — a strategic Turkish ally. It should be noted that Washington, in the face of the new President and Secretary of State, sticks primarily to the policy of the previous government. In April the new White House administration visited Turkey to adjust the positions on the most urgent problems like the Iranian program, the Middle East situation, Turkey entrance into the EU. One of the results of the visit was the White House confirmation of Turkey’s one of the most important roles in the region. However, Washington plays on the contradiction between the countries which nears a concealed distructive potential in it. It is primarily determined by the fact that at the time of being presidential nominees Barack Obama (as well as Hilary Clinton) displayed support for the idea of acknowledging the genocide of the Armenian people, i. e. Resolution 106 (in 2009 the same resolution is numbered 252). The ex-Head of the White House George Bush and ex-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice were against it. It should also be noted that a lot will depend on Washington in spite of Turkey’s considerably independent foreign policy regarding the relations with the countries of the region and the White House participation.
The second party — Russia — takes a neutral position in the conflict giving relative freedom for both Armenia and Turkey. Moscow welcomes any measures that would normalize the relations between the two countries — this is the official position of the Russian administration expressed by the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. However, the role of Moscow — that of a balance — should not be underestimated. After the disintegration of the USSR Russia lost its major influence in the region (particularly it concerns Azerbaijan that is more attracted by the cooperation with Turkey). Thus, Armenia “by default” becomes Russia’s main ally in the region. Of course, we cannot say that the region is totally lost for Moscow, but definite rejection tendencies are obvious. Today Russia’s interests are limited to the economic sphere of cooperation in the field of energy. The relations normalization initiative is generally supported in spite of the perspective of the Turko-Armenian border opening which is not accepted whole-heartedly by the experts due to the role of the former in the NATO. It should be noted that the escalation of tension in the region is not in the interests of either party. A good example is Russia’s support for the Turkey’s establishment of the Platform for Stability and Security in the South Caucasus.
The EU also pays significant attention to the solution of the conflict between Turkey and Armenia. Fundamental problematic issues in Turkey’s relations with its country neighbors are regarded in the EU as possible levers of pressure. The subject of this pressure is, as we know, a possibility for the EU to accept Turkey as a full-scale member of the Union. It should be underlined that integration with the EU is regarded as the primary objective for the foreign policy of Turkey. However, Washington may play a vital role in this process.
Meanwhile at the end of April Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Turkey and Armenia signed the “highway map” which is regarded as one of the factors for the normalization of the Turko-Armenian relations. This, however, causes a lot of skepticism on the part of economic and political experts. The underline that this initiative that is regarded as a new step in the relations between the countries will in fact come to naught when it comes to genocide, territorial issues, etc.
Nevertheless, there is another side of the process that makes us think a progressive movement of the parties towards cooperation really takes place. The events chronology shows that Ankara and Yerevan come closer and closer in their activities. An example can be organization of conferences, informal relations activization. Moreover, we should note the principal officers’ meetings within the frames of “football diplomacy” offered by Armenia, as well as the Turkish idea of the Platform for Stability and Security in the South Caucasus. But still the relations between the two parties are extremely complicated and it is very hard to make any definite assumption.
It is also very unlikely that any separate issue in the relations between Turkey and Armenia can be solved, as the nature of the conflict is complex and contains many issues that should be solved together.

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