Land-Locked: The Necessity of Open Borders in Armenia

Special for the Armenian Weekly

The historically positive relationship between Israel and the Republic of Turkey has been strained since the 2008-09 Gaza War and the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid. More recently, following U.S. pressure on both sides, a failed attempt of reconciliation between the two nations began in early 2013, with little to no development.1 Relations between Israel and Turkey hit a new low in October 2013, with the scandal over alleged Turkish involvement in the exposure of Israeli special agents in Iran.2 While military, strategic, and diplomatic cooperation between the two nations were once accorded high priority by both parties, Turkey’s legal challenge to Israel’s blockade of Gaza has shown that relations may never be fully restored.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ankara’s claim that Israel was acting unlawfully in Gaza, was the fact that it inadvertently highlighted the illegal blockade that Turkey has imposed on neighboring Armenia for the past two decades. In 1993, the Republic of Turkey joined Azerbaijan in implementing a blockade in response to the Nagorno-Karabagh War. Although Turkey did not directly take part in the conflict, it sided with Azerbaijan because of ethnic ties, and continues to enforce the damaging blockade that cannot be justified under international law. This act assumes a total air, rail, and road blockade of Armenia with no exceptions, even for shipments of humanitarian assistance.3,4 Approximately 80 percent of the length of Armenia’s borders is closed, including all roads, rail lines, and pipelines from Turkey and Azerbaijan into Armenia.5 This has crippled the Armenian economy and hindered the nation’s growth and prosperity over the past two decades.

The Republic of Armenia is a land-locked country with very few natural resources and relies on trade with neighboring nations to develop and progress. The blockades imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan have created a difficult situation within the country, as the cost of transport to Iran and Georgia is consistently on the rise. Concern regarding the expansion of international trade to land-locked countries was first brought up in the United Nations in February 1957, during the 656th Plenary Session of the General Assembly. Recognizing the need to provide corresponding transit possibilities to land-locked countries for the development of international commerce, Resolution 1028 (XI) “invites the Governments of Member States to give full recognition to the land-locked Member States in the matter of transit trade and, therefore, to accord them adequate facilities in terms of international law and practice in this regard.”6 In 1969, the Republic of Turkey acceded to the Convention on Transit Trade of Land Locked States of 1965.7

The convention’s first principle stated that “the right of each land-locked State of free access to the sea is an essential principle for the expansion of international trade and economic development.” The third principle of the convention assumes the right to free access to the sea for land-locked countries, stating, “In order to enjoy the freedom of the seas on equal terms with coastal States, States having no sea coast should have free access to the sea.” Moreover, the fourth principle of this convention states that “Goods in transit should not be subject to any customs duty,” and that “Means of transport in transit should not be subject to special taxes or charges higher than those levied for the use of means of transport of the transit country.” Although Turkey has acceded to the Convention on Transit Trade of Land-locked States, the Republic of Armenia has not. It is perhaps in Armenia’s best interest to sign onto this important convention to better position itself and protect its rights as a land-locked nation.8

The blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan has often wrongly been referred to as an embargo or as trade sanctions on Armenia. However, in terms of international law, the economic blockade and diplomatic boycott are directly against the principle outlined in the United Nations Charter requiring the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

This principle, calling for the peaceful settlement of disputes, is also mentioned in the “Accession Partnership with Turkey” adopted by the EU Council. Moreover, the international community has on several occasions called on Turkey and Azerbaijan to lift their blockades. The UN Security Council, for example, has explicitly referred to and voiced concern over the economic blockade imposed by Azerbaijan against Armenia. On Jan. 29, 1993, the president of the UN Security Council made a statement (S/25199) expressing “deep concern at the devastating effect of interruptions in the supply of goods and materials, in particular energy supplies” to Armenia and to the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan, and called on governments in the region “to allow humanitarian supplies to flow freely, in particular fuel.”9 In late 2000, the European adopted (C5-0036/2000) concerning the report on Turkish progress towards candidacy for the European Union, which called on the Turkish government to re-establish normal diplomatic and trade relations with Armenia and lift the ongoing blockade.10

It’s important to note here the significance of Armenia’s remaining open borders. Armenia shares a small yet very important border with neighboring Iran, along the Araks River. Yet, its border with Georgia is even more significant and vital, since the main land, rail, and seaborne transportation routes, which allow Armenia to connect with the outside world, all pass through Georgia. It is assumed that approximately 70 percent of Armenia’s foreign commodity circulation is achieved through Georgian territory, via the Georgian rail system and the ports of Batumi and Poti.11 Following the 2008 South Ossetia war, which prompted concerns over the stability of energy routes in the Caucasus, it became even more clear that the Republic of Armenia cannot rely solely on its existing open boundaries, and must work towards opening the remaining length of its borders.

It is also important to note the significance of certain international programs that aim to facilitate travel and increase security within the borders of the South Caucasus. For example, the Integrated Border Management Systems in the South Caucasus (SCIBM) aims to “facilitate the movement of persons and goods in the South Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, while maintaining secure borders, through enhancing inter-agency, bilateral, and regional border management cooperation both within and among the countries of the South Caucasus region as well as between the countries, EU Member States, and other international sectors.”12

Unfortunately, the issue of lifting the blockade is often politicized and tied to the future of Nagorno-Karabagh. In reality, the closed borders have a profound impact on the process of self-determination in the region and on Karabagh’s development. On Oct. 10, 2009, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia signed an accord proclaiming the two nations had agreed to establish diplomatic relations. Among many other issues, the document emphasized their decision to open the common border between Turkey and Armenia. This provision within the document, however, suggested that both Armenia and Turkey were party to this blockade, when, in reality, Turkey’s decision in 1993 to illegally blockade Armenia was taken unilaterally.13 The Republic of Armenia has continuously called for the normalization of ties, including unimpeded transportation, without preconditions. Nonetheless, the diplomatic efforts to normalize relations have faltered, as Turkish officials announced publicly that they would only ratify the protocols after the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict is settled, and Armenia responded by suspending its ratification process.14 On April 22, 2012, the ruling Armenian coalition made a statement, in which it made it clear that the political majority in the National Assembly considered statements from the Turkish side as unacceptable, “specifically those by Prime Minister Erdogan, who has again made the ratification of the Armenia-Turkish protocols by the Turkish parliament directly dependent on a resolution over Nagorno-Karabagh.”15

According to a study by the New England School of Law’s Center for International Law and Policy, “Nagorno-Karabagh has a right of self-determination, including the attendant right to independence, according to the criteria recognized under international law.”16 As the analysis elaborates, “the principle of self-determination is included in Articles 1, 55, and 73 of the United Nations Charter.”17 Moreover, the right to self-determination has been repeatedly recognized in a series of resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly—notably, Resolution 2625 (XXV) of 1970, which focuses on the principles of international law concerning friendly relations and cooperation among states in accordance with the UN Charter. While the Azerbaijani argument states that political independence for Karabagh violates the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, according to the New England School of Law’s study, “the claim to territorial integrity can be negated where a state does not conduct itself ‘in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples’ and does not allow a subject people ‘to pursue their economic, social, and cultural development’ as required by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2625 (XXV).”18 The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group was created in 1992 by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the Karabagh conflict. Azerbaijanis have long distrusted the Minsk Group, claiming that the three co-chair countries (Russia, France, and the United States) have large Armenian Diasporas and will always favor Armenians in the conflict. Many Azerbaijanis accuse the Minsk Group of not putting enough pressure on Armenia to return territory to Azerbaijan, and of prolonging the negotiations indefinitely.19 Nonetheless, the OSCE Minsk Group remains the only internationally mandated format for negotiations on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.

According to Ara Papian, the former ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Canada and current head of the Modus Vivendi Centre, the Republic of Armenia is able and is obliged to defend its rights based on international law, and to carry out goal-oriented and consistent steps towards lifting the blockade on Armenia.20 As a member of the UN, the Republic of Armenia has the absolute right to “bring any dispute, or any situation of the nature referred to in Article 34 [of the UN Charter] to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly,” as per the first clause of Article 35 of the UN Charter. Article 34 states, “The Security Council may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.” The Republic of Armenia’s initiative to bring up the issue of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s deliberate violations of international law would help support the course of lifting the dual blockades on the Republic of Armenia.21

In reality, this situation, especially on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, looks quite grim these days—likely the worst since the blockade was first imposed. While there have been some small, but important steps in Turkish civil society to discuss the possibility of open borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan continues to be the “sore thumb” in the ever-so complicated situation between the parties. In November 2014, a two-day conference entitled, “The Sealed Gate: Prospects of the Turkey-Armenia Border,” took place at the Faculty of Political Science at Ankara University, a dialogue and a venue that would have been considered unimaginable in even the recent past.22 However, only about a week before the conference, Azerbaijani armed forces shot down an unarmed Armenian helicopter—the most significant military incident between the two sides since the 1994 ceasefire. While Azerbaijan has claimed the Mi-24 helicopter crossed the line of contact and was planning to attack, Armenia maintains that the aircraft remained on its side and was completely unarmed.23 Azerbaijani military hostility, coupled with cries from Azerbaijani civil society and government agencies denouncing such conferences and calls for the opening of the border between Armenia and Turkey, make it difficult to imagine an open Armenian-Turkish border as long as Azerbaijan is involved and is active at the bargaining table.24

Normalizing relations with Turkey is part of the Republic of Armenia’s national security strategy, officially adopted in 2007. Armenia’s security is threatened and its development hampered as a result of the “unnatural character” of bilateral relations and the closed border by Turkey, it states. Furthermore, “the absence of normalized relations adversely affects the stability of the region as a whole and impedes the development of regional cooperation.”25 The World Bank suggests that if the blockade were to be lifted by just Turkey, Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could increase by 30 to 38 percent, and its exports could easily double.26

Considering that more than three-quarters of the length of Armenia’s borders are closed, and accepting the fact that the closed borders have been damaging for the Armenian economy and threatening to Armenia’s national security—delaying the country’s development and prosperity over the past 20 years—it is vital that the illegal blockade be lifted by Turkey, and that the borders to Armenia be opened. What is most important, however, is that the process is done in such a way that the Republic of Armenia does not make any serious concessions, such as the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the legal rights of Karabagh citizens. At the same time, it is important for the Republic of Armenia to actively engage in and support the Integrated Border Management Systems in the South Caucasus (SCIBM), since the program works within the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), functions with international law standards, and is in accordance with the UN Charter.




[1] Sanders, Edmund and Christi Parsons. “Obama Facilitates Reconciliation Between Israel and Turkey.” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2013.

2 Watson, Ivan and Tuysuz, Gul. “Turkey Rejects Claims it Blew Israeli Agents’ Cover.” CNN 17 October 2013.

3 “Addressing Turkey and its Blockade on Armenia.” Armenian Center for National and International Studies, Occasional Paper Number One, Autumn 1994.

4 One exception to this policy came in the winter of 1993, when Turkey opened its borders to humanitarian aid, which provided Armenia with energy supplies. Although Turkey allowed for some humanitarian aid to pass through its territory, this did not prevent then-Turkish Prime Minster Suleyman Demirel from giving all the diplomatic support he could to Azerbaijan, especially in the United Nations.

5 Hakobyan, Tatul. “Georgia to remain vital transit route for Armenia.” The Armenian Reporter, Nov. 13, 2009.

6 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1028 (XI) Land-Locked Countries and the Expansion of International Trade (Feb. 20, 1957).

7 Papian, Ara. “The Blockade by Turkey: An Utter Violation of International Law and Borne Obligations.” Azg Daily, April 3, 2007.

8 ibid.

9 United Nations Security Council Resolution 822 (April 30, 1993).

[1]0 European Parliament, “Turkey’s Progress towards EU Accession.” (Doc. A5-0297/2000) Nov. 17, 2000.

[1]1 Hakobyan, Tatul.

[1]2 United Nations Development Program. “Towards open, but secure borders in the South Caucasus.” United Nations

[1]3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia. “Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between Republic of Armenia and Republic of Turkey.” Oct. 10, 2009.

[1]4 “President Sarkisian Announces Suspension of Protocols.” Armenian Weekly, April 22, 2010.

[1]5 “Armenia suspends normalization of ties with Turkey.” BBC News, April 22, 2010.

[1]6 “The Nagorno-Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution.” Public International Law & Policy Group and the New England Center for International Law & Policy, pp. 21-24.

[1]7 ibid.

[1]8 ibid.

[1]9 Ismailzad, Fariz, “Azerbaijan’s Relations with Minsk Group Hit New Low.” The Jamestown Foundation, March 26, 2008.

20 Papian, Ara.

21 ibid.

22 Janbazian, Rupen. “Conference on Turkey-Armenia Border Takes Place in Ankara.” The Armenian Weekly, Nov. 24, 2014.

23 Kucera, Joshua. “After Azerbaijan Shoots Down Helicopter, How Will Armenia Respond?” Eurasianet, Nov. 13, 2014.

24 “Azerbaijani Organization Condemns Pressure on Turkey to Open Borders with Armenia.” Trend News Agency, Nov. 24, 2014.

25 “National Security Strategy.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, Jan. 26, 2007.

26 Polyakov, Evgeny. “Changing Trade Pattern after Conflict Resolution in the South Caucasus.” The World Bank. Washington, D.C. 2000.




Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the editor of Torontohye Monthly. He is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly and the former director of public relations of the Tufenkian Foundation. Born and raised in Toronto, he is currently based in Yerevan.
Rupen Janbazian

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  1. Now that Armenia has joined the EEU, I am not sure that I agree with this article’s conclusion that Turkey needs to lift the blockade with Armenia. To me it appears to be too little and too late for that already. Instead I think Armenia should work on the opposite approach and ensure that the east-west border be closed – for good – until 1. Azerbaijan is demilitarized and NK settled and 2. Turkey is made to answer her crimes of Genocide. Even if Armenia is projected to increase its GDP with open borders, let’s also not forget that this would also help its two genocidal neighbors, and in particular, occupied Western Armenia would be helped: without its Armenians. And because of what the Turkic odd couple did to Armenia, both Armenia and the Armenian diaspora need to always look for ways to harm any economic interests of these two nations, not just in their region, but also worldwide.

    Instead, Armenia now can now look to the south and north and ensure that these two borders be secured and operational whereby allowing Armenia to conduct its business with the outside world through both Russia and Iran, the north being its door to the Far East and the West, and the south being its door to the Middle East. And doing business with Russia is far better for Armenia than the two genocidal western proxies, because now Russia is building its infrastructure to connect with the far east and this will come to provide Armenia with even better possibilities. The western maidan fools are all besides themselves and don’t know what to do to topple Russia’s economy in retaliation. Well, it may be effective in the short-run, but it will fail in the long-run. Russia has more natural resources than it knows what to do with.

    All that is left to work out is deals with Iran and Georgia. I think Iran is easy to work with, while Georgia may be more complicated or problematic. But then again, since 2008 Georgia is no longer in any position to play a power trip over Armenia if it knows what’s good for itself, unless of course, it is eager for another stomp on the receiving end from the Russian bear.

  2. Excellent article Mr. Janbazian.
    Well researched and referenced.

    It is quite true that the blockade by Turkey is illegal under International Law.
    Turks falsely claim, of course, that they are not blockading RoA, but simply do not want to trade with Armenia, while, quote, “Armenia occupies Azerbaijani lands” (sic).

    But as you amply documented, the illegality is in blockading commerce through Turkey between RoA and 3rd countries: no country, including Turkey, is obligated to trade with Armenia. But they are obligated not to interfere with civilian goods transiting Turkey, which btw, is occupied Armenian lands (Wilsonian Armenia: legally binding, Arbitral Award).

    Having said that, we need to be coldly realistic.
    To expect a country, which is by its nature criminal*, to respect any agreements it signs, is naïve.
    To wit, The Treaty of Lausanne, which Turkey signed in 1923, stipulates a long list of obligations on Turkey vis-à-vis its minorities**.
    How many of those have been actually respected by Turks ?
    What have the other signatories of the Treaty done to enforce provisions of the treaty, which they are obligated to do ? Nothing.

    So agreements, schmgreements.

    Azerbaijan/Turkbaijan is a fake, criminal, terrorist State, run by a Crime Syndicate, which claims the present territory of RoA, including Yerevan, as, quote, “Western Azerbaijan” (sic).
    Turkey is a genocidal, Anti-Christian, Anti-Western, Anti-Armenian, (radical) Islamist State which has as its national goal the elimination of the remaining Armenians from their homelands in Caucasus.

    No ‘agreement’ between Armenians and Turks/Turkbaijanis will ever be honored by the invadonomads.
    Any ‘agreement’ will be used by Turks to ‘disarm’ Armenians, while they continue their genocidal Pan-Turanic policies.

    So what is the solution to the blockade and Armenia’s lack of direct access to the Black Sea or to Russia (either via land or via Caspian Sea) ?

    * A successor state of a criminal regime that committed Genocide against its own subjects, continues denying the AG, and continues efforts and policies of snuffing out Armenian presence from Caucasus.


    • “But they are obligated not to interfere with civilian goods transiting Turkey”

      Based on what law? Nations can and do interfere with civilian goods transiting their territory every day of the week. Most do not to preserve mutual interests, but your dreaming if you think nations can demand unfettered access through the territory of others, whether landlocked or not.

      But again, there is no blockade. Armenia can import/export commercial goods through Georgia and then via the Bosphorous (after paying its transit fees) and vice versa. Flight corridors remain open for civilian passage. The routes to Iran remain open. It’s unfortunate for Armenia that they find such routes expensive. This is a consequence of its own making and must accept this as a tradeoff for pursuing its own policy decisions and actions.

      So what is the solution he asks? Other than invading your neighbors or Russia invading it for you, try three latin words: QUID PRO QUO

    • {“ Based on what law?”}

      Did you read the article ? Read it and then ask the same question.

      {In 1969, the Republic of Turkey acceded to the Convention on Transit Trade of Land Locked States of 1965.}

      Regarding “Other than invading your neighbors or Russia invading it for you,..”

      Pretty rich coming from a Turk.
      I am guessing you, a Turk, consider the invasion of Republic of Cyprus by the Turkish military a friendly visit ?
      Why is Turkey still occupying 40% of Cyprus ?
      What are Turks doing in Asia Minor ?
      How did you Turks from Uyguristan end up in Asia Minor ?
      What happened to all the indigenous peoples who used to live there ?

      Here is a little story about the alleged “invading your neighbors”.
      In 1991 Azerbaijan SSR declared independence and seceded from USSR.
      By doing so, its Soviet mandate to _administer _ NKAO ended on that day.
      NKAO declared independence and became NK Republic.
      Azerbaijan military invaded with full force in an attempt to exterminate and ethnically cleanse the indigenous Armenians of Artsakh.
      The attempted Genocide of Armenians by Turks/Turkbaijanis failed.
      Artsakh’s Armenians, supported by RoA and Diaspora Armenians threw out the Turkic invaders and also liberated historic Armenian lands outside NKAO footprint.

      In an impotent rage, Turkey joined their Turkic kin in blockading RoA in an attempt to snuff the remaining Armenians from Caucasus.
      After having successfully exterminated indigenous Armenians of Western Armenia via a series of massacres, later to be classified as Genocide.
      Between 1894 and 1923, approximately 2 million indigenous Armenians were exterminated by invading nomadic Turkic tribes from Uyguristan.

      The attempt to snuff out RoA and NKR by Turkey has failed.
      Both ROA and NKR are getting stronger year by year.
      Time is on our side.
      Kurds will become independent and we will have access to the Black Sea one way or another.
      Or we will have a border with Russia one way or another.

      Turks are foreign invaders in these parts who over centuries have murdered and ethnically cleansed indigenous peoples, including Armenians.
      Your ancestral homelands are in Uyguristan, Zeki.
      We don’t need the permission of Uyguroglu Turks to live on our own ancestral lands.

  3. Very very well explained.If I may add even, even if great Turkey obliged and opened the borders(they were the ones to close it anyhow)there is no guarantee they would not only to close it back but also even if they had let free shipping through the (BOGHAS) DARDANELLES THROAT or Bosphorus shut in order to prevent us Armenians to pass through.I never would such a neighbour.Let our ¨¨paremid compatriots ¨´ not to say Barzamid(simple minded think the besst of them….Not me nor the like of me….I know they consider us as their arch enemy….
    One more thing,who said Armenia suffered by there illegal border losings????? Iran had its bordders wide open and operating with Armenina. So did Georgia..also have in view that if need be Armenia can ship by steamers its transit goods via the Black SEA UP NORTH TO eURO OR RUSSIAN PORTS and theron to all over. Iran´s Souther ports are Ocean going and with construction of the new railway between Iran and Armenian will facilitate plenty more transit activity to the chagrin of our Turkbeijani neibours.
    Shad Parevner hasgcoghin

  4. Dear Mr. Janbazian,
    The article you wrote was very educational and well researched. In fact, Armenia would love to have an open border with Turkey. It would boost the Armenian economy as now many Armenians go to Turkey through Georgia in order to purchase items and bring back to Armenia for selling. But Turkey puts conditions such us recognizing the current border of Turkey, abandonment of claims regarding Armenian Genocide of 1915 and, finally, releasing lands under control of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh). Some, or all, are not acceptable conditions for Armenians. Let Turkey keep it closed. Also, Armenia doesn’t like the language of conditions.

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