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.
 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.
9 United Nations Security Council Resolution 822 (April 30, 1993).
0 European Parliament, “Turkey’s Progress towards EU Accession.” (Doc. A5-0297/2000) Nov. 17, 2000.
1 Hakobyan, Tatul.
2 United Nations Development Program. “Towards open, but secure borders in the South Caucasus.” United Nations
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.
4 “President Sarkisian Announces Suspension of Protocols.” Armenian Weekly, April 22, 2010.
5 “Armenia suspends normalization of ties with Turkey.” BBC News, April 22, 2010.
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.
9 Ismailzad, Fariz, “Azerbaijan’s Relations with Minsk Group Hit New Low.” The Jamestown Foundation, March 26, 2008.
20 Papian, Ara.
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.