Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has informed the press that Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan sought a meeting with him to discuss Armenia-Turkey relations.
According to Erdogan, the Armenian PM communicated the proposal through his Georgian counterpart Irakli Garibashvili. The Turkish leader seemed to welcome a meeting to discuss the restoration of diplomatic relations between the neighboring countries during a press conference on September 19.
“If [Pashinyan] is really sincere on this issue, I will show our sincerity and start diplomacy,” said Erdogan. “I hope positive approaches will prevail, and thus, this problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia will end with the opening of corridors.”
While he did not specify, the “opening of corridors” presumably refers to the “Zangezur corridor,” an Azerbaijani-controlled route that would connect Turkey and Azerbaijan through the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, an exclave of the latter.
Press secretary of the Armenian PM Mane Gevorgyan told Armenpress that while there have been no contacts between Armenian and Turkish officials so far, the Armenian government is prepared for such contacts. She did not deny that Pashinyan had invited Erdogan to meet.
Gevorgyan decried Erdogan’s reference to corridors as contradictory to the “logic of establishing peace and stability in the region.” “But there are also options for opening regional communications in a way that emphasize regional interconnectedness and can be a real way to overcome the hostility step by step,” she continued.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly called for the establishment of the “Zangezur corridor,” asserting that Zangezur (Syunik) is the native land of Azerbaijan. The November 9 trilateral ceasefire announcement ending the 44-day war envisaged the unblocking of regional transport and communication channels, including a route between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan overseen by Russian border guards. The Armenian leadership has continually denounced claims to a corridor passing through Armenia controlled by Azerbaijan.
Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Alexei Overchuk told reporters that the working group launched to oversee the opening of transport and communication links “does not discuss the issue of corridors” during his recent visit to Yerevan. Instead the working group debates economic and transport issues in order to “create new opportunities for expanding trade.”
A trilateral agreement signed on January 11 by Pashinyan, Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin further promised Armenia railway access to Iran through Nakhichevan and Russia through Azerbaijan. The working group established to implement the statement suspended its activities in June following Azerbaijani incursions into the internationally recognized boundaries of Armenia. According to Overchuk, the group resumed its activities in August.
Armenian Minister of the Economy Vahan Kerobyan anticipates that unblocking regional transport and economic connections will increase Armenia’s GDP by 30-percent in the course of two years.
The recent shuttle diplomacy between Pashinyan and Erdogan is the latest incident in an apparent thaw in Armenian-Turkish relations. On August 27, Pashinyan welcomed “positive public signals from Turkey,” noting that Armenia might “respond to the positive signals with a positive signal.” In response, Erdogan told reporters that Turkey could be prepared to gradually normalize relations with Armenia on the basis of respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Prior to departing for Tbilisi to meet with the Georgian PM on September 8, Pashinyan reiterated his readiness to launch Armenian and Turkish railways and roads and diplomatic relations. “It’s easy to [make declarations] about peace, stability [and] cooperation, which are desirable goals, but their realization requires reasonable, thoughtful, pragmatic efforts, and the Republic of Armenia is ready to make such efforts,” he said during a cabinet meeting.
Armenia and Turkey have not had diplomatic ties since 1993, when the latter closed their shared border in support of Azerbaijan in the first Artsakh War. The nations neared a rapprochement in 2009 with the Zurich Protocols, which were signed yet never ratified after Turkey introduced a new set of preconditions insisting on a resolution to the Artsakh conflict.
Critics warn that Turkey will only pursue normalization on the preconditions that Armenia renounce Artsakh to Azerbaijan and abandon its campaign for greater international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Erdogan’s latest statement seems to add the establishment of the Zangezur corridor to that list.
CivilNet columnist Benyamin Poghosyan writes that it is more favorable for Armenia to avoid contact with Turkey than to pursue dialogue that would require concessions contrary to Armenia’s vital interests.
“The current Armenian authorities are imbued with messianic notions of establishing long-lasting peace with Azerbaijan and Turkey,” Poghosyan wrote on September 20. “Without receiving corresponding signals from the two adversaries, they do not try to change their strategy, but rather send messages regarding their readiness to make additional concessions, attempting to achieve that peace at any cost.”
Deputy speaker of the National Assembly Ishkhan Saghatelyan went further in criticizing the naivete of pursuing restoration of relations with Turkey. “The government of Armenia and its leader, driven by self-proclaimed, hopeless ideas on unilaterally establishing regional peace, obviously do not understand that modern-day Turkey is guided by undisguised pan-Turkic aspirations and that its president is obsessed with the former behavior of Ottoman sultans,” Saghatelyan, who is also the chairperson of the ARF Supreme Council in Armenia, wrote on September 20.