Armenia and Turkey launch talks on normalizing relations

Serdar Kılıç and Ruben Rubinyan

Special envoys appointed by Armenia and Turkey to normalize bilateral relations held their first round of negotiations on January 14. 

Moscow hosted the meeting between deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament Ruben Rubinyan, the youngest member of PM Nikol Pashinyan’s inner circle at age 31, and Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç, a 64-year-old diplomat and former ambassador to the United States. The foreign ministries of Armenia and Turkey released virtually identical press releases following the meeting.

“During their first meeting, conducted in a positive and constructive atmosphere, the Special Representatives exchanged their preliminary views regarding the normalization process through dialogue between Armenia and Turkey. Parties agreed to continue negotiations without preconditions aiming at full normalization,” reads the press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia (MoFA). 

Armenia’s borders with neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan have been closed since the 1990s. The recent negotiations mark the third effort within the past three decades to establish diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. 

The initial round of talks began in 1992 amid the first Artsakh War. In April 1993, Turkey withdrew from the negotiations in response to the capture of Kelbajar by Armenian forces and closed its border with Armenia. 

In 2009, the countries signed two bilateral protocols brokered by France, Russia and the United States. The Zurich Protocols would have opened the border, established diplomatic relations and created a joint historical commission to study the Armenian Genocide. However, the protocols were never ratified or implemented under pressure from Azerbaijan, which opposed normalization of relations without a resolution of the Artsakh conflict. 

Last summer, Armenian and Turkish leadership suggested a renewed interest in talks on establishing diplomatic ties. During a cabinet meeting on August 27, 2021, PM Pashinyan said he had noted “positive public signals from Turkey,” to which Armenia was ready to respond “with a positive signal.” 

Two days later Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey “can gradually normalize relations with Armenia.” “Even if there are disagreements, neighborly relations should be developed on the basis of respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he told the Turkish press. 

The countries have taken further steps in the past months that suggest a thaw in relations. On December 30, 2021, the Ministry of Economy (MoE) of Armenia announced the end of an embargo on imports of Turkish goods. The ban had been instituted one year earlier in response to Turkey’s military support for Azerbaijan during the 2020 Artsakh War. 

The MoE justified the end of the embargo based on its “significant impact on inflation” and “requests from our businesses to lift the ban.” 

Turkish imports to Armenia far exceeded Armenian imports to Turkey prior to the embargo. In 2019, Turkey exported $255 million to Armenia, as opposed to $4.86 million from Armenia to Turkey, according to the Observatory for Economic Complexity. 

Deputy chair of the economic affairs committee of Armenia’s parliament Babken Tunyan says that Turkish goods had bypassed the ban to enter Armenia illicitly. 

“Economically, unfortunately this ban led to a situation where Turkish products were entering Armenia through different ways, because carrying out customs administration and control is practically impossible, and this simply led to prices of clothes, household items and other products in Armenia to grow, because these products are going through more complicated ways. Meaning, the objective we’d initially set politically doesn’t serve its purpose,” he told Armenpress. 

Armenian and Turkish aviation authorities also granted permission earlier this month to Armenian and Turkish airlines to conduct roundtrip charter flights between Yerevan and Istanbul. The first flight by FlyOne Armenia is scheduled for February 2nd. Turkey had previously banned aircraft registered in Armenia from entering its airspace since September 2020. 

Ahead of the January 14 meeting, spokesperson for the MoFA of Armenia Vahan Hunanyan said that he expects that diplomatic relations will be established and the border between the countries, which was “unilaterally closed by Turkey in the early 1990s,” will be opened. 

“In fact, this is an introductory meeting. It could hardly be expected to have tangible results as a result of one meeting, but it will mark the launch of the process,” he told reporters. 

Critics of the negotiation process warn that Turkey might not agree to open the shared border without extracting concessions contrary to Armenia’s interests. Preconditions to normalization could include renunciation of Artsakh to Azerbaijan and of the campaign for greater international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, in the past months Erdogan has made public statements connecting the restoration of diplomatic ties to the establishment of the “Zangezur corridor,” connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan through Armenia without passport or customs controls. 

On November 20, 2021, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said that Turkey had introduced new preconditions to the normalization process. 

“We have always said that we are ready to normalize our relations without preconditions,” he said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro. “We have heard positive signals from Turkey to reopen the dialogue, but it remains difficult. Ankara sets new conditions. Among these is the ‘corridor’ linking Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan and Turkey.” 

The two parliamentary opposition factions, the Armenia Alliance and the I Have Honor Alliance, have been vocal critics of the negotiation process. During a press briefing at the National Assembly on Tuesday, Armenia Alliance deputy Ishkhan Saghatelyan said that the faction is not opposed to the establishment of Armenian-Turkish relations, yet concerned with at what cost it would be settled.

“Turkey is the same Turkey, but Armenia is not the same Armenia after the war. Therefore, they are leading the country into a new, very dangerous cycle. If as a result of initial negotiations between leaders we lost most of the territory of Artsakh, in this case the existence of Armenia is already put in question,” Saghatelyan said

The United States and Russia have each expressed their support for the establishment of diplomatic ties between Armenia and Turkey. On the day of the January 14 meeting, which was hosted in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Russia’s approval of the negotiations. 

“We certainly support these efforts and are actively involved. They contribute to the normalization of the situation in the South Caucasus and help create the right conditions for the remaining political problems to be resolved more expeditiously and productively, through the development of economic and other cooperation between the three countries in the region and their three large neighbours: Russia, Turkey and Iran,” Lavrov said during a news conference. 

Azerbaijan has also conveyed its support of the negotiations. On December 28, 2021, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said that Azerbaijan “fully supports” normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. 

Azerbaijan’s opposition to a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement has been the greatest impediment to previous efforts, according to the International Crisis Group.

“As concerns Turkey and Azerbaijan, the key development for both of them was that, as a result of the 2020 conflict, Azerbaijan regained control of all seven territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh that it had lost to Armenian forces in the early 1990s. As noted above, Armenian control over these territories had been the source of Azerbaijan’s, and hence Turkey’s, key objection to normalizing ties with Yerevan. With that issue off the table, Turkey began to signal its readiness for new talks with Armenia soon after the war,” a January 13 report by the International Crisis Group reads. 

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is a staff writer for the Armenian Weekly. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hetq and the Daily Californian. She is pursuing master’s degrees in Journalism and Near Eastern Studies at New York University. A human rights journalist and feminist poet, Lillian's first poetry collection Journey to Tatev was released with Girls on Key Press in spring of 2021.

18 Comments

  1. I have no confidence in the loser traitor pretending to be PM and his “inner circle ” of equally useless incompetent traitors. These are going to be a give away for nothing and it will be framed as never Pashinyan’s fault as he will lie his way, just as he did during the entire sham war effort. He sold out Artsakh and Armenia is next. Azerbaijan troops are currently stationed inside Armenian territory and still hold war prisoners. Yet this loser is going to negotiate? Hes a disaster to ALL ARMENIANS.

    • Get over it Joe, you’re disconnected views are incorrect and irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how much you froth about davajans, Armenias economy is growing, it’s democracy continues to strengthen and our complete isolation will hopefully breakdown, whether you like it or not.

      The reality is we have Turks to our left and right. We either have to outsmart them, and make them not want to ethnically cleanse us, or blast our way out.

      Since “6m” Armenians didn’t move to Armenia, didn’t work hard or effectively to build a regional power, which could hold a population of 10m, we have to try and make it too costly for these genocidal nations to attack us.

      Either way, frothing from somewhere in America or Europe cheerleading for war using other people’s kids blood doesn’t help. Wake up.

  2. Thanks Lilian, In South we have high regards for bravery of Armenians and Georgians. Yes we lost control of Caucasus about 200 years ago to Russia, but we all fought for our land, forefront of the defense were Georgians and Armenians, as the key pillars of greater Iran at those days. Qajar dynasty had roots in Caucasus. Where is that bravery. I see resentment from Georgia, but non from Armenia. How could that be? I am puzzled. As your mates in south, we are ready to put our lives on the line for you, should you ask, but government of Armenia and Armenian society showed little interest in resenting the aggressor. We are just few kilometers away.

  3. Armenians, did you hear that: “neighborly relations should be developed on the basis of respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty,”

  4. And Armenia and Armenians can and could outsmart her unpleasant neighbours to her west and to her east. What did we achieve in 30 years politically-nothing. Arstakh should have got her independence and I believe could have got it too. For me, I’ve always wondered, how come previous governments of Armenia did not recognize Arstakh’s independence? There were not any better than these lot. What did the ARF in Armenia achieve for 30 years and they have been side-lined and possibly blind folded Soviet Armenians. I agree with Andy Faulkner with everything he said in his commentary and it is a fact and we have to learn to live with it. Let them work freely and enjoy their time as a chosen government. Could we do any better, I don’t think we can. We just talk. I also ask my self, how come Armenians did not move to the mother country? because we in the Diaspora DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE OUR COMFORT. Thank you Andy.

  5. Your equally a traitor Andy. I have come to realize your the minister of propaganda for this loser. Lets look at facts Andy: Armenians not only liberated their OWN ancient lands but held it for decades. That is with genocidal Turks on both sides. As soon as this loser traitor pretending comes to office he gleefully loses a war that HE is responsible for. Other peoples kids? 4500 were murdered UNDER HIS HORRIFIC MISRULE. He purposely didn’t mobilize the Armenian army and left Artsakh on its own and lied about it every day as he still does. He wanted to lose the lands so people like yourself can be gleeful for an equally strange plan of appeasing ridiculous genocidal Turks, as if that’s going to work. As if its all going to be great. Get over it yourself. The man doesn’t speak for me or any other Armenian. Hes a traitor incompetent with ulterior motives that will not work. He couldn’t outsmart himself out of a paper bag. Hes a danger and needs to be rid.

    • Yeah I don’t think you understand how a democracy works. When people vote for you, you represent the people.

      Although I agree he doesn’t and could represent you, because you live between 3,000 and 10,000 miles away.

      Let’s assume he’s an idiot. What are you doing about it? Did you volunteer in 2016? Or 2020? Have you moved to Armenia? So why should 18 year olds spill blood while you do nothing apart from yell and froth?

      Of course we should defend Armenia (and hopefully in the near future this will be with high tech weapons and not so much manpower), but if you don’t suffer the daily realities of Armenia, don’t feel the daily challenge of living in a blockaded nation, don’t shout “Charge!” Like a tinpot keyboard warrior to pursue you day dreams of a land from sea to sea.

      First we need to populate, educate, have an incredible economy and develop a military which can smash back anyone with a ratio of 10 to 1 if need be. If you are not doing any of the above, pipe down.

    • The government of Armenia did do Everything to win the war. Russia did do An miscalculation. EU and Usa like always Will never fight for Armenias.

      This war was only 44 days.

      In Syria when 33 Turksih soldiers where killed, Turkey did attack Syrian Army and antything that moved. This attack did only last 3 days. At least 2500 Syrian soldiers where killed. 400 tanks and other vecils where destroyed. Keep in mind S400 is defending Syria and the air is closed to Turkish Army. On the ground you have Russian An Iran Army. Antything moving was destroyed by Turks. Syria did ask for peace.

      Armenia did not fight Azerbeidzjan soldiers but the combined Army of Turkey and Azerbeidzjan. Before the war Turkey did give Azerbeidzjan full Support. This means when Russia would attack Azerbeidzjan Turkey would have gone to war with Russia. Or if usa would attack Azerbeidzjan Turkey would fight Usa.

    • Democracy means free speech Andy. I will never “pipe down”. Ever. Why do you always blame the diaspora Andy? As if its their fault? Instead why not include the diaspora and its massive resources for real change? Why do you ignore the actual guy that was responsible for the deaths of 4500 18 year olds, who spilled blood in a purposeful doomed effort as direct result of HIS idea of losing Armenian lands for peace? The traitor views Artsakh a burden. Imagine that? Yes the guy doesn’t represent me and most Armenians I know because hes a loser. Take your rose velvet color glasses off and see him for what he is.

  6. I see the future pretty clearly. The next step that Turks want is that corridor to supposedly connect Azerbaijan to Nakichivan, which in reality is just more Armenian territory that was gifted to Azerbaijan, and then depopulated of any Armenians. In reality this plan is to divide Armenia from Iran as this will completely isolate both Armenia AND Iran. Its a win win win for Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel. That’s the big future plan here. and this traitor loser will gladly give it away. Just watch..

  7. Joe – Pashinyan is not a disaster. On the contrary. Perhaps naïve for being a believer in the legal territorial rights of Armenia and Artsakh – no state in the world can resist to the corrupt Azeri deals selling out Artsakh and Armenia with a preplanned veto of the United Kingdom at the UN Security Council and international diplomacy to rule out and provide independence and recognition to Artsakh and non aggression of a double/hidden f Armenia. The sham war had been brewing at the Un for years with a “specific” hainous language.
    Andy Faulkner ‘s comments are true. However the present-day Turkey/Armenia favorable diplomatic relations have certainly a double-hidden purpose – to hush up once for all Genocide denial and impunity and make Azerbaijan enjoy its “territorial integrity” (illegal by international law instruments) Diaspora Armenian must not only comment and inform but start an international political action denouncing corrupt collusions and acts. Uphold its and all fundamental human rights. Including self-determination of minorities and peoples …
    Andy

  8. Autocrats with ill intentions have pursued policy of divide and concur. So, please stay united for greater good of our people. Your Southern neighbor drew a clear line on the sand, if government of Armenia be coerced to compromise the territorial integrity of Armenia (i.e., opening of corridor), etc. we will forego our 300 years’ policy of defending our borders within Iranian borders and will rush to defense of our once beloved Ghafghaz (Semi-autonomous region of Caucasus) from three fronts and will restore the order. Iran has no expansionist policy, otherwise we could have retake parts of our historical land in west and east due to failed states in both sides (several times in past two decades), however, it has been clearly communicated to other countries in the region, that Iran will not tolerate shelling of its villages, establishment of hostile foreign forces to its north, and geostrategic threats.

  9. We all want for Armenia to prosper and live in peace. We cannot achieve this goal with 90% of Armenia’s borders closed and at war with neighbors. Just look at the map and it tells you the story. Let’s leave all our emotions and be pragmatic. We have to make a choice between our desires and reality. The path to growth and prosperity is peace and open borders with neighboring countries. We are on the right track for a prosperous Armenia.

  10. I never understood why Turkey claims Armenia pursues international recognition of the genocide and pretending it’s a condition, it’s actually the diaspora. What power does Armenia have elsewhere? Do they actually think they can control us? The Armenian story will be remembered for all generations, you can’t stop it. This is why Turks/Azeris always whine about diaspora knowing the potential power we have and started a campaign to cause division and for years spend millions in various countries.

    We are also literally the evidence of a genocide that occurred, otherwise there would not be a large diaspora and Armenians being born in strange lands! As a descendant of genocide survivors, lying Turks will forever be trash to me until it is recognized and will never do business with them and have boycotted diaspora Armenians that do since I was young.

    Let Armenia and Turkey end the economic blockade, the issue of the genocide is irrelevant, especially now since Turkey have become the laughing stock of the new generation worldwide who have researched the issue. Just make sure Armenia doesn’t become Turkified in a few decades which is their end goal… slow erasure of Armenia. Pashinyan started the process and will deserve what happens to traitors, there are several.

  11. how about a truth and reconciliation commission like South africa to get the evil exposed and some compensation to the innocent. Have equal mix Azerbaijan and Armenia. Peace benefits all .
    High speed train from Istanbul to Moscow via Armenia!

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