I have always found it interesting how the general public is fed phrases or words that become associated with a current event. Who knew of the term “zoom” before the now popular video platform became a lifeline of communication for both the business community and families. The phrase “herd immunity” became a symbol of hope for an end to the pandemic until viral mutations occurred, and the phrase lost its impact. It is a study in both the power of communication and the need for hope. The disseminators of the catch phrases have incredible influence over a population that is driven by the need for hope. After the media saturation, many of us are offering commentary on the latest “protocols” and discussing the percentage required for “herd immunity” all while “zoom” becomes an accepted noun. The Armenian community has had its share of association with such phrases. We all still painfully recall the term “starving Armenians” as the most significant perception of the Genocide by the American public. The protocol definition associated with the pandemic is actually our second experience with that term. In 2009, the Armenian government was a party to the US-brokered “Zurich Protocols” which was intended to be the basis for establishing diplomatic and eventual economic relations between the Republic of Armenia and Turkey. We are all too familiar with the history of that debacle. Ignoring the substantial issues of the two nations, both sides were encouraged to enter good faith negotiations without “preconditions”—another term that haunts the Armenian psyche. In this discussion, Armenia has the greatest justification for pre-conditions given the unresolved and unpunished crime of genocide committed by the other party. Yet Armenia, based partly on political naivety and partly on political pressure, entered into the discussion without the infamous preconditions. Ultimately, Turkey, which was under pressure by Azerbaijan to link the Artsakh conflict to the protocols, failed to ratify the agreement as numerous pre-conditions eventually became public. The reluctance of the diaspora was confirmed, as Erdogan’s Turkey underscored its duplicitous ways.
We have our own bias as Armenians. The term “Turk” has been our simple explanation for the deceit, aggression and racism experienced over the centuries. True, it is a generalization, but it would be helpful if there were concrete government examples to the contrary. There have been none, as Turkey continues a policy either directly or through surrogates to eliminate Armenia. From the time of Abdul Hamid in the late 19th century through the current hostile policies of Erdogan, Turkey has maintained a policy to murder, deny, exploit and discriminate against Armenians.
Now, Armenians have been asked to embrace a new term as we attempt to write another chapter with the authors of genocide and denial: “normalization.” In this chapter, the players are the same, but the geopolitical dynamics have altered. Russia, in its classic hegemony, has hosted the initial encounter of the Armenian and Turkish envoys. Discussions such as these are governed by self-interest. Given the state of Russian relations with the west, highlighted by the Ukraine standoff, the interests of Armenia become a vehicle of regional control. As a member of the OSCE Minsk group, Russia cannot dissolve the group, but they have been effective in neutralizing their impact. Brokering the Artsakh War agreement and sponsoring the latest “normalization” efforts indicate that they are motivated to keep the West on the sidelines. Given the nature of diplomatic rhetoric, the European Union (EU) and the United States can only affirm the dialogue with such words as “hopeful” and “encouraging.” The role of the global powers has shifted in this negotiation since 2009. Whereas the previous attempt was brokered by the United States with assistance from the Europeans, this round reflects the new Russian/Turkish dynamics. Turkey, for its part, has very little to lose and may be motivated by the possibility of improving damaged relations with the United States and Europe by extending a peaceful hand to its traditional enemy. History and the political environment suggest that Turkey is entering this dialogue with ulterior motives. Both parties have repeated the mantra of “without preconditions,” which is to the disadvantage for Armenia since they have not been the aggressor in any of the possible preconditions that exist. Armenia was the victim of genocide—not the perpetrator. Turkey unilaterally closed the border with Armenia in 1993 as a result of its relations with Azerbaijan. It was Turkey that introduced “preconditions” to the 2009 protocols when Azerbaijan lobbied for connecting the protocols to the Artsakh issue. A master of duplicity, Erdogan abides by the rules, but his political surrogates have made statements that link these discussions to several looming preconditions such as refusal to accept the fact of Armenian Genocide, expecting Armenia to accept the “territorial integrity” of Azerbaijan (which would end the Artsakh question) and demanding the so-called “Zangezur Corridor (through Syunik to link occupied Nakhichevan with Azerbaijan proper). Turkey is too cunning to present these terms early in the dialogue. The honeymoon period is just beginning, but only a naïve observer would think that Turkey will not advance these demands on a weakened Armenia.
Pashinyan has attempted to convince the general population of this initiative through his “regional peace” efforts. The idea of peace with our neighbors is an honorable objective. Who wants to live with the constant threat of war? Ask the Syrian people or the Israelis and Palestinians. Dialogue with hostile neighbors is essential either directly or through backdoor channels. Once the dialogue ends, the danger increases significantly. Armenia learned the painful lesson of isolation. Discussions with Turkey, however, are unlike dialogue with any other party for Armenia. Nothing elevates the mistrust index greater than the word Turkey—with good reason. After all, they perpetrated a genocide, implemented a decades old institutional coverup and are directly complicit in the murder of Armenians and loss of territory in the 44-day war. I think we all understand the world powers would love to see the Armenian/Turkish problem simply go away. If these discussions yielded diplomatic relations and an open border with devastating Armenian concessions, I don’t think anyone on the world stage would protest. The obstacles to “normalization,” such as the closed border and diplomatic relations, are unilateral actions on the part of Turkey and can be eliminated by Turkish action. Armenia has not been an initiator to hostile actions to Turkey, but simply on the receiving end of their actions. Any “concession” by Armenia would be detrimental to its self-interests.
Diplomatic relations are normally between two sovereign states. Turkey has chosen to link its relations with Armenia to a third state. Naturally, we understand that it is geopolitical self-interest that introduces these “preconditions” and destroys the integrity of the negotiations. Turkey has a larger vision, and Armenia is an obstacle. The Ittihad Pan-Turkic expansionism is alive and well with neo-Ottoman Erdogan. His decision to support central Asian republics and his offer to manage the Kabul airport for the Taliban are a few examples of how they seek to spread the seeds of influence. Does Russia feel they are powerless to stop this aggression in their backyard? The Turks and Azeris have proven to be unreliable negotiating parties because their long-term objective is dependent on the destruction of Armenia. These so-called “preconditions” are the building blocks towards that end.
Despite the controversy of the 2009 Zurich Protocols, Armenia emerged as the “good guys” in the eyes of the diplomatic community. They played the long game and waited for the notorious “preconditions” from Turkey to emerge. Most of the diplomatic community would assign the failure to Turkey. Although extremely unpopular in the diaspora, Armenia was able to emerge from that chapter intact. With Armenia now in a weakened state and Pashinyan in a defensive mode, the stakes are much higher 13 years later. Although it is tempting to put our own preconditions on the table (genocide recognition, reparations, Artsakh recognition), it would be ill advised. Armenia cannot afford to be the aggressor in ending the negotiations as long as Turkey does not introduce preconditions. When they do (and eventually they will), Pashinyan must be prepared to defend the interests of Armenia by rejecting any condition and perhaps introducing our own interests. The backlash would probably motivate the EU and the US to play a stronger role than the current Russian-led process.
There is nothing normal about a normalization process with Turkey because they have no fundamental respect for Armenia’s right to exist. In that regard, negotiating with the criminal seems absurd, but such is the reality in 2022. The approach in negotiating must assume zero trust. Turkey is hoping for headway in this process to sideline the diaspora. Creating a division between the diaspora and Armenia would be pleasing to Turkey. For this reason, we may see Turkey play by the rules in the short term as they attempt to increase tension between Armenia and the diaspora. Turkey knows well that reconciliation without justice has no support in the diaspora. Those of us in the diaspora should be mindful that the pressure on Armenia to participate in these negotiations is significant. That being said, we also have a responsibility to serve as a barometer for Armenian interests. The challenge with a negotiation is that compromise is an expected vehicle to reach a position both parties can accept. Entering without preconditions creates, in theory, a more level playing field where the focus is on opening the border and diplomatic relations. When “preconditions” enter into the process, Armenia must be aggressive in removing them from consideration. There is no margin for error as any of the Turkish add-ons could be fatal to Armenia. Normalization is the façade behind the wall of criminal intent on the destruction of Armenia. There is nothing normal about the Turkish strategy and its approach to Armenians.