Is there anything “normal” about relations with Turkey?

2009 protest in downtown Toronto (Photo: AYF Toronto)

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.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.


  1. This article was good until you had to imply that Europe or the USA getting involved would be better. No it would not.
    All powers have interests, and that is not going to change. Blame the EU and NATO for enabling this new and more violent Turkey while they condemn Armenia for the “nationalist diaspora.”

  2. What is to stop Turkey from enjoying ‘normalization’ with Armenia by first sending ambassadors, envoys, and eventually ‘encouraging’ residents to live and work in Armenia and destroy us from within without a single bullet? It’s like my father said, ‘you can be friends with a turk but as soon as you let your guard down they stab you in the back.’

  3. A land locked country ,with no substantial natural resources and a small population, has no choice but to establish relations with its neighbors.As difficult and hurtful it is for the Armenians in the diaspora to accept a no preconditions for negotiations by the Armenian government for “normalization” of relations with Turkey,we have no choice but to give it a try. Let us face the fact that we are a weakened nation after the 44 day war with no negotiating leverage, except our so called “ally” Russia!

    • Maybe if Nikol could negotiate better instead of having yes men from his Western NGO-stuffed cabinet, we could negotiate on equal terms.
      The Russians have nothing to do with this “normalization” nonsense, since they, just like Iran and other Armenians, are aware that this will go nowhere.
      Oh, and stop with this “diaspora Dashnaks” argument, since Turks are known for demonizing us with that label.


  5. A well-written and thorough article Stepan,
    I recommend reading the relevant article “Years Before FBI Raid, Dem Rep. Henry Cuellar Made Sketchy Azerbaijan Connections, by Roger Sollenberger, by Jackie Kucinich – The Daily Beast – Saturday, 22 January 2022,” That demonstrates, who is supporting Armenia and who is not. Your Southern Neighbor was, is, and will be with you. Armenian government needs to be more proactive. South encourages shared investments, defense treaty, shared border petrol and border protection, freely building the road with 50 years + lease-term, Industrial complex, opening consulate general. How could one not see the Win, Win & Win situation here.

    • Again with Iran… Your the only person who talks about Iran. We get it man your half Iranian which means Iran is a superpower. I am still getting over your comments about Iran fighting to the last man for Armenia. Its funny because I bet you know a relative that is trying to become a Turkish citizen buying property whilst cheap. Yeah and keep ignoring me and everyone else. Bubbles are great.

  6. Hello everyone, I am a Turk who lives in Canada. I was born in Istanbul. I came to Canada when I was 10, my grandmothers best friend was an Armenian lady. I did not even know the difference between Armenian and a Turk. I assumed it was a different kind of Turk…. When moved to Canada I was attacked on the regular by Greek and Armenian kids. This went on well into my teenage years and my early twenties. I am now 40. Some of the nicest people I know are Armenian and I would think they have similar thoughts about me.

    Here is what I learned. If we leave things to governments there will never be peace. The school systems will continue to teach their own version of history and it will never end. The words in this article are a clear evidence that years after the fact many things are the same.

    Godvhas given us this earth with plenty. There is no reason for us not to share all and live. We have no need for greed. It is the rich and powerful who are not content with being equal. They require more. They don’t want to share. And they manipulate us for their gains. I am sorry for the tragedies of your people. But we cannot live in the past we cannot continue to teach our children the narratives that feed hatred and war. We MUST all make sacrifices and move on. We MUST do this for the sake of out children and grandchildren.

    We can only do this by realizing that your government and my government they are both the same they are gangs. Gangs that manipulate us through education and use us To collect taxes work in factories owned by the elite and fight their wars

    I wake up in the morning put my pants on just like you … I am no different then you. We have no reason to keep going like this.

    Thank you for reading
    Serdar from Canada

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