Turkey’s Endgame in the Normalization Process with Armenia

Serdar Kılıç and Ruben Rubinyan

The ArmeniaTurkey normalization process was officially launched on January 14, 2022 when special representatives the Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Ruben Rubinyan and Ambassador Serdar Kılıç met in Moscow. The groundwork for this meeting began in mid-2021, when the Armenian government proposed the idea of peace in the South Caucasus and normalizing relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Armenia’s catastrophic defeat in the 2020 Karabakh war seemed to put aside one of the main obstacles to launching the ArmeniaTurkey normalization process. The 2008-2009 “football diplomacy” failed mainly due to Turkey’s precondition to Armenia to return “occupied lands” to Azerbaijan. By signing the November 10, 2020 statement, the Armenian government accepted the loss of seven regions outside the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAR), as well as 30-percent of territories of NKAR itself.

In late 2021, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan started to hint that Nagorno Karabakh had no chance to be outside Azerbaijan. This rhetoric accelerated in 2022 and culminated in a speech he delivered in the National Assembly on April 13. Thus, Armenia effectively accepted one of the main Turkish preconditions of the “football diplomacy” era. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey’s policy in the South Caucasus has been to increase its influence in the region. Turkey was quite successful in reaching this goal in its relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia, but the absence of relations with Armenia prevented Turkey from influencing the entire region. Russia, the main rival of Turkey in the South Caucasus, simultaneously exerted a strong influence over Armenia through the deployment of a military base and border troops and the establishment of bilateral and multilateral defense and security cooperation. Meanwhile, Turkey’s full support to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and economic blockade of Armenia did not leave much room for Armenia–Turkey normalization prospects. The West, particularly the US, was constantly pushing for normalization between Armenia and Turkey. They hoped it would reduce Armenia’s fear of Turkey and decrease the necessity for Armenia to keep its military and security alliance with Russia. It would pave the way for the eventual withdrawal of the Russian military base from Armenia and a significant decrease in Russian influence in the South Caucasus.

As the Nagorno Karabakh issue ceases to be a serious obstacle for the Armenia–Turkey normalization process and the current Armenian government expresses its willingness to normalize relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, conventional wisdom says that Turkey should do its best to use this window of opportunity to normalize relations with Armenia. It will open a new horizon for Turkey to increase its influence in the region and better compete with Russia. Meanwhile, the recent protest movement in Armenia should bother Turkey. Protesters are demanding Pashinyan’s resignation mainly for his administration’s willingness to recognize Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan if Baku provides relevant security guarantees. However, relations with Turkey are also part of the equilibrium. If a new government forms in Armenia, it will be less enthusiastic about normalizing relations with Turkey by accepting Turkey’s preconditions.

For Turkey, the window of opportunity to normalize relations with Armenia and decrease Russian influence in the South Caucasus may close soon. This implies that the Turkish government should make efforts to conclude the process by signing documents on establishing diplomatic relations and opening borders. However, the pace of the Armenia–Turkey process creates a perception that Ankara is not in a hurry to reach any concrete results and is interested more in the process than in the outcome. 

Rubinyan and Kılıç have already met three times, the last one in Vienna on May 3. After the May 3 meeting, the sides issued identical statements, with almost the same wording as the outcome of the first and second meeting. The statement emphasized that the special representatives reaffirmed the declared goal of achieving full normalization between countries and discussed possible steps that can be undertaken for tangible progress in this direction, reiterating their agreement to continue the process without preconditions. However, even the period between meetings showed a lack of progress. If the second meeting happened only 40 days after the initial one, the sides waited 70 days before holding the third meeting. 

The apparent lack of progress in the negotiations raises questions about Turkey’s real motives. One reason could be the change of Turkey’s strategic objective to use normalization with Armenia as a tool to weaken Russian positions in Armenia. It could result from Russia–Turkey understanding of managing their competition in the South Caucasus. Thus, if Ankara reaches some agreement with Moscow on the limits of their regional rivalry, the normalization of relations with Armenia may lose its significance for Turkey as a way to counter Russia. In this context, Turkey may believe that a potential change of government in Armenia will not create obstacles in the negotiation process. Thus, the window of opportunity will remain open for an extended period. 

Suppose Turkey does not see the normalization of its relations with Armenia as an urgent necessity to push forward its vital interests in the region while still believing that the US views this as a necessary step in the global US–Russia confrontation. In that case, it may wait for some gestures from the US to move forward. It may be some advancement in the US–Turkey negotiations on the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey or the cancellation of US sanctions on the Turkish defense industry. Regardless of the real motives of Turkey’s apparent lack of enthusiasm in making any progress in the normalization process with Armenia, Armenia should consider it while dealing with Ankara.

Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is the founder and chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies. He was the former vice president for research – head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia. In March 2009, he joined the Institute for National Strategic Studies as a research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Dr. Poghosyan has prepared and managed the elaboration of more than 100 policy papers which were presented to the political-military leadership of Armenia, including the president, the prime minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Poghosyan has participated in more than 50 international conferences and workshops on regional and international security dynamics. His research focuses on the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region, as well as the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. He is the author of more than 200 academic papers and articles in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was a Distinguished Research Fellow at the US National Defense University College of International Security Affairs. He is a graduate from the US State Department Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security Policy Making. He holds a PhD in history and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

3 Comments

  1. The policy of both Turkish neighbours is at last crystal clear to any Armenian with an IQ higher than room temperature, genocide and the complete end of Armenia .Of course the slippery Pashinyan HAS to go, and Armenians need to man up and face a situation similar to what Israel faces, permanent war with an unreasonable enemy. So,2 years after the war, Armenia under its present ‘ leader ‘ doesn’t even have a proper professional army, and has made promises to its enemies that will surely see its demise. Armenia faces a permanent emergency with no acceptable end in sight. The only solution may be to join Russia as the Donbass has. Armenia could lead the World by banning all forms of Islam in Armenia. It is surrounded on 3 sides by 200 million moslems , so it needs to get the hell on with it.

    • Armenia needs a leader with a functioning brain! That way we can get back the prisoners of war before returning the lands that are ours to keep!

  2. Please don’t equate the Armenian situation to Israel’s. The latter has a strong historical relationship with Turkey even with Erdogan. Israel is an aggressor country illegitimately occupying Palestinian lands. Israel supported Azerbaijan militarily against Armenia kin the lady war. So please do not make any moral equivalency between Armenia and Israel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*