Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held their first ever phone conversation on Monday.
The leaders “expressed their expectation for the early implementation of the agreements reached during the meeting between the special representatives of their countries on July 1,” according to near identical statements released by the offices of the Armenian PM and Turkish President. They also “emphasized the importance they attach to the bilateral normalization process between their respective countries which will also contribute to the strengthening of peace and stability in the region.”
The phone call follows another breakthrough in the ongoing negotiations to normalize Turkey-Armenia relations. On July 1, the special envoys appointed for the normalization process agreed to “enable the crossing of the land border between Armenia and Turkey by third-country citizens.” They also agreed to commence direct air cargo trade between the two countries. The Turkish-Armenian border would open to travel and air cargo trade “at the earliest possible date.”
The near-identical statement on partially opening the border was released by the Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministries following the fourth meeting of Ruben Rubinyan and Serdar Kılıç. Rubinyan, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, and Kılıç, the former Turkish ambassador to the United States, had shared few details after their three previous meetings beyond affirming the goal of normalizing bilateral relations and reiterating their commitment to continuing the process without preconditions.
Pashinyan expressed his hope that the process of opening the border would take place “as soon as possible” during a July 7 cabinet meeting.
“It is very important that our departments work with the relevant departments in Turkey, because a political agreement is important, but their implementation depends on that work. I expect that we work in a coordinated way so that we can implement the agreements reached as soon as possible,” Pashinyan said.
Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan said that opening the border would have a positive impact on Armenia’s economy during a press briefing after the cabinet meeting.
“After the opening of the border, Armenia will turn from a dead end into a crossroads. Naturally, as a result of this, we will have very large economic effects,” Kerobyan said.
Turkish exports to Armenia have far exceeded Armenian exports to Turkey. In 2019, Turkey exported $255 million to Armenia, as compared to $4.86 million from Armenia to Turkey, according to the Observatory for Economic Complexity.
Armenia’s borders with neighboring Turkey have been closed since the 1990s. The current negotiations mark the third effort within the past three decades to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries.
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 the Kelbajar district 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.
In December 2021, following the appointment of Rubinyan and Kılıç as special envoys for bilateral talks, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said that Azerbaijan “fully supports” normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.
Armenian authorities have been insistent that the ongoing negotiations with Turkey must remain separate from talks with Azerbaijan on a resolution of the Artsakh conflict.
However, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan previously raised concerns that Turkey might “synchronize” the negotiation process with talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“At the moment, I can only say that, unfortunately, no matter how much the process is said to continue without preconditions, our Turkish partners, to a certain extent, synchronize it with the relations developing between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They make it part of their narrative,” Mirzoyan said while addressing the National Assembly on May 20.
That same day, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that the Armenian government is “under pressure” from opposition groups skeptical of the negotiation process.
“We can see that the Armenian authorities are under pressure from radical forces at home and the [Armenian] Diaspora abroad. We have told Antony Blinken and our other partners that Armenia needs to be encouraged more on this issue,” Çavuşoğlu told the press.
On July 1, the same day that Armenia and Turkey announced the impending opening of the border, the Azerbaijan State Border Service shared that it was closing the 13-kilometer border between Turkey and Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhichevan.
The narrow strip is currently Azerbaijan’s sole open border with Turkey, since Azerbaijan’s borders with Georgia, Iran and Russia have been closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Azerbaijani authorities cited the pandemic as the justification for the border closure, stating that on June 20 the Cabinet of Ministers had decided to extend the “quarantine regime” until September 1, 2022. However, the initial announcement regarding the extension of the coronavirus quarantine had not referenced Azerbaijan’s border with Turkey.
Azerbaijani activist Giyas Ibrahim attributed the decision to Azerbaijan’s discontent with the positive progress in the Armenia-Turkey normalization process.
Aliyev “couldn’t stand the softening between Turkey and Armenia, so he shut the border, just like he increased the gas price for Turkey in 2008,” Ibrahim wrote on Facebook.
Yerevan-based analyst Richard Giragosian said that there is an “unavoidable synergy or indirect relationship” between Armenia’s parallel negotiations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
“Armenia is now engaged in complicated and complex twin-track diplomacy: pursuing negotiations with Azerbaijan and a process to normalize relations with Turkey,” Giragosian wrote in an article for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.
He said that the closure of the Turkey-Azerbaijan border is “bound to make Ankara nervous.”
“Turkey will continue to be cautious and will not take any step that Azerbaijan could perceive as against their interests,” Giragosian wrote.
Results of a survey published in January 2022 found that a majority of residents of Armenia support restoration of diplomatic relations with Turkey, as long as critical national interests are not conceded.
The poll by the US-based International Republican Institute found that 73-percent of respondents believe that Armenia should simultaneously pursue a dialogue with Turkey while seeking its recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Seventy percent support preconditions to the normalization of bilateral relations, including Turkey’s non-interference in the Artsakh peace process.
While 44-percent of respondents feel that Armenia should not pursue normalization of relations with Turkey under any circumstances, 53-percent disagree with this statement.