Turkey is coordinating with Azerbaijan on negotiations to normalize its relations with Armenia, Turkish authorities said this week.
“Azerbaijan has been our red line from the beginning. We have said that we will open our doors after problems with Azerbaijan are solved,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish state television on July 25.
Talks between Turkey and Armenia to establish bilateral relations have been ongoing since December 2021. On July 1, 2022, special envoys appointed for the normalization process announced the first major breakthrough in negotiations. The envoys 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 Armenia-Turkey border has been closed since 1993, when Turkey closed the border in solidarity with Azerbaijan during the first Artsakh War. In the course of the current negotiations, Armenian authorities have been insistent that the normalization process must remain separate from ongoing talks with Azerbaijan on a resolution of the Artsakh conflict.
On July 11, in another breakthrough, Erdogan and Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan held their first ever phone conversation, during which they “expressed their expectation for the early implementation” of the agreement to partially reopen the border.
In his comments this week, Erdogan echoed Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who several days earlier said that talks on normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia take place in a “tripartite format” with Azerbaijan.
“We coordinate every step with Azerbaijan. Whether Armenia likes it or not, this is the reality. We are one nation and two states. That is why if there is to be peace in the region, everybody needs to take steps, including Georgia and Central Asian countries,” Cavusoglu told Turkish state television on July 21.
Erdogan and Cavusoglu also both suggested that Armenia has not taken “concrete steps” toward normalization of relations with Turkey.
“I am glad Pashinyan shares our view on regional peace and partnership. We now expect that apart from making statements Yerevan will take concrete steps in the settlement process,” Erdogan said. “We have the goal of full normalization and establishing good neighborly relations.”
Cavusoglu blamed the lack of “concrete steps” from Armenia on pressure from the Armenian diaspora and domestic factions.
“We want to see in practice how sincere Armenia is. So far there are messages, and there are explanations. There’s also pressure, it’s true. The diaspora from the outside, fanatic groups from the inside,” Cavusoglu said.
“We don’t yet see clear steps from Armenia on the Zangezur and other projects or the peace treaty,” the Turkish foreign minister added.
Turkish leaders have reiterated Azerbaijan’s demand for the creation of a Zangezur corridor. The route would connect Azerbaijan to its exclave the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic through Syunik, the southernmost province of Armenia that also borders Iran.
Civil Contract Party MP and chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign relations Eduard Aghajanyan said Cavusoglu’s statement did not amount to a precondition to the normalization process.
“I think that statement was not a precondition. Turkey has always come out with this position, which obviously had never been acceptable to us,” Aghajanyan told reporters.
Iranian leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the creation of a Zangezur corridor.
While Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “expressed his satisfaction with Nagorno-Karabakh’s return to Azerbaijan” as a consequence of the 2020 Artsakh War during a meeting with Erdogan in Tehran on July 19, he also warned the Turkish president against blocking the historically significant Armenia-Iran border.
“If there is an effort to block the border between Iran and Armenia, the Islamic Republic will oppose it because this border has been a communication route for thousands of years,” Khamenei said.
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamkhani previously affirmed Iran’s support of Armenian sovereignty over a route connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan through Syunik during a meeting with Pashinyan in Yerevan on July 7.
“Ali Shamkhani emphasized that Iran considers any attempt to change the geopolitical situation in the region unacceptable and noted that his country also supports the process of unblocking infrastructure within the framework of preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states,” a statement released by the Armenian prime minister’s office reads.
The United States has expressed strong support for the ongoing talks between Armenia and Turkey. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “welcomed the telephone conversation” between Pashinyan and Erdogan and “expressed the readiness of the US to support the normalization of relations between the two countries” during a phone call with Pashinyan on July 25.
Meanwhile, Turkish diplomat and special envoy appointed for Armenia-Turkey normalization process Serdar Kılıç visited the Armenia-Turkey border on July 24. Kılıç, accompanied by a delegation of Turkish leaders, visited the city of Kars, the Doğu Kapı border checkpoint and the ruins of Ani. An Israeli company has been conducting demining on the Turkish side of the border, according to Turkish media reports. The Armenian Defense Ministry said that Armenia has not been conducting demining on its side of the border.
According to a recent report from the International Crisis Group, Armenian authorities want to “press ahead as fast as possible” with the negotiation process, “for fear that history may repeat itself and normalization grind to a halt.”
“If Ankara can move quicker carrying out its final part of the first agreements on border crossings and air cargo, it will reassure Yerevan that there is more to come,” senior South Caucasus analyst Olesya Vartanyan wrote.
Yet Vartanyan added that Armenia should be patient, considering that even “small agreements on air cargo and border crossings for foreigners are significant” considering the current geopolitical context.
“The Armenian representatives are right to say that they need to seize the moment, as a lack of concrete steps now could doom to failure their hopes for eventual normalization at a time of rising conflict around the world,” Vartanyan wrote. “But a ‘small step’ strategy seems to be the only one possible at the moment.”