The phase of “no preconditions” in normalization talks with Turkey has officially ended. The emphasis is on the word officially, since we should know that the day Turkish officials could no longer behave and play by the rules was long overdue. In a recent statement to Turkish television, Erdogan stated that “Azerbaijan has been our red line from the beginning. We will open our doors after the problems with Azerbaijan are resolved.” Does this sound like embracing the esteemed commitment of no preconditions?
First let me state that I stand for and with Armenia. We must defend what is in the interests of the homeland and its future. Our intent is not to criticize our brethren or contribute to disunity, but to advocate actions that will support Armenia with dignity and usher in the fresh air of a future. It is obvious that Erdogan, by his own actions, has no respect for Armenia and is committed to its destruction. Some things don’t change regardless of the leaders and circumstances. When this process was announced in December 2021, Erdogan’s intent was to give up nothing and win credits with the west. The United States and Europe would be overjoyed to preside over the beginning of reconciliation between the two longtime adversaries through the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border. We should remind ourselves that the border closure was a unilateral action in 1993 by Turkey based on the Artsakh (Karabakh) crisis. Both Turkey and Armenia entered these sensitive discussions with a public commitment not to bring preconditions (agendas not mutually held) into the dialogue. This has never been an issue for Armenia despite the fact that Armenia has suffered from almost continuous oppression by the Turks from the Hamidian area through the 2020 war. Armenia is not in an advantageous position and has engaged in cautious good faith. The dialogue has been publicly cordial with both parties careful to express an optimistic tone despite the modest results thus far. The discussions have focused on a partial border opening and cargo flight resumption. The recent tone from Turkey has been demanding and degrading into an arrogance of mistrust. Armenia has expressed its expectation that the diplomatic normalization talks be separate from the ongoing talks with Azerbaijan on settlement of the Artsakh conflict. Armenia’s position remains consistent with the tenet of no preconditions.
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu has stated that the normalization talks with Armenia will take place in a “tripartite format” with Azerbaijan. He further stated that their activity is coordinated with Azerbaijan whether Armenia agrees or not. I may be from a small town, but this looks a lot like a precondition to me…a major one at that. Armenia has tried its best to take the high road by stating that it was already understood that this was Turkey’s position and that it was unacceptable to Armenia. It is important to understand that the reference to Azerbaijan in the normalization talks is no small matter. Turkey is determined to directly connect the so-called “peace treaty” with Azerbaijan (surrender in Aliyev language) and the infamous fantasy of the “Zangezur corridor” which would divide sovereign Syunik territory. Apparently, the foxes in Ankara could not keep their deceptive masks on long enough to reach agreement. The Turkish disdain and hatred of the Armenians is so visible that Cavusoglu blamed the lack of “concrete steps” on the diaspora and some domestic factions. In parallel with their attempts to turn this dialogue into one-sided demands, the Turkish government will continue all attempts to divide the Armenian nation with statements such as the aforementioned. This is a classic move by the duplicitous Turks; Armenians must be wise to remain outwardly united during this critical period. Erdogan has economic and popularity problems at home with elections in the next year. In Turkey, foreign policy bluster is always a way to improve popularity. He is a master at playing the west against Russia and is trying to position Turkey for geopolitical windfalls from Europe and the United States in return for his bartering on the Ukraine grain deal. Turkey is always looking for new opportunities to gain influence to support its criminal self interests. Turkey continues its aggressive policy in northern Iraq and particularly in Syria. They have found opposition from the United States as it relates to the Kurds and are playing a dangerous game with Russia and the Syrian government. The examples are endless with Libya, Greece, Cyprus and the Aegean. Meanwhile, Iran has made it clear that it will not tolerate any changes in its border region with Armenia. Iran has its own issues with Israeli monitoring in Azerbaijan and the political ramifications of its militant groups in the Middle East. These dynamics all have an impact on the Armenian/Turkish/Azerbaijani equation. The “normalization” talks for Turkey are nothing more than an opportunity to advance their agenda and build goodwill with the west.
What can and should Armenia do? We should not be critical of Armenia for engaging in this dialogue with Turkey. The pressure to participate has been enormous from all the world powers. It is easy for the stakeholders to encourage two longtime adversaries to talk. Who can be against that? Improving this regional problem is what big powers like to think they do well. The problem, of course, is that they never address the root cause. Band-aids make for excellent short term photo ops. They will tolerate almost any distraction to keep the process moving with empty rhetoric. Some of these countries actually think that having meetings and issuing obligatory press statements are accomplishments. We should have learned from 30 years of the OSCE Minsk process that the capacity for no progress and “keeping the light on for tomorrow” is almost endless. While thousands of hours of diplomacy were expended and commitment to peaceful solutions were reconfirmed, Turkey and Azerbaijan attacked the Armenians and the west was essentially boxed out. Turkey, in its classic cunning manner, initially waved a plastic olive branch in an attempt to trap the Armenians in a corner. When the Turkish officials state that they are waiting for “sincere” moves from Armenia, it clearly is not a good faith negotiation on Turkey’s part, but rather a reflection of a long-standing superiority complex that is focused on eliminating Armenia. We must appreciate that Armenia is in a difficult position. To their credit, Armenia has responded that any “corridor” is unacceptable and the Azerbaijani peace discussions must be decoupled from normalization talks with Turkey. The Turkish strategy of “one nation two states” is a racist fantasy that has no part in any legitimate dialogue. Armenia is in no position to completely break off discussions due to the concern that it will put Armenia in an untenable position. Emotionally, Armenia would be fully justified based on the public positions of Turkey that would simply be analogous to surrender. Their arrogance has created a volatile environment. On the other hand, Armenia should find a way to maintain its positions and effectively create a response that counters the Turkish aggression.
There is a middle ground that may provide Armenia with an option. It takes two parties for any semblance of bilateral talks. When Turkey goes overboard with destructive and irrelevant demands, Armenia should exercise a “pause” in the talks. Azerbaijan has used this approach to minimize the impact of its criminal behavior and optimize its messaging. When we pause a television program, it does not shut off the programming but merely delays continuance for a specific intent. In the case of television viewing, pausing enables the viewer to maintain the opportunity to continue after a reprieve. Referring to this diplomatic engagement, Armenia has the right to buy time if Turkish proposals are offensive or completely off topic. Utilizing this approach will allow Armenian leadership time to engage third parties to bring balance to the dialogue. The timing of meetings and the specific areas of focus are critical to the perceived momentum of the process. It is Turkey that has created the concerns by not conforming to the rules of engagement. Armenia has entered this dialogue in good faith and has every right to consider counter measures. Turkey can consult whomever they desire, but Azerbaijan has no direct role in this process. Realistically, both sides have preconditions. It is interesting to note that Armenia has maintained its discipline, while Turkey has continued to behave like a reckless bully with both their rhetoric and actions. Armenia has conditions that are all about peace, justice and redemption, while Turkey describes criminal self-interests that are acts of aggression and will continue to destabilize the region. If the west can get over its fear of alienating the Turks, they would see that most of their objectives would be met without the disruptive behavior of Turkey.
This is a time for Armenians to tone down the rhetoric within the nation. The Turks are waiting to exploit every sign of disunity by blaming the “lack of progress” on the diaspora or other factions. Our collective focus should be on the deceptive Turkish positions and exposing their criminal intent. Our voices become more faint when they are divided. Our role in the diaspora is to advocate and support the prosperity of Armenia. It becomes complicated when opinions lead to tension. We should consider the implications of our disunity on the behavior of Turkey and Azerbaijan. It is a challenging balancing act. We can help, but we need to remain disciplined. Advocating actions in a civil and responsible way can add value. The enemy with the western suits still carry a fez in their closets with the same mentality as their forefathers. This must be our central theme — the century old problem of surviving Turkish neighbors bent on the destruction of Armenia. Stand tall, beloved Armenian nation.