When the Armenian government stated its intention to start the normalization process with Turkey less than a year after the 2020 Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) war, where direct Turkish involvement contributed significantly to the Armenian defeat, many had doubts that it would bring any results. The memory of the 2008-2009 “football diplomacy” was still fresh, when Turkey promised to normalize relations without any preconditions but ended the process by demanding that Armenia accept Azerbaijani claims in the process of the Artsakh conflict settlement. Strategically, nothing has changed in Turkey since 2008-2009; the same person is still calling all the shots, while Azerbaijan’s influence over Turkey has grown significantly due to a huge investment portfolio. As Armenian society was still under the shock and trauma of a staggering defeat, many welcomed this initiative, hoping that it may pave the way for a more stable South Caucasus. At the end of the day, the primary reason behind the failure of “football diplomacy” did not exist anymore; as a result of the 2020 war, Azerbaijan took control not only over districts outside the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region, but also 30-percent of Artsakh itself. It appeared that Turkey would be satisfied by the results of the 2020 Artsakh war and would facilitate the normalization process with Armenia, viewing it as a tangible way of expanding its influence and pushing Russia out of the South Caucasus. Despite Russia-Turkey “cooptation” in different areas, the primary strategic goal in the South Caucasus was the same, as perhaps in the last two to three centuries – less and less Russian presence and influence. Russia knew these facts better than anyone but supported the start of the normalization process, hoping to stabilize the region and gain new transport routes to Turkey and Iran.
The first meeting between appointed representatives by Armenia and Turkey took place in January 2022 in Moscow. Several other meetings followed; after every meeting, the sides issued short statements, arguing that normalization of relations would take place without preconditions. The Armenian government and part of the expert community and political circles pretended to believe in this narrative, expressing satisfaction that the process moved forward without preconditions. However, it was clear to everyone that all talk of the absence of preconditions were senseless and meaningless statements. Turkey clearly put forward preconditions, and the first one was Turkey’s demand to sign a peace agreement with Azerbaijan on Azerbaijan’s terms.
Turkey likely put forward other preconditions, too, such as stopping Armenia’s efforts toward the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Armenian government representatives continued to argue that there were no preconditions during negotiations. They praised the agreements to take some symbolic steps, such as opening the land border for the third countries’ citizens and resuming direct cargo flights. In July 2022, Prime Minister Pashinyan called Erdogan to congratulate on Kurban Bayram and received congratulations on the upcoming Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. As proof of progress, the two leaders held the first meeting on October 6, 2022 in Prague during the first summit of the European Political Community.
However, soon after that meeting, President Erdogan broke the cover and publicly stated that he clearly told Pashinyan that any real normalization is possible only after the signature of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace treaty. Thus, Turkey itself ruined the myth of the “normalization process without preconditions,” publicizing its preconditions. After the October 6 meeting, there was a pause in Armenia-Turkey meetings, and Turkey did not implement agreements on symbolic gestures reached in July 2022. However, after a devastating earthquake hit Turkey in February 2023, the Armenian government decided to send humanitarian cargo and dispatch the Armenian foreign minister to Ankara. He met with his Turkish counterpart and stated that Turkey promised to implement the agreements reached in the summer of 2022. The Armenian government appeared interested in pretending that “there was a real process of normalization of relations.” The government probably hoped that Armenia would achieve positive assessment from the US and other western governments, which would strengthen Armenian positions in the region.
However, the events of early May 2023 have shattered any real or fake hopes for the existence of a “normalization process.” When a monument devoted to the “Avengers of Genocide,” persons who assassinated the primary organizers of the Armenian Genocide, was opened in Yerevan, Turkish authorities disclosed their real views about Armenia and the nature of Armenia-Turkey relations. Turkey closed its airspace for Armenian planes, and the Turkish foreign minister later demanded that Armenia dismantle the monument, otherwise threatening to take unspecified additional actions against Armenia. The demand to dismantle a monument in Yerevan is unprecedented and perhaps reveals the Turkish government’s genuine attitude toward Armenia – that Armenia is a defeated and ruined country which should accept whatever Turkey wants. Without going deep into history, it should be noted that Armenia never argued that Turkey should change its attitude toward the main organizers of the Armenian Genocide, who are revered as national heroes in Turkey. Armenia always thought that if the country declares heroes (those who committed the worst crimes against humanity), it’s not an issue of any external power to interfere, but a problem of national identity, which can be solved through the long and painful process of moral and spiritual transformation.
It is evident that by putting forward this insulting demand, the Turkish government kills the Armenia-Turkey normalization. It is difficult to assess why. Perhaps Erdogan hopes to gain a few more votes from nationalistic circles, which he desperately needs ahead of the May 14 pivotal presidential elections, or maybe Turks are certain that no peace agreement will be signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and by killing the Armenia-Turkey process, they prepare additional ground for new escalations by Azerbaijan. They likely believe that after the defeat in the 2020 Artsakh war, the Armenian state and nation have been too weakened and are ready to accept any humiliation. Regardless of the reasons behind this behavior, Turkey’s recent actions proved that while talks and statements about regional peace may sound pleasant, it is necessary for Armenia not to lose the connection with the cruel reality.