Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attended the inauguration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who extended his two-decade rule by another five years.
Pashinyan was quick to congratulate Erdoğan on his electoral victory. “Looking forward to continuing working together towards full normalization of relations between our countries,” Pashinyan tweeted on May 28, the day of the runoff elections in Turkey.
Erdoğan won with 52-percent of the vote, defeating Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of an opposition coalition, who earned 48-percent of the vote. The newly reelected president did not secure a majority vote in the first round of election on May 14, triggering a runoff. Erdoğan’s faction, which includes the Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party, won a majority of seats in parliament, securing 322 of 600 seats.
Erdoğan’s swearing-in ceremony was held in Ankara on June 3. It was also attended by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Pashinyan was joined by Ruben Rubinyan, special envoy for the ongoing negotiations on normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey.
Pashinyan’s attendance was met with mixed appraisal. Former Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian criticized Pashinyan’s presence and said Armenia had “nothing to lose” by not attending the swearing-in ceremony.
“Pashinyan does not understand that he cannot woo Turkey on the matter of the settlement of Armenia-Turkey relations by providing aid after the earthquake in Turkey and attending Erdogan’s swearing-in ceremony,” Oskanian wrote.
“Pashinyan did not represent the Armenian people in Ankara, but rather himself,” he continued.
Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, Turkish journalist and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, called Pashinyan’s attendance a “very bold and smart move by the Armenian leader, who is trying to preserve the fragile peace with Azerbaijan and keep the momentum on normalization with Turkey.”
Armenia and Turkey have been engaged in talks to establish bilateral relations 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.
Negotiations seemed to gain new momentum after the Armenia-Turkey border reopened briefly in February this year for the first time in three decades. Armenia sent several trucks of humanitarian aid and rescue workers to Turkey following the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake on February 6.
Former Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said at the time that the humanitarian assistance would bolster negotiations on restoring diplomatic ties and opening the shared border. Çavuşoğlu and his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan announced an agreement to jointly repair the Ani bridge and restore other infrastructure along the Armenia-Turkey border.
Yet progress stalled when Turkey closed its airspace to Armenian flights after a monument was unveiled in Yerevan commemorating Operation Nemesis.
Operation Nemesis was a mission organized in the 1910s and 1920s by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to assassinate the Ottoman leaders who orchestrated the Armenian Genocide. Deputy mayor of Yerevan Tigran Avinyan called the monument “a clear record of the fact that the crimes of history do not go unpunished, regardless of how the international community reacts,” during its unveiling ceremony on April 24, the annual day of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning the monument and warning that it would “negatively affect the normalization process.”
“Such provocative steps, which are incompatible with the spirit of the normalization process between Türkiye and Armenia, will in no way contribute to the efforts for establishment of lasting and sustainable peace and stability in the region,” the statement reads.
Çavuşoğlu later announced that Turkey had closed its airspace to Armenia in response to the monument. Chair of FlyOne Armenia Aram Ananyan said that Turkish aviation authorities had prohibited the airline from operating flights to Europe through Turkish airspace. A FlyOne Armenia plane operating a flight from Paris to Yerevan was forced to land in Moldova.
Pashinyan called the erection of the monument a “wrong decision.”
“The government did not make that decision, and one of the biggest flaws of democracy is that the government or head of government doesn’t control everything and everyone, including our team,” Pashinyan said during an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
The Armenia-Turkey border has been closed since 1993, when Turkey closed its border with Armenia in solidarity with Azerbaijan during the first Artsakh War. 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.
Armenian authorities have insisted that the current normalization process must remain separate from ongoing talks with Azerbaijan on the Artsakh conflict. However, Turkish authorities have said that Turkey is coordinating its decisions with its close ally Azerbaijan.
According to Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan, Erdoğan will likely strengthen Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan and “seek to resolve the Karabakh conflict in accordance with the interests of Azerbaijan” during his new presidential term. He will also set further preconditions on normalizing relations, including “demand that Armenia renounce seeking international recognition of the Armenian Genocide” and “open communication through the Syunik region of Armenia, which is called the ‘Zangezur corridor’ in Azerbaijan and Turkey,” Safrastyan told Eurasianet.