Turkey-Armenia Relations After 2000

Ending of the Cold War made the Caucasus one of the three important regions of crisis, together with the Balkans and the Middle East. The 1990s can be mentioned as a period of conflict and tension for the countries of the Caucasus in general, and Turkey and Armenia in particular. In the 1990s, Turkey mostly focused on presenting itself as a model to the Middle East and pushed the issue of the Caucasus to the backburner (Robins, 2003, ss. 261-270). As for Armenia, it tried to carry out the process of state building, which was brought about by independence, on the one hand, and it tried to eliminate the negative effects of the political instability, economic problems, the war it had with Azerbaijan, and the tense ceasefire it had with it afterwards on the other. When we reached the 2000s, some important developments that emerged in the international system increased the significance of the Caucasus in terms of the international system.

The first one among these developments was the emergence of the USA as an effective power in the region after its intervention in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This impact is put forward not only to fight against international terrorism, but also to balance the increasing influence of Russia in the Caucasus region and to ensure the transfer of profitable Central Asian oil to the Western markets through pipelines outside of Russia in a reliable manner. In fact, Russia, under the rule of Putin, started to be influential in the Caucasus by suppressing the Chechen rebellion, intervening militarily in Georgia, and strengthening its role as an intermediary between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and this situation caused concerns both in the USA and in Turkey (Saivetz, 2012, s. 463). Moreover, the South Caucasia region turning into an energy corridor for the transfer of Central Asian oil to the Western markets and the oil pipeline projects that were proposed one after the other increased the strategic importance of the region (Aydın, 2013, ss. 476-480).

Turkey and Armenia have been affected by these developments to a great extent. Turkey, which did not see the interest it expected from the Central Asian states and which started to attribute great importance to its relations with its neighborhoods within the framework of its “policy of zero problems with neighbors,” turned its attention to the Caucasus as the new oil pipeline projects appeared on the agenda. As for Armenia, it turned into a more introvert country after the Georgia line became more unstable because of the Russian intervention in Georgia. It had to deal with the popular movement that demanded a democratic state of law against the government, which was accused of corruption and authoritarianism, on the one hand, and it had to link its security to Russia on the other. So much so, that one of the largest military bases outside of the Russian territories is in Armenia and in 2010, Armenia extended the use of this base until the year 2044 (Donaldson v.d., 2015, 203).

There are three basic problems between Turkey and Armenia that have evolved between the 1990s and 2000s. The first one of these is that there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries. Although Turkey is one of the first countries that recognized Armenia’s independence, Turkey did not establish diplomatic ties with this country since in its Declaration of Independence it named Estern Anatolia as “Western Armenia,” and this is deemed to be a rejection of the territorial unity of Turkey (Mirzoyan, 2010, p. 67). Secondly, the Turkey-Armenia border is closed. In 1993, Turkey closed off its border crossing after Armenia invaded Kelbejer, which is a region of Azerbaijan outside of Nagorno-Karabagh, and the border crossing is still closed off (de Waal, 2010, p. 121). Finally, one of the deepest problems between Turkey and Armenia is how to name the events of 1915. Turkey defines the 1915 events as forced relocation and is very disturbed that Armenia constantly brings up the claims of genocide for the agenda of the international community.

These three problems continued to be the basic problems between Turkey and Armenia in the 2000s as well, but it is possible to say that the parties, especially Turkey, has tried to bring a new point of view with regards to the solution of these problems. The first part of this point of view is the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Turkey is trying to solve this problem, which was frozen with a ceasefire in 1994 but not resolved, through top level contacts and by trying to get the Minsk Group, which was established to solve this problem, to be functional (Ruysdael & Yücel, 2002, p. 208). The focus point of the top level discussions, which developed firstly at the level of ministers of foreign affairs and then the level of heads of state in the years 2002-2003, was the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh and the opening of the land border crossing in parallel to that. These discussions evolved into the protocols that were signed in the year 2009 as will be explained in detail below.

The second and more important innovation was the process of moving from a reactive to a proactive foreign policy with regards to the issue of the Armenian genocide claims. The Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 2001, aimed at increasing communication between Turkey and Armenia and avoding the discussion of the genocide claims while doing this, but in the end, focus was on this issue and therefore, it remained fruitless and could not produce the desired result (Laçiner, 2005, pp. 279-282). The Vienna Turkish-Armenian Platform, which aimed at a discussion of the genocide claims on the basis of the archive documents of the two sides, and which was composed of Turkish, Armenian, and Austrian historians, remained fruitless because Armenia refused to provide the requested additional documents (Atılgan & Moumdjian, 2010, pp. 61-62).

After the failure of these civil society initiatives, the topic was addressed by the TGNA (Turkish Grand National Assembly) itself. In 2005, a proposal to establish a “joint historians commission” and to open all the archives for studying by this commission was sent to the Armenian head of state Robert Kocharyan with a joint declaration of the government and opposition parties at the TGNA. In his response Kocharyan proposed the establishment of commissions in which not only the genocide claims, but also all the problems would be discussed together, and he chose not to take any concrete steps with regards to the proposal of the Turkish side (Schrodt, 2014, p. 4).

Another part of this proactive policy is symbolic policies that can strengthen the inter-societal relations such as the return of the properties of the minority foundations, and the properties of some Armenian foundations in Turkey, carrying out the restoraiton of the Surp Hach Armenian Church on Akadamar Island and its opening for relgious rituals (Küçükcan, 2013, s. 271). Again, one should mention here the condemnation of the atrocious event of the assasination of Hrant Dink also by the Turkish society and the initiatives geared towards solidarity with the Armenian society (Aydın, 2011, p. 148).

The process that started in 2008 and that was called “football diplomacy” also consituted an important point for the development of bilateral relations. Armenian Head of State Sarkisyan invited his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to Yerivan for a match that Turkish and Armenian football teams were going to have in Yerivan. The process that developed with Gul’s acceptance of this invitation and his going to Yerivan continued with the participation of Sarkisyan in the rematch that was played in Bursa (Mkrtchyan, 2011, pp. 160-161). The sensitive subjects that started to be discussed in these top level visits resulted in the protocols that were signed in Zurich one year later through the mediation of the USA and EU. With these protocols, what was planned was both for Turkey and Armenia to start diplomatic relations mutually and the provision of the conditions that were required to solve the problems between them. Within this framework, the obstacles in front of the establishment of diplomatic relations would be eliminated after the recognition of the boundaries of the two countries and the unity of their territories and also, those policies that were not compatible with good neighborhood relations – bringing up of the genocide for the international agenda, as the situation was read by the Turkish side- would be given up. However, after the signing of the protocols, the Armenian Constitutional Court made a decision that protocols could not be interpreted in a way that contradicted the Armenian Declaration of Independence, that is, the efforts that were made to have genocide claims to be accepted by the international community would not be ended. Therefore, the parties suspended the process of approval (Osipova & Bilgin, 2013, pp. 7-9).

The most important developments that were experienced after this failure were the condolence message that Erdogan issued for the Armenians who lost their lives in the 1915 events and his inviting the heads of state of those states that participated in the war in the commemoration events of the centennial of the Canakkale Wars in 2015 and his inviting Armenian head of state Sarkisyan within this framework (de Waal, 2015, s. 253; Hürriyet Daily News, 17/01/2015). In short, an attempt is made to maintain a proactive foreign policy despite all of the setbacks.

In conclusion, although Turkey has not totally transformed its traditional defensive foreign policy understanding in its relations with Armenia in the 2000s, it has tried to take more initiatives. Although these efforts have not been reciprocated by Armenia, they at least show to the international public opinion the efforts of Turkey to understand the other side. Turkey wants to develop its relations with Armenia, but it is trying to implement a very difficult policy of doing this without upsetting its traditional friend Azerbaijan, and doing this by encouraging Armenia to take steps to solve the historical and current problems between the two countries. It is thought that this policy may contribute to the development of the relations in the medium and long-term, even if not in the short-term.

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