As last week marked the first anniversary of the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the Caucasus, an Armenian expert is hopeful for the future of his country’s relations with both Azerbaijan and Turkey, which assisted Azerbaijan in its victory.
The outcome of the fall 2020 Karabakh conflict “altered the landscape, it's changed the map of the region,” Richard Giragosian, a US-born Armenian political analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
“For Armenia-Turkey normalization, however, the key difference is a big advantage,” said Giragosian, now director of the Regional Studies Center based in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.
Azerbaijan, Armenia’s neighbor and longtime rival, “is no longer opposed to normalization,” he added.
Close allies with Azerbaijan under the slogan “One nation, two states,” by contrast Turkey has long been at loggerheads with Armenia, over such issues as Yerevan’s refusal to recognize their shared border, terror attacks on Turkish diplomats, and claims over the events of 1915.
Another reason for Turkey to pursue normalization with Armenia, Giragosian said, is that it offers “a way for Turkey to have a more active role in the regional restoration of trade and transport.”
Due to its intransigence, landlocked Armenian has long been left out of transport and trade lines towards Turkey and Europe, routes meant to draw the region closer together.
Liberation of Karabakh
Relations between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh (Upper Karabakh), a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
An Armenian offensive last September, including attacks on civilians, triggered a 44-day conflict which ended with a Russia-brokered agreement on Nov. 10, 2020.
During the conflict, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and some 300 settlements that had been occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years.
At the end of the conflict, Turkish leaders voiced hope that peace could open doors to greater regional reconciliation and cooperation.
Giragosian also pointed to out what he calls “a very positive exchange of messages” since the Karabakh conflict, not only by Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian prime minister, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but also by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
“In other words, the stars are realigning in terms of a more positive environment conducive to two developments: the reopening of the closed border between Armenia and Turkey, and the establishment of diplomatic relations,” he added.
“And in this post-war context, normalization in this second attempt is now much stronger and much more likely to succeed,” he explained.
Normalization between Armenia, Turkey
According to Giragosian, there was one winner from the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, “it wasn't Azerbaijan as much as Russia.”
“Russia has now deployed military forces to all three countries in this region,” he added, including a joint Turkish-Russian center to monitor the peace in Karabakh.
“Nevertheless, I do think that the Russian peacekeepers, (the) Russian buildup in southern Armenia has added a new challenge to the independence and sovereignty of Armenia and Azerbaijan, meaning that Turkey in many ways is seen as an important alternative to any kind of overdependence on Russia,” he said.
On the future of relations, Giragosian is optimistic. “I would say the outlook for normalization between Armenia and Turkey is no longer a question of if, but when. And in this context, I do expect it in the coming year.”
“The reason is, this is a second round of reengagement, and the first time, the signing of the protocols, as delayed or disappointing as they were, because they weren't implemented,” he added, referring to the 2009 Zurich protocols between Turkey and Armenia, which proposed opening the border as well as mending diplomatic ties.
“They actually achieved a tremendous amount in terms of the border (which) didn't reopen yet, but minds reopened.”
Normalization “was never supposed to be that quick or that easy,” he explained.
Now, in the wake of the Karabakh conflict, the prospects for normalization “are much more realistic,” he argued.
“However, we're only talking about the basic minimum, neighbors with open borders and trade and diplomatic relations. This is not reconciliation,” he added.
“This has nothing to do with the genocide issue,” he said, referring to the deaths of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, which Turkey has accused Armenia of ignoring the historical record on in favor of using it as a politicized weapon against Turkey on the international stage.
“This is about normalization,” said Giragosian. “And it's a process I fully support because it's the first step toward reconciliation.”