By Edmond Y. Azadian
Suddenly, a new dynamic has been set into motion in the Caucasus region. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced that it is time for Armenia and Turkey to work towards a rapprochement. Simultaneously Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opened the prospects of beginning negotiations with Armenia while Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has detected some positive signs in Turkey’s attitude towards Armenia, expressing his readiness to begin negotiations without preconditions.
These parties have prioritized unblocking communications and roads with the prospects of economic gain and prosperity for all the countries concerned.
As a goodwill gesture, Armenia has opened its airspace unilaterally for Turkish overflights between Turkey and Azerbaijan, while Turkish airspace remains closed to flights of Armenian aircraft.
However, highlighting short-term economic gains must not come at the expense of political risks and historical consequences which may cost the Armenian side dearly.
All these developments must be viewed within the prospects of President Erdogan’s imperial plans. The year 2023 will be a watershed for Turkey as it marks the centennial of the creation of the Republic of Turkey through the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. It is planned to bring the Ataturk era to its conclusion and begin the Erdogan epoch. In conjunction with this, a new constitution is being drafted to replace the one adopted in 1982 whereby federative states are under consideration.
With the recent Sushi Declaration, Turkey and Azerbaijan technically have laid the foundations of a future federal state, anticipating the incorporation of the Turkic states of Central Asia. President Erdogan believes there will be room for other conquests in that federative state, including Armenia. Former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, known for his ambitious designs of reviving the Ottoman Empire, has been discussing relations with the Kurds, perhaps with the hope of absorbing that minority into a modernized version of the empire.
To breathe life into these designs, President Erdogan has cited the historic march of Turkish conquests through history, stating: “Ours is the victory in Manzikert. Ours is the conquest of Istanbul, as well as the peace operation in Cyprus, operations in Syria, Libya and Karabakh.”
The Byzantines weakened the Bagratid (Bagratuni) Kingdom of Armenia and took over its capital, Ani, in 1045. However, the Seljuk forces, led by Alp Aslan defeated the Byzantine army in 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert, opening the floodgates of Seljuk conquests in Asia Minor, culminating with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman forces of Fetih Sultan Muhammed.
As a logical component of the above “achievements,” we need to add Erdogan’s statement during the victory parade in Baku last year that he had come to “achieve the unfulfilled dreams of our ancestors,” citing Enver Pasha.
When talk comes to normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, one must look beyond the immediate impact of those relations as the economic incentives of these relations may entail future traps of historic consequences. This should not be considered as a mere scare tactic, since Erdogan’s ambitions are real and have already been partially achieved by the conquests he has cited above.
We should also try to analyze Russia’s interest in promoting normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations to find out if it is only self-serving.
“Now that the groundwork has been laid for a political process and unblocking of all [Armenian-Azerbaijani] transport and economic links after the end of the war, there I think that it would be logical if our Turkish and Armenian colleagues resumed their efforts to normalize relations,” Lavrov said during a youth forum in Moscow.
“We are ready to assist in that in the most active way,” echoed Foreign Minister Spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
This sudden rush toward negotiations is in the interest of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia, in order to consolidate their political and territorial gains they made as a result of the tripartite declaration of November 9.
Russia has been conveniently overlooking the outstanding problems that have been plaguing Armenia: the return of POWs and the determination of the final status of Karabakh. All this is to forestall the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs, meaning France and the US, beginning the process of negotiations under the OSCE, which ultimately will raise the issue of status and question the legality of Russian peacekeeping forces on Azerbaijani soil.
As a delaying tactic, Russia deliberately changed, midstream, its representative to the Minsk Group from veteran Igor Popov to Igor Khovayev, who is taking private trips to Armenia and Azerbaijan to familiarize himself with the situation. Interestingly, during his contacts in both countries, he has not even mentioned the resumption of the Minsk Group negotiations.
In his turn, Mr. Lavrov has reiterated Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s arguments about the release of Armenian POWs, stating that they were captured after the November 9 ceasefire, during a joint press conference with Armenia’s new foreign minster, Ararat Mirzoyan, who, in his inexperience, has failed to remind Mr. Lavrov about Russia’s obligations under the declaration and international humanitarian laws about people held captive against their will.
Armenia has taken the first step by opening up its skies to Turkish flights but it was too early to state that Yerevan is ready for negotiations without preconditions because Azerbaijan and Turkey have made clear they will not come to the negotiation table before their prerequisites are met. Azerbaijan is asking Armenia to sign a peace treaty ceding all claims on Karabakh and Russia has already stated that this is no time to discuss the status issue.
While Turkey comes with a host of loaded historical demands, all along, Ankara was seeking the settlement of the Karabakh issue in Azerbaijan’s favor. Now that that hurdle has been overcome, in Moscow’s view, there should not remain any preconditions. But Ankara has first subscribed to Baku’s position and has added its own precondition for Armenia to refrain from the pursuit of the recognition of the Genocide, drop any claims for compensation and recognize Turkey’s territorial integrity and borders drawn by the Treaty of Kars of 1921.
Therefore Armenia is heading to the negotiation table emptyhanded. Yerevan must have its own preconditions which it can counter against Turkish demands. At least it has to place on the table the recognition of the Genocide, if not a package of compensations, to have a bargaining chip and begin the talks from ground zero, ticking off, as they go, claim against claim.
For the last 106 years. Turkey was comfortable because only a sovereign state can pursue legal compensation. Ankara could put up with the nuisance that the diaspora has been raising and could continue to enjoy the fruits of the Genocide with impunity. But as Armenia became a sovereign state, it has become a thorn in the side of Turkey.
Therefore, the ultimate goal must be to eliminate that sovereign state from the map, to be able to digest the spoils of its crime.
Russia’s prodding Armenia has one simple goal: to keep the West away from the Caucasus and finalize its deal with Ankara.
Armenia must not become a pawn in this dangerous game.