Different views on Turkey-Armenia border issue

Different views on Turkey-Armenia border issue

Cavid Veliyev
The suspending of Turkey-Armenia protocols in 2009 had two main reasons: the reactions of the Azerbaijani and Turkish societies. In fact, the main reason for suspending the protocols was the attitude of the Turkish society to this agreement. The main reason for Turkish society’s negative reaction toward the Turkey-Armenia protocols was not only Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been under the occupation of Armenia, but also attacks carried out by Armenian gangs in Anatolia in the beginning of the 20th century and ongoing demands and propaganda against Turkey and the Turkish people in the international scene.

Despite the reaction of the Turkish government and Turkish society, there are different approaches inside and outside of Turkey that try to affect society and decision-makers’ views.

From 2010, when the Turkey-Armenia protocols failed, “silent diplomacy” initiatives between Turkey and Armenia were supported and funded by organizations from the U.S. and EU. In 2010, the U.S. AID Mission provided $4.7 million to a consortium of Armenian and Turkish organizations for cross-border activities. Since 2014, a consortium of eight civil society organizations from Armenia and Turkey, with the financial assistance of the EU, has supported the Armenia–Turkey Normalization Process.

The assumption is that the normalization of relations will build peace and stability in the South Caucasus, which was presented by Western circles, finds supporters inside Turkey. By adding that opening the Turkish-Armenian borders will lead Turkey to strengthening its position in the south Caucasus, they try to strengthen their position. 

In this point, retired ambassador Ünal Çeviköz, who was a part of the Turkish-Armenian closed negotiations in 2007-2009, published the piece “Turkish-Armenian relations need a new game-changer” in the Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 13, 2014. Çeviköz, who supports opening the Turkish-Armenian borders, has two arguments regarding the outcomes of opening the borders. First, according to Çeviköz, opening the borders could be a significant development and this development can reduce pressure on Turkey. Second, open borders could help Turkey to increase its position in negotiations in Nagorno-Karabakh and South Caucasus.

After the ratification of protocols in 2009, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan visited European countries and the U.S. to convince the Armenian diaspora that Armenia had not given up introducing the 1915 events as genocide. Interestingly, meanwhile, after the protocols, Armenian historians began to study on the Armenian monument of history in Turkey so to further justify and substantiate the territorial claims toward Turkey. In response, why should Turkey and Azerbaijan not develop a common strategy to list the Turkish history of monuments in Armenian territory?

The so-called genocide pressure on Turkey is not because of closed borders because this pressure began before the closure of the borders during the Cold War. The Armenian diaspora achieved introducing the so-called Armenian genocide because Turkey had ignored the issue for a long period.

Turkey has just recently begun to set its strategy against Armenia’s propaganda. With this respect, Turkey can use the successful experience of Azerbaijan against the Armenian diaspora as part of its strategy.

According to supporters of opening the borders, if the Turkish-Armenian borders had opened, Turkey could have had an impact on Armenian political decisions particularly on foreign policy orientations and Nagorno-Karabakh. Meanwhile after opening the borders, Turkey would gain the confidence in Armenian society. But this argument lacks any kind of solid and substantive evidence that would support this opinion. On the contrary, for three years the EU has allocated nearly 100 million euros in order to reform Armenia’s economy and customs services and hoped that Armenia would prefer the EU over Russia in its foreign policy orientation. Also according to Armenian government data, the EU is in the first place and Russia is in second place of Armenian foreign trade volume. But in 2013, Armenia signed participation agreement with a Russian-led Customs Union, which means close economic cooperation with the EU would not affect Armenian political decisions.

When it comes to Turkey’s position in the South Caucasus, Turkey’s strategic partner Azerbaijan is the leader of the South Caucasus economy. Meanwhile, Armenia is not in a strategic position that can help Turkey to increase its position in the region. First, all of the regional projects are away from Armenia.

Second, as Russia has taken control of all of the strategic institutions, it’s quite doubtful that after opening the border with Armenia would affect Armenia’s policies and encourage Yerevan to turn its face to the West.

Shortly, the Turkish government, ruling and main opposition parties are against opening the borders without a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Despite the U.S. and EU’s funds, the situation will go on.

Cavid Veliyev is Senior Research Fellow, SAM, Baku.