Armenia should have a healthy reading of Turkey’s 2015 strategy

Armenia should have a healthy reading of Turkey’s 2015 strategy

Would you be surprised if I told you that Turkey is Armenia’s third-biggest trade partner, I asked my colleagues at the Hürriyet Daily News. “Of course we wouldn’t. Turkey is one of Armenia’s few outlets to the world,” they told me.

As veteran journalist Sedat Ergin told me the other day, we do suffer from time to time from professional deformation and assume that what we know is known to everybody else.

It still sounded a little awkward to hear this statistical data, given the fact that the two countries have no diplomatic relations; the borders are closed and that Armenia keeps complaining to the whole world about how it suffers under Turkish trade embargo and how uncivilized it is to keep borders closed at an age of fast globalization.

A quick Google search revealed that Turkish and Armenian businesswomen met in Yerevan at the beginning of April to inquire about ways to increase trade relations. The news agency that reported about this meeting pointed to the fact that Turkish-Armenian trade in January-February 2013 was $24.8 million, increasing by 7.2 percent from a year before, sourcing the Armenian national statistical service.

These inputs are important as we are yet in that period of the year that makes us focus on Turkey-Armenia relations, as Armenians prepare to commemorate on April 24 the anniversary of the 1915 killings that they consider amounting to genocide. While not excluding the possibility of surprises, the Turkish Foreign Ministry is not expecting this year a major action on the part of third countries that would create tension in bilateral ties. But Turkish officials are aware that this might be like the silence before the storm, since they are also aware of the activities geared toward 2015. No one, of course, should expect the Turkish government to remain idle regarding these activities.

No doubt Turkey does have a strategy and it will be very important how this strategy is read and analyzed by Yerevan. First of all, Yerevan should not see Turkey’s action plan just as a “counterstrategy” to neutralize Armenians’ efforts for the recognition of the 1915 killings as genocide. Obviously Turkish officials will spare no effort to provide their counterarguments against Armenians’ thesis. But Turkey’s strategy will go beyond mere counteroffensive efforts. It would most probably seek and even force a window of opportunity that would lead to normalized relations with Armenia, in parallel to mending ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

And that’s where Armenia should not fall in the same trap as the Greek Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot administration thought and still believes that it could impose a peace deal on its own terms as Turkey would bow to pressure for the sake of entering to the EU. While Turkish-EU relations have stalled seemingly due to the Cyprus question, we all know that accession talks are not going forward not because of Cyprus but because of the big European powers. And so far Turkey has not changed its Cyprus policy.

By the same token, Armenians should not expect Turkey to change its policy of making normalization of its relations with Yerevan conditional on the solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. The last time Ankara tried a slight disengagement between the two, we know how it ended.

In short: Turkey’s efforts to seek and even force an opening that could lead to both Ankara-Yerevan and Yerevan-Baku normalization will not stem out of fear of Armenians’ 2015 strategy; on the contrary Turkey might want to divert the international attention to a frozen conflict in the Caucasus, the continuation of which only serves the interests of big powers but not of the regional ones.