ARF’s Position on the Armenian-Turkish “Normalization” Process

A young protester holds a sign that reads, ‘No to the Turkish preconditions,’ during a demonstration held in Yerevan in 2009 (Photo: Inna Mekhitarian/Hairenik/Armenian Weekly)

By Yeghia Tashjian

The Armenian Weekly

Often, there are misconceptions or misrepresentations of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) official position on Armenian-Turkish relations. Western journalists, analysts and even Armenian liberals have labeled the party as “anti-peace,” “aggressive nationalist” and have accused it of acting against any kind of dialogue or peaceful resolution of the Armenian-Turkish conflict. What disappoints me is that some partisans and followers, especially the youth, fall into this trap and believe this narrative to be true and that the party is against the establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. However, this is wrong. This article aims to clarify to foreign analysts and “keyboard warriors” that not everyone guided by their emotions can present their views and dictate on social media. Such sensitive topics must be well studied, analyzed and quoted by senior party officials or Hai Tahd (Armenian National Cause) directors. For this reason, I will shed light on the reasons the Party was against the 2009 Armenian-Turkish protocols (often referred to as Zurich Protocols) and why it has concerns and reservations on the current format of the Armenian-Turkish “normalization” process. To avoid any misunderstanding, I interviewed key decision makers and Hai Tahd officials to clarify the ARF’s position on Armenia’s relations with Turkey.

From Closing the Border to the Signing of the Zurich Protocols

In 1993, Turkey (in response to the advancement of Armenian troops in Artsakh) unilaterally decided to illegally close the border and impose an economic blockade on Armenia. Despite Armenia’s positive approach for unconditional normalization, the Turkish side always came up with preconditions when addressing the establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries.

As a consequence of the Russian-Georgian War (August 2008), as the border closed between both countries, Armenia’s economy faced challenges. Former President Serj Sargsyan realized that he may need another trade route to Europe in case of renewal of hostilities in Georgia. Hence, he initiated the “football diplomacy” and invited former Turkish President Abdullah Gul in September 2008 to attend a FIFA World Cup qualifier football match between the Turkish and Armenian national football teams. During their meetings, both leaders addressed issues of bilateral relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Armenian-Turkish dialogue process was supported by the European Union (EU) and former US President Barack Obama.

Finally, on October 10, 2009 in Zurich, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia—Ahmet Davutoglu and Eduard Nalbandian—signed the two protocols in a ceremony also attended by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov.

However, the agreement later proved to be ineffectual as the Turkish side linked the “normalization” process with a resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh in favor of Azerbaijan. In February 2015, Armenia recalled the protocols from parliament, citing the “absence of political will” on the Turkish side. Then in December 2017, citing the lack of any “positive progress towards their implementation” by Turkey, the Armenian side vowed to declare them null and void, which Armenia formally did on March 1, 2018.

Why did the ARF oppose the Zurich Protocols? 

For the ARF, Turkey has long sought to benefit materially from its pre-Zurich Protocols dialogue with Armenia by setting three preconditions for establishing bilateral ties, two of which, namely a “historical commission” and recognition of the current border (the borders based on the Treaty of Kars in 1921), were already mentioned in the Zurich Protocols. The third, which was not mentioned but was highlighted from the announcements of Turkish officials, was the Armenian withdrawal (even partial) from the Nagorno Karabakh region. This condition has been publicly set by both Turkish and Azerbaijani leaders as a requirement for the lifting of Ankara’s blockade on Armenia. Armenia, by contrast, has set no preconditions for itself, while effectively accepting two of Turkey’s three preconditions mentioned in the protocols.

What were the main provisions that the ARF opposed?

The ARF was instrumental in mobilizing the people both in the Diaspora and the homeland against the “Armenian-Turkish Protocols.” As such, in April 2009, its ministers resigned from the coalition government, citing that it was informed about the agreement in advance and the content of the protocols were unacceptable and harmful for the Armenian nation.

The Party was strictly against the provision that called for the creation of a joint historical committee to conduct “an impartial and scientific examination to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.” This provision directly advances Turkey’s campaign of Armenian Genocide denial. The aim here is to downgrade the Armenian Genocide from a matter of settled history that must be condemned by the international community as a moral imperative, to an unsettling element of a bilateral dispute that should be resolved through negotiations only between the “two nations.” This provision effectively undermines the efforts of the Armenian Diaspora and the progress made toward broader international commemoration and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide.

The provision also aims to demote the importance of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide from an international issue to a bilateral conflict between Armenia and Turkey which is subject to “dialogue.” By doing so, the Armenian side would be clearly questioning the fact of the Genocide and approving that it is a “subject of dialogue.” The clear intent on the part of Turkey is to use Armenia’s acceptance of these protocols in its efforts to silence the Armenian Diaspora’s assertion of the rights of the Armenian nation. This terminology serves Ankara’s interest in defining the Armenian Genocide, which has been the subject of extensive historical scholarship and is universally recognized by all academics and researchers, as a conflict or problem needing discussion and debate.

The Party also opposed another provision which called for the “respect for the principles of equality, sovereignty, non-intervention in internal affairs of other states, territorial integrity, and inviolability of frontiers.” From the Party’s view, this provision undermines Armenia’s interest as a core stakeholder and active participant in the peace process to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The concern was that the text of this provision can be used by Turkey to argue that Armenia can no longer take part in efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or otherwise officially contribute to a peaceful resolution of this conflict because these are the “internal affairs” of Azerbaijan.

Finally, the ARF also was against the idea of “recognizing the territorial integrity of Turkey.” By agreeing on this provision, the Armenian side was violating its constitution and the declaration of independence of 1991 which called Armenia to stand “in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia.” Hence, the rights of the Western Armenians who had been forcefully deported from their ancestral lands were being sidelined by the Turkish government.

Through its branches and assemblies, the Party has made clear that it “denounces the protocols agreed to for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia.” It stated that “Turkey and Armenia, are geographic neighbors, (and) must naturally have diplomatic relations. But it must not be done at the expense of the basic ideas which guarantee an equal partnership. The protocols instead solidify the subjugation of Armenia and the Armenian people. As such, the protocols cannot serve as the foundation for respectful and friendly relations between Turkey and Armenia.” Hence, the Party has made clear that it is not against establishing a diplomatic relationship between both countries, but opposes the nature and the content of the protocols that were harmful and unjust to the Armenian state and nation.

Has the ARF changed its position?

Following Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 Artsakh War, PM Nikol Pashinyan and his associates started marketing the idea of “permanent peace” in the region and establishing ties with Turkey. Of course, having backchannels with Turkey is not the problem here. Dialogue is necessary; however, the main concern is that unlike 2009, Armenia is in a defeatist position.

Turkey’s preconditions regarding Armenian-Turkish relations have grown harsher. The first two conditions have been untouched while the third condition, that is the withdrawal of Armenian troops, has been replaced by Armenia’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity (that is the recognition of Artsakh as an inseparable part of Azerbaijan) and a new condition has been added regarding the opening of the “Zangezur Corridor” to Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Turkish Foreign Ministry recently made a remark where it clearly linked the normalization process with Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and the issue of the “corridor” in Syunik. However, this didn’t prevent the Armenian authorities from pushing for engagement with Turkey, as both sides designated special envoys who will be tasked to discuss steps for normalization of relations between the two countries.

As a result, on December 28, 2021, the ARF Bureau made an official statement regarding Armenia-Turkey relations and the settlement of the Artsakh issue.

The Party criticized Ankara and accused the Turkish government of not discarding its three evident preconditions for the normalization of relations with Armenia (Armenia’s renunciation of support for international recognition for the Armenian Genocide, subordination of Artsakh to Azerbaijan, and legal demarcation of the current de facto Armenia-Turkey border), and it has also added a fourth: the provision of the so-called “Zangezur Corridor.”

The Party also added that the process of normalizing Armenia-Turkey relations is “unhealthy and extremely dangerous” from the start. According to the ARF, “it is conducted within an international political and security reality in Armenia where the leadership that has driven the nation to defeat lacks the ability to effectively defend the vital interests of the Armenians, for objective and subjective reasons. It is evident that under the current conditions, the process of normalizing Armenia-Turkey relations is fraught with multiple political, geopolitical, security, economic, and spiritual-cultural challenges and will inevitably lead to irreversible dangerous consequences and the loss of sovereignty. The existing concerns are deepened by the irresponsible political behavior of the Armenian authorities and their total lack of accountability.” The ARF also raised a question regarding the political appointment of the Armenian special envoy who lacks any diplomatic skills and suggests that “the Armenian side is in fact participating in a predetermined process under which there is no need to select a professional diplomat to ensure a pro-Armenian outcome.”

According to Giro Manoyan, an ARF Bureau member and head of the Armenian Cause (Hai Tahd) Office, Armenia-Turkey relations are part of the overall Armenian-Turkish relations which involved the rights of not only the Republic of Armenia but of the whole Armenian nation; hence, when dealing with Turkey, the whole nation should be involved. Secondly, Armenian-Turkish relations cannot be conditioned by other actors’ relations with Armenia, in this case by Azerbaijan’s relations with Armenia, which Turkish government officials keep making statements about; finally, Armenia-Turkey relations should be established without any preconditions, especially since Turkey for the last 30 years has set preconditions and keeps adding to them. Turkey’s refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia over 30 years ago is, according to international law, an expression of hostility towards Armenia, and the 2020 Azerbaijani-Turkish war against Artsakh demonstrated that hostility militarily as well. If Turkey wishes to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, then it must relinquish its hostile attitude towards Armenia and its people. Establishing diplomatic relations would be the first step towards “normalization,” which must go through a long process.

Finally, the Party demanded from the Armenian government to immediately reveal the guidelines of the normalization process of Armenia-Turkey relations, to nominally and completely reject the Turkish preconditions, to place a political emphasis on the fact that the normalization of Armenia-Turkey interstate relations cannot be connected with any third party (that is Azerbaijan). The ARF reaffirmed that the Armenian-Turkish relations can be normalized only with the consent of the Armenian nation around the world, without Turkish preconditions and the violation of the rights of the Armenian generations.

Interestingly, the Turkish side quickly exposed its true intentions and stated that the current Armenia-Turkey normalization process will destroy the Armenian community of the United States. This announcement was made by Ibrahim Kalin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s press secretary, who also added that “the normalization of relations with Turkey will contribute greatly to Armenia, a landlocked country, which is economically weak and is a ward of Russia, both politically and economically.”

Responding to Kalin’s accusation about the Armenian Diaspora in the US, Armenian National Committee of America executive director Aram Hamparian argued that it is no surprise that Turkey, leveraging Azerbaijan’s attack on Artsakh and ongoing occupation of Armenian territory, is now trying to twist Armenia’s arm in accepting its terms of surrender. Also, it’s no wonder that, diplomatically, Ankara’s striving to get international buy-in to the big lie that additional reckless concessions of Armenian land, Armenian rights and Armenian security will somehow advance the cause of peace. The fact is that a century of steady losses of Armenian lives and land – Western Armenia, Nakhichevan, and now large areas of Artsakh – has done nothing to temper Turkey’s genocidal drive to destroy the Armenian homeland.

Meanwhile, ANC Lebanon chairperson Vahram Emiyan said that any process of normalization cannot be genuine if it does not take into account “the elephant in the room.” That is more so in the case of the Turkish-Armenian normalization process, where instead of “an elephant” there is a “herd of elephants in the room.” Emiyan argued that one cannot normalize relations by imposing preconditions because the result will not be normal. Such a process is an attempt to normalize the abnormal situation that the Turkish side is attempting to impose. For example, regarding “one of the biggest elephants in the room” – the issue of the Armenian Genocide – Ankara is trying to ensure the victory of denialism over truth and justice. Unfortunately, the current process, as in previous attempts, is about ensuring Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s victory and enshrining it in a binding deal. Emiyan added that one should take into account that normalization of relations between states does not lead to normalization of relations between nations if injustices still linger, as clearly shown in the cases of the normalization of Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan relations where after so many years, the majority of the people of the two Arab countries still consider Israel as an enemy state. Of course, in international affairs, the normal and first step for two states is to have diplomatic relations, which eventually lead to opening the door for economic, cultural, and other forms of relations. Turkey is not willing or ready for a real normalization of relations; so in the current situation, it is better to take and be content with taking the basic normal step: establishing diplomatic relations between the two states.

Reflection and Conclusion

The ARF has made clear its dissatisfaction with Pashinyan’s overall attitude towards Armenian-Turkish relations. Manoyan says the ARF is wary and concerned that Pashinyan is taking another step toward capitulation in the face of Azerbaijani-Turkish threats, and there is publicly available evidence that he is on a “treacherous course potentially detrimental not only to Armenia’s interests but also to Armenia’s existence as an independent state.” In the case of possible relations with Turkey, Manoyan added, this evidence is manifested in announcements Pashinyan made following the defeat of the 44-day Artsakh War. Pashinyan wishes to see positive vibes coming from Turkey when the evidence clearly indicates exactly the opposite. Furthermore, the ARF, just as in the case of the 2008-2010 “football diplomacy,” is of the opinion that Armenia has to take internal legal steps protecting Armenia’s economy and security concerns before establishing relations with Turkey. According to Manoyan, Pashinyan is overlooking these interests as well.

Hence, the ARF has made it clear that it opposes asymmetric relations preconditioned by Turkish demands. Such unbalanced relations would further push Turkey to impose unjust terms on Armenia and push the latter to compromise on security matters. The “Zangezur Corridor” would be a beginning. Importantly, the Party has also made clear that it is not against the establishment of diplomatic relations, as long as Turkey shows a positive and peaceful approach towards Armenia.

Moreover, establishing diplomatic relations between countries may not lead to border demarcation, as is the case between Greece and Turkey, Russia and Japan, China and India, Canada and the US, and many other countries where border disputes are visible. Unlike some of Pashinyan’s associates who believe that such a step would lead the region toward peace, opening embassies does not necessarily mean that such a step would decrease the likelihood of the restart of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan and prevent Turkey from taking an active role in this conflict. Armenia, compared to Azerbaijan, is not as valuable to Turkey. Consider, for example, Turkey’s invasion of Northern Cyprus and its fight against its NATO ally member and Greece and Turkey’s military involvements in neighboring Iraq and Syria. Turkey’s direct participation in the recent Artsakh War exposed Ankara’s pan-Turkic aspirations in the region. Turkey is no partner for peace.

Furthermore, Armenia had a chance back in 2009 to implement economic protective measures to protect its market from being swallowed by a huge Turkish market in case of future border opening, as Armenian products are not competitive against the Turkish agricultural and consumer products. Unprotected economic measures would destroy the Armenian industry; the clearest examples are the challenges the Syrian industry faced when economic relations were established with Turkey. What the current leadership can do is to adopt such measures to protect its industry from collapsing in front of cheap and competitive Turkish products. Moreover, many analysts are concerned that Armenia would end up like Georgia where Turkey’s economic leverage would be transformed into a political one and may try to challenge Russia’s influence in the future. If Turkey failed to bring Armenia to its knees militarily, it could do it economically in the long run. Hence, it will be possible for the ARF to engage in a popular Turkish-product boycott movement similar to the Palestinians who succeeded through the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli products.

What will Armenia gain from opening borders with Turkey? Most analysts and Pashinyan’s associates claim that if Turkey lifts its economic blockade, then Armenia’s trade will increase. Is this scientifically proven? While Armenia’s trade with Iran couldn’t even surpass $1 billion and while Yerevan is eager to participate in the North-South Transport Corridor connecting the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea, and Moscow is pushing for the opening of transport routes between Yerevan and Baku, why does Armenia need Turkey? In the end, we must be careful of fake peacemakers. A sense of genuine and just peace is only possible on the basis of equality, dignity and mutual respect. Coercing or humiliating the weaker or defeated side into accepting its subordinate status is not peace, but a recipe for festering resentments and future conflicts. Hence, does Turkey ask for peace?

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