Pitfalls of Armenia’s Unnecessary Negotiations with Turkey

Harut Sassounian

I will attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of the upcoming “Armenia-Turkey normalization talks” on January 14, 2022 in Moscow. Armenia may be bungling these negotiations once again!

— To begin with, Armenia does not need to negotiate with Turkey to have the border opened. Such negotiations took place shortly after Armenia’s independence in 1991, when Armenia and Turkey opened their mutual border, until Turkey shut down its side of the border in 1993. Since Turkey is the one that closed its border with Armenia unilaterally, it can now open it also unilaterally. I fear that Turkey’s intent to hold such unnecessary negotiations is aimed at extorting concessions from Armenia.

— After its overwhelming loss during the 2020 war, Armenia’s defeated leader will be negotiating from a position of weakness. A devastated leader cannot have the mental and moral fortitude to negotiate properly with such a problematic and cunning enemy. New leaders must first come to power in Armenia so they can start the discussions, if necessary, from a non-defeatist attitude.

— There is a fundamental problem with Armenia normalizing its relations with Turkey, a nation that committed genocide, killing 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. A century later, Turkey still lies about its mass crimes and denies their occurrence. An unrepentant genocidaire cannot be a trusted party with which one can negotiate in good faith.

— In addition to its past crimes, Turkey outrageously participated in a new massacre of Armenians, killing and wounding thousands of young Armenian soldiers in the 2020 Artsakh war. To make matters worse, Turkey recruited Jihadist terrorists from Syria and arranged for their transportation to Azerbaijan during the war. How can Armenia’s Prime Minister engage in discussions with an enemy with such recurring hostility? Just imagine if Germany, a country that committed genocide against six million Jews, would attack today’s Israel and kill thousands of Israelis. Do you think Israeli leaders would then sit down with today’s German leaders and negotiate with them as if nothing happened? Every Jew in the world would be up in arms over such a prospect. Armenia’s leaders seem to be oblivious about Turkey’s past and present crimes. They are more than happy to negotiate with the criminals in Ankara with a callous attitude. If the Armenian leaders won’t defend their nation’s rights, how can they expect outsiders to care about Armenia more than them?

— Prime Minister Pashinyan came to power rejecting the rule of former President Serzh Sargsyan with the slogan “Merjir Serzhin” (Reject Serzh). Why is Pashinyan then copying Sargsyan’s flawed policies with Turkey? Armenians in and out of Armenia were up in arms over the previous president’s ill-fated 2009 Armenian-Turkish Protocols. It does not look like Pashinyan has learned anything from that failed experiment.

— “Negotiations without preconditions” is another mantra repeated by Armenia’s previous and current leaders. But the fact is that, rather than Armenia placing preconditions on Turkey, it is Turkey that is advancing preconditions. During the 2009 Protocols negotiations, Turkey said it did not have any preconditions, nevertheless, several Turkish preconditions ended up in the agreement. Pres. Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, confirmed such Armenian concerns when he said at the end of December while visiting Chicago: “we want the border to be opened and diplomatic relations to begin. For this, certain conditions must be met and certain issues must be negotiated.”

Thousands protest Armenia-Turkey protocols, January 11, 2010 (Photo by Inna Mekhitarian-Hairenik/Armenian Weekly)

— The Protocols failed in 2009 because Azerbaijan objected to Turkey opening its border with Armenia. That helped save Armenia’s interests that were supposed to be protected not by Azerbaijan, but by the President of Armenia! The current negotiations may fail also, unless Pashinyan is ready to concede whatever Erdogan asks for. Turkey is now demanding that Armenia accept the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan by signing a peace treaty, thus giving up Artsakh and Nakhichevan for good, and allowing the so-called “Zangezur Corridor,” not just a road, linking Azerbaijan East with Nakhichevan. Finally, if Turkey comes to the table with preconditions, Armenia should be prepared to walk away or counter with its own preconditions: Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, restitution for consequent Armenian losses, and return of occupied Western Armenia.

— Before signing the 2009 Armenia-Turkey Protocols, Pres. Sargsyan made a half-hearted attempt to visit several Diaspora communities, ostensibly to hear their views. Pashinyan has made no such attempt. He has not consulted with anyone from the Diaspora. Pashinyan should realize that relations with Turkey are a pan-Armenian issue, not just a domestic matter of the Republic of Armenia. He should take the Diaspora’s views into consideration, even if he is the one who makes the final decision. Moreover, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently stated that “extremist groups” in the Armenian Diaspora “should not put pressure on Yerevan,” to disrupt the Armenia-Turkey relations. In addition, Kalin said, “The current Armenia-Turkey normalization process will destroy the Armenian community of the United States.” Such a statement is an unwelcome interference in intra-Armenian affairs. Turkish officials’ unwarranted statements should galvanize all Armenians to reject their unacceptable intervention.

— The qualifications of the person conducting the negotiations on behalf of Armenia are extremely important. Erdogan appointed as Turkey’s negotiator the seasoned diplomat, former Turkish Ambassador to the United States, and notorious genocide denialist Serdar Kilic. Pashinyan, on the other hand, in line with his many other unqualified appointments, named Ruben Rubinyan, a young neophyte with zero diplomatic experience. His only claim to fame is that he is a member of Pashinyan’s political party and Deputy Chairman of the Armenian Parliament. Amazingly, when questioned about Rubinyan’s qualifications, Pashinyan and his political colleagues claimed that Rubinyan’s party affiliation is much more important than his inexperience, thereby putting their party’s interests ahead of that of the nation. Thus, the outcome of the upcoming negotiations is crystal clear since the wolf will be facing the lamb! There must be more competent and experienced Armenian diplomats who can conduct such sensitive negotiations.

— Pashinyan keeps repeating proudly that the leaders of Russia, the United States and France support his plans to negotiate with Turkey. Let’s not forget that Azerbaijan and Turkey also support this initiative. All of these countries are simply advancing their own interests, not that of Armenia.

— Finally, Pashinyan’s much touted claim of economic benefits to Armenia as a result of opening the Armenian-Turkish border is a dubious expectation. Already, without the border being open, Turkish products have flooded the Armenian market. The opening of the border would mean that the cheaper Turkish products will destroy Armenia’s domestic production. A tiny country with a small population cannot compete with Turkish products which enjoy the advantage of “economies of scale” (higher volume at lower cost). To make matters worse, Pashinyan just threw away the only bargaining chip Armenia had by lifting the temporary ban on the import of Turkish goods, thus depriving Armenia of its trump card in these negotiations.

Turkey, a destitute country with a failing economy, collapsed lira, 12 percent unemployment, 36 percent inflation and raging coronavirus (seventh highest number of infections in the world), is desperate to ameliorate its domestic dismal conditions and mend its damaged ties with the United States, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. An astute Armenian negotiator, realizing the Turkish eagerness to impress the world, would attempt to extract more favorable terms for normalizing relations with Turkey.

No one opposes negotiations with Turkey as long as the negotiator representing Armenia is a competent person who is able to bring benefits to Armenia’s interests.

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