Turkey-Armenia: Bridging historical divide

The signing of the Turkish-Armenian protocols on the establishment of
diplomatic relations and further development of bilateral relations is
an important milestone in the tortuous process of the slow-moving
rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan. Clearly, the signing
ceremony, with all its nail-biting suspense, marks the beginning of the
story rather than its end. To better understand its significance and
possible implications, the current feeble thaw between the erstwhile
foes should be analyzed through answering the two key questions:

1) What are the main drivers that at the moment are pushing the two sides closer to one another?

2) What are the forces that restrain them and put hurdles on the path toward normalization?

answer these questions, we will have to see a broader picture that goes
beyond Turkey-Armenia bilateral relationship; we will also have to put
the latter into a broader historical context.

There seem to be
the two sets of country-specific factors that influence Turkey’s and
Armenia’s international conduct and nudge the two sides toward

Turkey appears to be seeking to mend ties with
Armenia due to three main reasons. First, normalization with Yerevan is
likely to enhance Turkey’s geopolitical stature in the region. Second,
it will arguably help kick-start the stagnating process of the EU
accession – primarily by demonstrating to Brussels that Ankara could be
a key security provider in the strategically important Caspian-Black
Sea region. Finally, better ties with Armenia could remove a painful
aspect currently present in US-Turkish relations – the one that could
potentially wreak havoc to Ankara’s ties with Washington, namely the
possible recognition of the Armenian genocide by US lawmakers.

its part, today’s Armenia is a small, weak, impoverished, landlocked
and isolated country. It has survived the Turkish blockade, but further
economic development, to say nothing of prosperity, is out of the
question if the current situation persists. Furthermore, Yerevan badly
needs to recalibrate its geopolitical orientation – specifically, to
balance the highly pronounced Russian vector with a more robust opening
up toward Europe and the US. The recent Russia-Georgia war appears to
have made this need ever more acute.

It is the above factors
that seem to have been behind the year-long Turkish-Armenian talks
which resulted in the October 10 signing ceremony in Zurich. But those
factors are acting against the backdrop of the extremely complex and
tragic historical legacy.

It is important to understand that
Turkey and Armenia are not any regular neighboring countries: both were
shaped as nations following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and they
still find themselves in the midst of the painful process of
post-imperial readjustment. Turkey and Armenia appear to be still
sorting out the consequences of what Rogers Brubaker would call the
“post-imperial unmixing of peoples” – the process that took on
particularly atrocious forms in the Ottoman Anatolia in the early 20th

The clash between the two incipient nationalisms led,
literally, to the “struggle to the death” that resulted not only in the
untold human losses but also in the deep-seated mistrust between the
two peoples. It is this mistrust that the present-day leaders in Ankara
and Yerevan are struggling to overcome.

Again, it involves more
than Turkey-Armenia bilateral relationship. The Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict – itself a product of yet another imperial collapse – is
definitely part of the mix although it is not mentioned in the signed
protocols. But the Karabakh dispute inevitably brings Turkey’s and
Armenia’s relations with Azerbaijan into an already complex equation.
Hence Turkey’s strategic dilemma: how to normalize relations with
Armenia without ruining its special ties with Baku. Judging by
Azerbaijan’s nervous, if not outright hostile, reaction to the signing
of the protocols, solving of this dilemma appears to be a tall order

Ideally, the healing of the greater Caucasus’
post-imperial wounds and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian and
Armenian-Azeri relations should proceed along the parallel courses. In
fact, this ideal scenario appears to be the only viable one if we want
to see the comprehensive settlement. However, the fundamental lack of
trust between the main actors – which is reflected in, among other
things, the ambivalent wordings of the protocols, their often erratic
domestic politics, and possible distraction of the outside great powers
whose attention span tends to be pretty short, may still block or even
derail altogether the normalization process.

Jury is still out as to which scenario will eventually come to pass.