It appears that both processes surrounding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh and the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement intensified almost immediately after the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008, which established a new geopolitical environment, with implications not only for Georgia, but also for the South Caucasus and beyond. Moscow’s increased interest in playing a more active broker’s role in this negotiation process, was shown in the Moscow Declaration signed in November 2008 by Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, adding fresh impetus to efforts aimed at resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh. This marked the second document signed since May 1994, when the ceasefire agreement was also reached due to Russian mediation efforts.
Two years ago, an Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, mediated in secret by Switzerland, also intensified after the Russian invasion of Georgia. The effort began with “soccer diplomacy” in September 2008 and ended with the protocols signed by Armenia and Turkey on October 10, 2009, in Zurich. Indeed, 2009 marked an intensification of these negotiation processes. However, concrete results have only been achieved in the latter case, after the October 2009 signing of two protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations and developing bilateral relations between Yerevan and Ankara, still awaiting ratification by the parliaments of both countries. On the other hand, despite the six meetings held in 2009, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan only reached agreement on the wording of the preamble of the updated version of the 2007 Madrid Principles in Sochi on January 25, 2010 (Radio Free Europe, January 26).
Nonetheless, in a broader sense the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is one of the consequences of the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) foreign policy initiative “zero problems with neighbors,” introduced by the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Within this new foreign policy framework, Ankara has already achieved positive results in developing bilateral relations with various neighboring countries such as Iran, Syria, Iraq, Greece and Russia.
Relations between Armenia and Turkey have their own peculiarities due to historical and contemporary issues. These peculiarities relate to continued contradictions with regard to the events of 1915, Armenia’s territorial claims to Turkish provinces in Eastern Anatolia and its rigid stance and unwillingness to withdraw its armed forces from the occupied Azerbaijani districts located outside the former autonomous Karabakh region. However, Turkish-Armenian relations were especially complicated after the recent decision by the Armenian constitutional court to approve the Turkish-Armenian protocols. The references made by the Armenian court to the preamble to the constitution and Article 11 of the Declaration of Independence by Armenia created serious controversies on a number of issues, considered by the Turkish foreign ministry as setting preconditions and restrictive provisions on the protocols before their ratification (Journal of Turkish Weekly, January, 28).
Baku has always been grateful for the solidarity shown by Turkey since 1993, when it closed its borders with Armenia in response to the Armenian occupation of Kelbajar, one of the adjacent Azerbaijani districts located outside Karabakh, as well as for Ankara’s insistence on the return of the occupied territories to Azerbaijan as a precondition for opening the border and establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia. The Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu in a keynote lecture on the “converging interests of Turkey and the UK in an enlarged EU and beyond,” at King’s College, London, during his latest working visit to Britain, emphasized that the only way to reach a sustainable peace in the region is through the liberation of the occupied Azerbaijani territories. He also added that without a substantial breakthrough in the resolution of the Karabakh issue, it will be extremely difficult to persuade members of parliament to ratify the protocols (Davutoglu’s lecture at King’s College London, January 13, transcript provided by the Embassy of Republic of Azerbaijan to the UK).
Both the Turkish public and the main opposition parties demonstrate their full support on this issue and regard the conflict over Karabakh and Armenian-Turkish rapprochement as closely connected. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has drawn attention to this linkage of both processes in his latest official visits to Washington and Moscow. He informed journalists during his return from Moscow, according to the Hurriyet newspaper that the process of normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations and the resolution of Karabakh are inter-linked. He also added that these processes may be going on separately, but they are interconnected behind the scenes. On the other hand, arguing that neither protocol makes any reference to the Karabakh settlement, Armenia, as well as the US, the EU and Russia consider the Karabakh issue and Armenian-Turkish rapprochement as two separate processes.
However, as Azerbaijan’s major strategic ally, Turkey’s stance on this issue is capable of resisting the policy of global and regional powers and might prove helpful in applying strong pressure on Armenia to withdraw from some occupied territories. Similarly, due to the fact that Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is one of the key issues on the current international agenda it also draws greater attention to the conflict over Karabakh.
Noting that Ankara cannot separate the Karabakh issue from its relations with Yerevan and risk its strategic interests with Baku, retired Ambassador James Holmes, the President of the American-Turkish Council (ATC), said on February 5 that “new steps were needed in these two issues, rather than expecting Turkey to assess them separately” (www.turkishny.com). In order to prevent any further exaggeration of US-Turkey relations, especially taking into account an intention announced by Howard L. Berman, the Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to call a committee vote on the non-binding Armenian Genocide Resolution on March 4 (Today’s Zaman, February 19), the Obama Administration could play a more active role as a catalyst to make necessary changes to this complex situation. Furthermore, without the genuine interest and serious responsibility shown by mediators and the international community, as well as some mutual positive steps to be taken not only towards progress on Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, but also on Karabakh, it will be impossible to secure long lasting peace, sustainable development, and prosperity to the wider South Caucasus region. Thus, the Azerbaijani-Armenian and the Turkish-Armenian borders might one day be re-opened.