Pashinyan Emphasizes Potential in Normalizing Relations With Türkiye

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 69

(Source: The Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia)

Executive Summary:

  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described any breakthrough in normalizing relations with Türkiye as “epoch-making” for the region.
  • Armenia has displayed a willingness to take criticism from Türkiye seriously, upsetting many in the Armenian diaspora who fear Pashinyan will make unilateral concessions similar to recent ones with Azerbaijan.
  • Yerevan may have no choice but to accede on certain issues to normalize relations with its neighbors and become an active participant in regional projects

As peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to be making some progress, the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations have begun to gain more traction (see EDM, April 8). In April, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described any breakthrough as “epoch-making” for the region. Toivo Klaar, EU special representative for the South Caucasus and Crisis in Georgia, told media he hoped talks would continue in the near future (Public Television, April 10;, April 11). Klaar was referring to negotiations that have been underway since December 2021 between former Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç and Deputy Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly Ruben Rubinyan (Hürriyet, December 19, 2021). Four meetings have been held so far, the last of which occurred in July 2022. The normalization of relations between Armenia and Türkiye is a crucial step towards achieving regional stability, particularly with regards to Azerbaijan, as Türkiye wields significant influence over the country. Therefore, establishing diplomatic ties between Ankara and Yerevan would not only benefit the overall stability of the region but also has the potential to ease tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In Armenia, civil society remains skeptical of these developments given the previous stalemate. Armenians have grown wary due to the failure to partially open one of the two border crossings between Armenia and Türkiye for third-country citizens and diplomatic passport holders last year as had been agreed (Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 1, 2022; Armenpress, March 23, 2023; Civilnet, April 30). This coincided with a difficult period in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and a reigniting of hostilities (see EDM, September 13, December 18, 2023). The two processes have been inextricably linked ever since Armenian forces occupied the Kelbajar region of Azerbaijan in 1993.

Ankara was among the first to recognize Yerevan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Soon after, however, Türkiye closed its border with Armenia over Kelbajar and did not establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan. Since the end of the Second Karabakh War in November 2020, that situation has changed territorially, but the political impasse has not. 

Previous attempts to bring the sides together failed. In 2001, the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, encouraged by the United States, attempted to do so but faced opposition from the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation–Dashnaktsutyun (see EDM, December 14, 2001; Azatutyun, February 1, 2005). Another opportunity came in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 when Türkiye suggested establishing a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform for the region (Civil Georgia, September 23, 2008). Although Baku and Tbilisi rejected the idea, it marked the start of a new attempt at Armenian-Turkish normalization, as Türkiye would begin to take a larger role in stabilizing the region (TESEV, July 2012). Earlier, in September 2008, former Turkish President Abdullah Gül had already accepted an invitation from then-Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to attend a World Cup qualifying soccer match between their national teams in Yerevan. Sargsyan also attended the return match in Bursa, Türkiye, the following year (see EDM, September 4, 2008; Hetq, October 12, 2009).

Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu had signed two diplomatic protocols days before the second match (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 10, 2009). Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were also present at the ceremony. The protocols sought to establish diplomatic relations and outline next steps. A year later, however, the Zurich Protocols remained unratified following a visit by then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Baku, where Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev objected to any normalization before the Karabakh conflict was resolved (Azatutyun, September 28, 2009). Unable to resolve this issue, Sargsyan withdrew the protocols from the Armenian National Assembly in 2015 and annulled them three years later (see EDM, March 4, 2015, March 22, 2018).

Following the Second Karabakh War, signs of rapprochement with Yerevan began to reappear, with Ankara and Baku coordinating the two ostensibly separate tracks (Armenian Public Television, August 7, 2023). Yet, there has been no breakthrough in unblocking economic and trade connections in the region, including the route from Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave via Armenian territory (see EDM, January 25).

Over the past few years, there have been numerous encounters that signal improving relations between Yerevan and Ankara, including: 

  • In March 2022, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan attended the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Türkiye to meet with his then-Turkish counterpart Mevlut Çavuşoğlu (ArmenPress, March 12, 2022). 
  • At the first European Political Summit held in Prague on October 6, 2022, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held their first face-to-face meeting (Anadolu Agency, October 6, 2022).
  • In June 2023, Pashinyan even attended Erdoğan’s re-inauguration ceremony in Ankara, the first time an Armenian leader had visited in over a decade (ArmenPress, June 3, 2023).

The devastating earthquake that hit Türkiye and Syria in February 2023 saw Armenia provide 100 tons of earthquake assistance to its beleaguered neighbor. The Margara-Alican land border, one of two between the two countries, was temporarily opened, though closed again soon after (Azatutyun, February 11, 2023). The following month, the Armenian foreign minister again participated in the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. Kılıç and Rubinyan, the two special representatives for normalization, also participated on a panel on the South Caucasus. Alongside them, among others, was Azerbaijani Presidential Advisor Hikmet Hajiyev and the European Union’s Toivo Klaar. In his contribution, Hajiyev raised the issue of territorial claims enshrined in the Armenian Constitution (see EDM, January 31). Kılıç also implied that talks had stalled because of the installation of a monument dedicated to “Operation Nemesis,” erected by the Yerevan municipality last year (see EDM, June 14, 2023).

Yerevan is signaling that it seems to be taking such criticism seriously. On April 24, the Armenian Remembrance Day of as many as 1.5 million ethnic Armenians massacred or expelled from Ottoman Turkey in 1915, Pashinyan made a point to use the term Meds Yeghern (Great Calamity) a greater number of times than “genocide” (Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, April 24). Earlier, Andranik Kocharyan, a senior government minister of parliament, had already incurred the wrath of many in Armenia by suggesting that the precise number of people killed in the 1915 catastrophe should be ascertained, a figure many believe to be unassailable. These citizens claimed that the government was unilaterally conceding to another issue to normalize relations with Türkiye (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 24). 

Pashinyan is already being accused of making unilateral concessions to Azerbaijan. Thus, being accused of the same with regards to Türkiye is unthinkable, especially for ethnic Armenians active in diaspora communities abroad. In words that will hardly go down well with many, Erdoğan urged Armenia to change its narrative, warning that the “doors of opportunity” do not remain open forever (Hetq, April 23; Yeni Şafak, April 24). He called on Yerevan to work on what he termed a “realist roadmap” of relations. As cooperation with Russia has broken down, Armenia may have no choice but to accede on certain issues to normalize relations with its neighbors and become an active participant in regional projects (see EDM, March 14;, April 23).