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Better to call Ankara, Yerevan talks ‘normalization’ rather than ‘reconciliation’

Official Turkish – Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) Vice Chairman says process not an unexpected development

ANKARA

An official with a joint Turkish-Armenian group said ongoing Ankara and Yerevan talks can be called “normalization” — more realistic than “reconciliation” that could be considered too ambitious because the 2009 protocols did not bear fruit. 

Turkish – Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) Vice Chairman Noyan Soyak told Anadolu Agency that one of the foremost reasons for Turkey in not establishing direct talks or starting a normalization process with Armenia was the Armenian occupation in and around Karabakh. 

After a cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Armenia was realized through Moscow mediation, it started the process between Turkey and Armenia that was not a very unexpected development, said Soyak.    

Moscow’s role

Relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been tense since 1991 in the border regions of Nagorno Karabakh, which were liberated by the Azerbaijani army in a 44-day war that ended in November 2020 with a Russian-brokered cease-fire. 

Last September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the end of the conflict paves the way for an improvement in Turkey-Armenia relations.

“South Caucasus is a very important and neighboring geography for Moscow,” Soyak said, referring to the conflict.

“Having its regional disputes with Georgia in Caucasus and Ukraine in the southwest — probably Russia wouldn’t like to have another continuing conflict in the rest of the South Caucasus, which might have further weakened Russia’s influence in the region,” he said. “Russia plays a grandiose role in Armenia in many ways.”

Two of the four borders of Armenia — Turkey and Iran — are controlled by Russian forces. 

After the war, Russia deployed peacekeeper elements on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, thus controlling all Armenian borders except Georgia.

Beyond that, there is also a Russian military base in the country, he said.

“Moreover strategic industries, including defense, energy, railway and transportation sector, a large part of finance and communication infrastructures in Armenia are under Russian control,” he said.

“Russia’s influence over Azerbaijan, although it is not as visible as the case in Armenia, can also not be denied,” according to Soyak. Russia is the second-largest military supplier to Azerbaijan, he said.

“The biggest military supplier to Azerbaijan is Israel, which gives a glimpse of the idea of Israeli interests in the conflicted region, having a long border to Iran in the south,” he said.

The US also supports talks between Turkiye and Armenia.

“We welcome and strongly support statements by the Turkish foreign minister and the Armenian foreign minister and on appointing special envoys to discuss the process of normalization,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

According to Soyak, the US has always been in favor of improved relations between Turkiye and Armenia, borders opened and diplomatic relations established. 

“But when we consider present relations between Turkiye and the US, this subject may not be seen as one of the priorities, but maybe a supporting side act,” he said. 

Resumed flights 

Mentioning the resuming of charter flights between Turkiye and Armenia within the scope of the normalization process, Soyak said direct flights between Istanbul and Yerevan already exist.

ISTANBUL, TURKIYE – FEBRUARY 02: Fllight information boards are seen before the Pegasus Airlines departure from the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport for the first time to land in the Yerevan International Zvartnots Airport in Istanbul, Turkiye on February 02, 2022. ( Ali Balıkçı – Anadolu Agency )

“The first flights were done at the end of the 1990s by a company called Armenian Airlines, which ceased operations around 2001.

“Then the flights continued in 2002 by Arm Avia (Armenian) and Fly Air (Turkish) as charter flights. These flights were categorized as ‘non-scheduled charter’ flights, which needed to receive permission from civil aviation authorities for each flight. Online ticket sales were not permitted,” he said. 

Soyak said Atlas Jet, which was later named Atlas Global, also had charter flights to Yerevan starting in 2008.

“Although those flights were categorized as charter, the airline regularly flew between Istanbul and Yerevan on certain days of the week until they ceased their operations in 2020 — flights three to five days a week, depending on weather conditions — and was even able to sell tickets through their online channels,” he said.  

Baku’s new approach

As talks began between Ankara and Yerevan in late December, Azerbaijan Foreign Affairs Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said Baku “fully supports” the normalization. 

Neither Fly Air nor Atlas jet had flights to Azerbaijan, said Soyak. “Turkiye-based airline companies needed to choose to fly either to Armenia or to Azerbaijan. The important new fact today is the Turkish airline company, Pegasus, can have flights to Azerbaijan and Armenia without any restrictions, which might be taken as Azerbaijans’ ‘de facto’ veto of companies who conduct business in Armenia or with Armenia is already lifted,” he said, referring to Baku’s new approach. 

“Some senior bureaucrats in Baku privately suggest that a Turkish-Armenian normalization might even help smooth their own post-war relations with Armenia by showing the benefits of shifting from a war footing to an everyone-wins focus on trade. Therefore, we can easily say that Baku’s approach to the normalization process is diverted 180 degrees,” he said. 

“Yes, we can still say that the restarting of direct flights can be considered as a positive step, Even though the flights had not been ceased due to political reasons but for financial ones of the specific airline company,” said Soyak.  

Ankara – Yerevan relations in the past, and ongoing talks now

The first meeting of special representatives from Turkiye and Armenia toward normalization was held last month. 

The proposal for having the meeting in Moscow came from the Armenian side, said Soyak. 

“This might easily be considered that Russia has a positive attitude toward the process. It also has another meaning that although Russia is not a party to this specific process,” he said.

“We do not know much details but both countries said the meeting was conducted in a ‘positive and constructive atmosphere.’ Our hope as TABDC is that the talks will bolster peace efforts for the Caucasus region and lead to establishing diplomatic, neighborly relations and reopening of the border to encourage trade and free flow of goods and services,” he added. 

The second meeting of envoys with Turkey Ambassador Serdar Kilic and Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Ruben Rubinyan is set for Feb. 24 in Vienna. 

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan would travel to Turkey in March to attend the Antalya Diplomatic Forum. 

An Armenian Foreign Affairs spokesman announced that invitations to the diplomatic meeting were sent to Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Rubinyan’s special representative.

Turkiye was one of the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence on Sept. 21, 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Bilateral relations between Ankara and Yerevan deteriorated after Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory. 

Turkiye ended direct trade with Armenia in 1993 and the border between the two countries was closed. 

Turkiye and Armenia signed two protocols to establish diplomatic ties and improve relations on Oct. 10, 2009, in Zurich, Switzerland, which was a “roadmap” for the re-establishment of bilateral ties. 

In March 2018, Armenia’s Security Council terminated the procedure to ratify the Zürich Protocols.  

Majority of diaspora support regional integration with neighboring countries 

“Despite some different views, the majority diaspora is in consensus to support the economic development of the Armenian people through economic relations and regional integration with the neighboring countries, Turkiye and Azerbaijan,” Soyak said, referring to the West, including the EU, UK, Canada, US and South America. 

“Armenia is located in the center of energy, telecommunication and transportation crossroads between Asia, Central Asia (Caspian basin) and the EU. All the interested parties are after those crossroad advantages,” he said. ​​​​​​​

The TABDC, co-established May 3, 1997, in Istanbul and Yerevan, is the first and only official link between the public and private sectors in both countries’ communities. 

Arsen Ghazarian and Kaan Soyak co-chair the group.

Anadolu Agency

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