Achieving the final objective “will not be easy, but the hardest parts have been overcome,” said an Armenian analyst as he delved into why he is “justifiably optimistic” about the historic bid by Turkiye and Armenia to normalize their long-strained ties.
Another analyst felt the process is on the precipice of a “real turning point,” but warned that Ankara and Yerevan must be vigilant to avoid walking into the same “trap” that derailed past attempts at reconciliation.
Turkiye and Armenia have ramped up efforts to bury the hatchet over long-standing differences that led to a diplomatic and border freeze between the neighbors.
Special envoys recently appointed by the two countries to spearhead the latest peace push held a first round of talks in Moscow on Jan. 14, where they agreed to continue negotiations without preconditions for “full normalization.”
“The reason I’m justifiably optimistic is because we see a rapid pace of diplomacy. That’s very unusual,” Richard Giragosian, a US-born Armenian who heads the Regional Studies Center (RSC) in Yerevan, said in an interview with Anadolu Agency in the Armenian capital.
For Giragosian, the recent normalization process is a “re-engagement of diplomacy.”
“In other words, this is very much round two, after the protocol process and football diplomacy back in 2008 and 2009,” he said, referring to the Zurich Protocols signed by Ankara and Yerevan in 2009.
The agreements were part of a move to “establish good neighborly relations and to develop bilateral cooperation,” but never received the stamp of approval from their respective legislatures.
“This time, however, we have much more advantage in the re-engagement. We see greater political will on both sides to pursue and succeed in normalizing relations,” he continued.
Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, an associate professor at the American University of Armenia, however, sees some “red flags” in the “methodology of rapprochement.”
“Turkiye and Armenia are getting into the same trap that they did in 2008 and 2009; that trap is clubbing together reconciliation and normalization,” he argued.
“It is important to go ahead with normalization first, reconciliation later,” he said, explaining that “normalization is between states, reconciliations between nations.”
Giragosian agreed that normalization is not reconciliation, but stressed that it is the “first step toward addressing any and all issues between our societies and our countries.”
“This time, unlike the protocols in 2009, Turkey and Armenia do not need a third party,” he said.
“A second key difference is the appointment of special envoys, which actually speeds up the process and removes any requirement of parliamentary ratification.”
Another critical change in circumstances is that “Azerbaijan is much more self-confident and much less opposed to normalization,” he added.
Talha Kose, associate professor of political science at Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul, viewed the new bid for normalization as “quite promising.”
“There are sincere and positive signals from both sides. There is a belief that this will be a win-win situation for both countries,” said Kose, co-author of the 2019 report, Armenia and Turkey: An Overview of Relations, published by the Turkiye-based Hrant Dink Foundation.
“Expectations are not high either. Parties will start from diplomatic normalization and recognition, and other issues related to historical reconciliation will be left to the future,” he continued.
The normalization process received a major boost this week as flights between Turkiye and Armenia resumed after a two-year halt.
However, their land border – shuttered since 1993 when Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh – remains closed.
In Ter-Matevosyan’s view, resuming flights “is not enough,” as the “real turning point in relations will be the reopening of the land border.”
He said there are many more important issues still to be addressed, particularly the factor of public perception in the two countries.
For Kose, the change in leadership in Armenia has bolstered the prospect of a successful normalization process.
“(Prime Minister Nikol) Pashinyan demonstrated bold leadership in taking the normalization attempt more seriously,” he said.
Giragosian echoed his views and built on them by pointing out that Pashinyan has a “fresh second mandate” after his re-election last year.
“First of all, most importantly, economics and trade are now recognized as real incentives (for normalization). This wasn’t the case in the past,” he continued.
“For Turkiye, normalization is also part of a broader strategy to repair and restore relations with the UAE, Israel, Egypt. This is a positive development … it is part of a bigger package of opening borders, establishing trade, transport, and ending embargoes.”
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