Most of the dialogue within the Armenian community on the Turkish normalization engagement has centered on why Armenia is participating in discussions with Turkey given the latter’s horrific record with Armenia. Most of that debate was perhaps useful a year ago, but it is probably a better use of our collective resources to focus on how to protect Armenia’s interests in this process. Over the last few weeks we have suggested the necessity of protecting the dignity of the global Armenian nation and the use of a “pause” tactic to counter Turkish duplicity. Clearly Armenia is entering these discussions at a disadvantage as Turkey attempts to keep Armenia on the defensive. An example of this strategy is the unwarranted yet predictable comments by both President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu that seemed more indicative of their desire for an unconditional surrender rather than opening a new era with diplomatic relations. Demanding a territorial pathway through sovereign Armenian territory is hardly a gesture of reconciliation and goodwill. It is more representative of a nation that has sought Armenia’s destruction for decades. Unilaterally declaring the participation of Azerbaijan and linking any solution of the normalization front to a “peace” treaty with the rogue dictatorship to the east is an attempt at humiliating the Armenians. Erdogan, who is a great admirer of the Ottoman Turk murderers and the Turkish Republic, founded on the blood of murdered Christians, behaves like this is 1920 and not 2022. He operates with disdain for Armenia and the Armenian people, yet expects full cooperation with his fanatical agenda. To its credit, Armenia has responded to the “Zangezur Corridor” demand as a non-starter. How should Armenia best use the suggested “pause” sequence, and what will it bring to the table when discussions are re-initiated? Armenia wants a stable open border on its western front with meaningful diplomatic relations. For a small country with limited resources, strategic partnerships and peaceful relations are a means of survival. The wars Armenia has fought are defensive in nature in that they are forced to defend their territory or rights from an aggressor. In recent times that aggressor, Azerbaijan, has a significant ally in Turkey. The latter’s participation has been direct and criminal, thus complicating the diplomatic process. Neither party has any trust, and in the case of Turkey holds no fundamental human respect. It is a complicated process to say the least. Turkey views this engagement as having little downside and as an opportunity for leverage with the West. Diplomatic relations with Armenia are an expected outcome only if their unilateral demands are met. We simply don’t use the word pre-conditions in this process, but it is the elephant in the room. Erdogan adheres to the pan-Turkic strategy of uniting the eastern and western cousins with Armenia once again the obstacle. Genocide wasn’t quite enough to fulfill this criminal fantasy, but squeezing what remains of this peaceful and ancient Christian nation seems to be the current thinking. Their thinking is united by the common threads of redrawing the borders, creating territorial pathways and depopulating regions. Turkey is a nation that has 25 times the population of Armenia with a significant military (thank you, NATO) and economic leverage. That buys a great deal of influence regardless of the moral, historical and legal justifications of the Armenians. Improving the imbalance of the process and limiting the defensive postures that Armenia finds itself in are the keys to protecting Armenia’s interests. How can Armenia best get its message across and dilute the impact of the Turkish demands?
The basic problem is that Armenia is expected to always play by the rules that no else follows. For thirty years, Azerbaijan and Armenia pledged to resolve the Artsakh conflict through “only peaceful” means, and for thirty years Azerbaijan, with the diplomatic, economic and eventually military help of Turkey, violated that pledge on an almost daily basis with border attacks, killings and several attempts to capture territory. Every time the OSCE Minsk Group, the Russian foreign ministry or western diplomats made statements, it was always to encourage both sides to display restraint and remain committed to peace. Azerbaijan would agree to several “good faith” measures such as sniper control, yet continue to wantonly murder Armenian soldiers. They constantly rejected any attempts to install border monitoring equipment and eventually rejected the presence of OSCE negotiators on their soil. In the meantime, the brave Armenian forces participated only on a defensive basis as they absorbed the loss of their comrades. Eventually Azerbaijan became frustrated by the lack of diplomatic progress (anything less than Artsakh’s surrender was unacceptable) and launched an attack with Turkey that violated every aspect of the peace process of the last thirty years and committed countless international war crimes. The preventative and post-war responses from these same peace-seeking stakeholders were pitiful and humiliating. We are now entering a new era of “normalization,” and the same third parties are leading the Armenians to come to an agreement with the wolves. There are no rules…only the rhetoric of the day. The rules of “no preconditions” are violated because the Turks choose to disrespect and disregard Armenian rights as a part of their policy. The one weakness that the Turks have is their arrogance. They have such disdain and hatred for the Armenians that they are prone to emotional outbursts that have the possibility of putting them on the defensive during the “pause.” It was Erdogan who brazenly referred to the Armenians as “remnants of the swords” and speaks to the work of his ancestors in high regard concerning Armenian atrocities. Erdogan has an important election in the next year. His wild card to the Turkish public is always some foreign policy distraction that appeals to the “patriotic” interests of nationalistic Turks. Remember, while Kemal Ataturk was slaughtering Greek, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, he was considered a great patriot and savior of the Turkish nation. Erdogan exerts his bluster towards the Greeks, Cypriots, Syrians, Kurds and now the Armenians to rally his support at home…all at the expense of neighbors. If Turkey feels comfortable stating that the Armenian border and diplomatic relations will be established when the Azerbaijani peace treaty and “Zangezur Corridor” are completed, then perhaps Armenia should consider two responses. First, hit the pause button to send a message to Turkey and the third parties that Armenia is a full partner to be respected. This will also buy time to work on the western diplomats in an attempt to bring some semblance of order to the talks. The second action is to respond to “non pre-conditions” with our own set of “non pre-conditions.” The arrogantly shared Turkish rationale has been that these demands have always been their position and therefore are justified. This is intended to be a negotiation between two nations. Armenia has similarly justified long-established positions. If the Turks are going to make demands in this diplomatic exchange, then Armenia should propose that Turkey acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in this process of normalization. Additionally, as a result of the territorial loss from the Genocide, Armenia continues to be a landlocked nation. The Wilsonian Award would have given Armenia access to the Black Sea. Armenia should insist on a land route through Turkey to the Black Sea. We could refer to it as the “Kars Corridor.” After all, if the Turks can insist on a land corridor through sovereign territory that was never theirs to demand, then certainly Armenia can suggest a comparable proposal that will go through stolen Armenian land. One can be certain that this type of proposal will generate some type of emotional response from the Turkish side. The hope is that the Turkish response would motivate the third parties to bring pressure on Turkey to return to the original rules of engagement. We can also assume that Erdogan will not be able to resist the temptation to insult the Armenians publicly with additional racist comments and threats that will not be well received in civilized nations. This may provide Armenia with an opportunity to counter propose a return to a true “no pre-conditions” environment. The intent here is to take positions that will provide some increased level of balance and leverage. Reasonable diplomats understand how unreasonable the Turks are, yet their governments will not take corrective measures unless the Turkish position interferes with their interests. Regional instability is not in the interests of the West, Iran or Russia. If that criminal intent by Turkey is exploited in these negotiations, we may see some diplomatic intervention. Armenia simply wants an honorable peace that is the right of any sovereign nation. In order to achieve that objective, they may need to put the Turkish side on the defensive. They have so little human respect for Armenia’s right to exist that any response of this nature from Armenia will display the true Turkish intent. This is a nation that has and continues to oppress any non-Turkish minority to achieve their dangerous intentions. Regional hegemony through pan-Turkic aggression is not in the interests of Russia, Iran or the West. This negotiation offers everyone insight into that strategy. Armenia can help protect its interests in a difficult environment with measured actions to expose this nefarious plot. The last few decades in this conflict have offered us important lessons. We know that no one will come to the aid of the Armenians unless there is some level of self interest. Generating that against a giant of a nation with diplomatic, military and economic power is challenging. These normalization talks with Turkey are risky but do offer an opportunity to weaken their demands. Armenia is in a difficult position at this moment, and we will repeat our call for public unity as these ominous waters are navigated. Pray for Armenia, and stand with Armenia.