New hope Turkey and Armenia can heal old wounds - report

The prospect of a rapprochement between historic adversaries Turkey and Armenia has raised hope of healing old wounds, the Asia Times reported on Thursday.

Envoys from the two Caucasian neighbours will hold a first meeting in Moscow on Friday aimed at restoring diplomatic relations frozen for almost three decades.

Turkish-ally Azerbaijan’s victory against Armenia in the September 2020 conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has transformed the regional dynamic, opening the possibility for change, according to the Asia Times.

Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia have been suspended for 28 years as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, adding to a series of historic enmities including the refusal by Turkish authorities to accept the mass killings of Armenians during the last days of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.

In September 2020, Azerbaijan began a new military offensive against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, making significant gains with Turkish support. The conflict ended six weeks later through a Russia-brokered ceasefire, with Azerbaijan regaining much of the disputed territory controlled by ethnic Armenians since the 1990s.

“Before, Turkey had always linked any normalisation to a demand for Armenian withdrawal from these other territories,” Nigar Göksel, the International Crisis Group’s Turkey specialist, told the Asia Times. “Now they have that, albeit as the result of the war.”

Previous attempts to restore ties between Turkey and Armenia have faltered. Most recently, bilateral protocols signed between the two sides in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2009 were never ratified by either countries’ parliament.

Recognition of the Armenian Genocide has proven a particularly divisive in previous talks, but with other disputes now resolved, Turkey and Armenia may be ready to compartmentalise the issue, the Asia Times said.  

“The two will agree to disagree on this,” Göksel told the online news outlet, “and recognise that establishing diplomatic relations is not about the past, but about trade routes and normalisation.”

In return, both countries could see significant economic benefits from reopening their borders, which have been closed since 1993, the Asia Times said. Turkey has long been keen to bolster trade routes to China and Central Asia, it added.

“Turkey has always wanted a trade and transport corridor there,” the news outlet cited Göksel as saying. “Once the border, the markets open, Turkey can flourish in terms of trade with the region and project its ‘soft power’, increasing its influence over time.”

However, the Asia times said negotiations are likely to be complicated as other regional powers including Russia seek to avoid being sidelined.  

“I find it hard to believe Moscow would want full rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia,” Jonathan Katz, senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund, told the new outlet. “If the border came down, if there was more inter-dependence in the region and stability, then there would be less dependence on Russia.” 

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