Can Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s "April 24 gesture" [when he offered condolences to the grandchildren of Ottoman Armenians killed in 1915] lead to the normalization of ruptured ties with Armenia? Erdogan’s statement was met favorably by many countries, above all by the United States, but received negative reactions in the Armenian world. In the Armenian diaspora, it was criticized for not using the word "genocide," while in Yerevan it was found insufficient.
Although Armenia shares the sensitivity of the diaspora on genocide, as a state its approach to Turkey is different. For Yerevan, establishing diplomatic ties with Turkey, to open the borders and develop commercial and economic relations, has priority. The two 2009 Zurich accords already indicated the priorities of Yerevan. There, Turkey and Armenia had agreed on steps to be taken to normalize relations and decided to form a joint history commission to investigate the genocide claims.
If it were not for other barriers that emerged later on, with these two protocols the relations between two neighboring countries could have been much different today.
We remember how the Turkish government, which considered this agreement with Armenia as a major diplomatic success, came under furious criticism from the unexpected source of Baku, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was enraged that the Turkish government could decide to normalize relations with Armenia without considering the Nagorno-Karabakh sensitivity of the Azerbaijanis. Erdogan had to go to Baku to persuade Aliyev and his parliament to ease their campaign against Turkey. From that moment on, Erdogan adhered to a principle that is repeated at every possible opportunity: Turkey will not establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan or open its borders before the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is solved, that is, before Armenia withdraws from the area it occupied.
As such, the Karabakh issue became the determinant element of Turkey-Armenia relations. It is still the same. No wonder then immediately after his April 24 message, Erdogan repeated that there will be no normalization with Yerevan before the Karabakh issue is dealt with.
Thesis of 'three pillars'
Is it wise to insert a question pertaining to a third country to relations between two other countries? Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in an interview with NTV a few nights ago, said, “The issue has to be looked at as a whole,” and that the improvement of Ankara-Yerevan relations depends on ending the Baku-Yerevan conflict. In his words, it is not possible for two pillars to stand alone without “the inclusion of the third pillar.” The validity of this thesis can be argued. We know that that Ankara came forth with the precondition of Karabakh not to lose Azerbaijan after the harsh reaction of Aliyev.
If we had taken the pulse of Baku properly from the beginning, or if we had been able to persuade Aliyev at the right moment, we wouldn’t be at this uneasy juncture.
Ankara’s position on relations with Yerevan is firm. Since there is no likelihood of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue being resolved any time soon, the April 24 gesture will not have much bearing on bilateral relations.
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