Armenian Foreign Policy and the Rapprochement with Turkey

May 13, 2009
By David Hovhannisyan

By David Hovhannisyan

An opening of the Armenian-Turkish border and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries will fundamentally change the relationship between all countries in the Black Sea and Caspian regions, as well as between the great powers for which the region is an area of vital importance.

Regional Consequences

It is fallacious to expect that these changes will occur smoothly. At the same time, it seems obvious that a new configuration of the fields of force will take shape in the region, which will significantly modify our notion of the existing balance of power and influences. For this very reason some powers will strive to prevent an opening of the border, and their resistance will increase the more likely an opening becomes. The way the government of Azerbaijan has reacted so far has proved how significant these developments are for Azeri interests. Despite the tendency towards more Russian-Turkish co-operation, it is likely that Russia’s reaction will be even more severe.

The first and most apparent consequences of opening the Armenian-Turkish border will include the following:

  1. Armenia will have a direct land connection to a NATO member state, Turkey, for which membership is of great importance in terms of national security and foreign policy.
  2. The USA and NATO will have a better position to realise their interests in Georgia, Iran, and Azerbaijan, thus increasing their impact on the entire region.
  3. The European Union will be able to adopt a regional approach and move to region-wide planning, something that requires fewer resources than country-specific planning.
  4. Russia’s control over and influence upon the political processes in the region will gradually decrease.
  5. Armenia will gain access to regional projects (if it manages to overcome Azeri resistance). This will enable the EU to develop alternative approaches, i.e. give it room to manoeuvre. For instance, lines of communications planned to connect Kazakhstan via Turkmenistan and Iran to the Mediterranean, could then traverse Armenia, which would restrain Azerbaijan from using its transit position for political purposes.
  6. If followed by the establishment of diplomatic relations and mutual security guarantees it may be possible, over time, to rid the region of the presence of foreign military forces.
  7. An increasing influence of NATO, the United States, and the EU in Armenia will speed up and improve Euro-Atlantic and European integration. Since this works against Russia’s foreign policy and is likely to weaken its influence in the region, such developments will be strongly opposed by Moscow.
  8. This, in turn, may lead to an escalation in Nagorno Karabakh and even provoke a new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  9. The normalisation of Armenian-Turkish relations will increase regional stability and security and influence negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh. Trust can only be built on a political level. Presently, most Armenians still distrust Turkish policies.
  10. It is most probable that Russia will try not to lose its military deployments in the region that could be questioned along the path of a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The continued presence of Russian military forces (or the ODKB peace forces) in those 5, 6 or 7 regions, which the NKR will have to give to Azerbaijan based on the predictable agreement on conflict resolution, will be a goal of Russia’s foreign policy.

Adopting Armenia’s Foreign Policy to New Circumstances

And there is more… The crucial point, though, is to consider the opportunities that would open up for Armenian foreign policy under such changed conditions. Most likely the normalisation of Armenian-Turkish relations will be the basis of a more balanced foreign policy. Armenia should try to develop relations with the European Union within the Eastern Partnership framework. At the same time, new regional conditions will make it possible for Armenia to intensify its efforts within NATO’s Individual Partnership Plan.
Beyond that Armenia should try to develop relations with Central Asian countries and make every possible effort to create an atmosphere of constructive co-operation in politics, economics, transportation, and communication.

Neighbourly relations with Iran

Armenia should try to deepen its neighbourly relations with Iran. This may prove a highly productive relationship should co-operation between Iran and the EU materialise. The military and political significance of Iran in the region can hardly be overestimated, plus Iran may provide European countries with energy. Armenia could also become an intermediary between the United States and Iran.

Friendly relations with Turkey would enable Armenia and Georgia to lay the basis for regional co-operation and collaboration.

The opening of the Armenian-Turkish border and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries will instigate the development of a further rapprochement. In Armenia the recognition of the genocide against Armenians by Turkey is considered to be first and foremost when it comes to building trust between the two countries. At the same time, a number of important steps have to be taken in advance, i.e. an agreement concerning the border and the deployment of forces along it has to be signed, regulations for cross-border travel, information exchange, the equipment of checkpoints, etc. have to be agreed on.

To achieve its goals Armenian diplomacy should step lightly and act unhurriedly. All consequences of possible steps have to be analysed and assessed well in advance, since the situation in the Black Sea / Caspian region is still extremely unstable and highly explosive.

David Hovhannisyan is director of the Center for Civilization & Cultural Studies at Yerevan State University.