Stand tall, beloved Armenia. “Pause” talks with Turkey.

Republic Square, Yerevan, April 2010 (Photo: Tony Bowden/Flickr)

The “no preconditions” phase in normalization talks with Turkey is officially over. The emphasis is on the word officially, because we should know that the day when Turkish officials could no longer behave and play by the rules was long overdue. In a recent statement on Turkish television, Erdogan said that “Azerbaijan has been our Red line From the beginning. We will open our doors once the issues with Azerbaijan are resolved. Does this sound like embracing the esteemed commitment of no preconditions?

Let me first say that I am for and with Armenia. We must defend what is in the interest of the fatherland and its future. Our intention is not to criticize our brothers or contribute to disunity, but to advocate actions that will support Armenia with dignity and usher in the fresh air of a future. It is obvious that Erdogan, by his own actions, has no respect for Armenia and is committed to its destruction. Some things don’t change regardless of leaders and circumstances. When this process was announced in December 2021, Erdogan’s intention was not to give up anything and to gain credit with the West. The United States and Europe would be happy to preside over the start of reconciliation between the two long-time adversaries through the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border. Let us remember that the closing of the border was a unilateral action of Turkey in 1993 on the basis of the Artsakh (Karabakh) crisis. Both Turkey and Armenia entered these delicate discussions with a public commitment not to introduce preconditions (unshared agendas) into the dialogue. This has never been a problem for Armenia despite the fact that Armenia suffered almost continuous oppression from the Turks of the Hamidian region during the 2020 war. Armenia is not in an advantageous position and entered into it in prudent good faith. The dialogue has been publicly cordial, with both sides careful to express an optimistic tone despite the modest results so far. Discussions focused on a partial opening of borders and the resumption of cargo flights. Turkey’s recent tone has been demanding and degrading to an arrogance of mistrust. Armenia has expressed its expectation that the diplomatic normalization talks will be separated from the ongoing talks with Azerbaijan on the settlement of the Artsakh conflict. Armenia’s position remains consistent with the principle of no preconditions.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said normalization talks with Armenia would be held in a “tripartite format” with Azerbaijan. He further stated that their activity is coordinated with Azerbaijan, whether Armenia agrees or not. I may be from a small town, but that sounds a lot like a prerequisite to me…a major prerequisite on top of that. Armenia did its best to take the high road stating that it was already understood that this was Turkey’s position and that it was unacceptable to Armenia. It is important to understand that the reference to Azerbaijan in the normalization talks is not a trivial matter. Turkey is determined to directly link the so-called “peace treaty” with Azerbaijan (surrender in the Aliyev language) and the infamous “Zangezur Corridor” fantasy that would divide the sovereign territory of Syunik. Apparently the Ankara foxes couldn’t keep their deceptive masks on long enough to reach an agreement. Turkish disdain and hatred of Armenians are so visible that Cavusoglu blamed the lack of “concrete measures” on the diaspora and some national factions. Along with their attempts to turn this dialogue into unilateral demands, the Turkish government will continue all attempts to divide the Armenian nation with statements such as those mentioned above. It is a classic gesture of the deceitful Turks; Armenians must be wise to remain outwardly united during this critical time. Erdogan has economic and popularity problems at home with next year’s elections. In Turkey, foreign policy bluster is always a way to improve popularity. He is a master at playing the West against Russia and is trying to position Turkey for geopolitical bargains from Europe and the United States in exchange for his barter over the Ukrainian grain deal. Turkey is always looking for new opportunities to gain influence to support its own criminal interests. Turkey is continuing its aggressive policy in northern Iraq and particularly in Syria. They have encountered opposition from the United States regarding the Kurds and are playing a dangerous game with Russia and the Syrian government. Examples abound with Libya, Greece, Cyprus and the Aegean Sea. Meanwhile, Iran has made it clear that it will not tolerate any changes in its border region with Armenia. Iran has its own problems with Israeli surveillance in Azerbaijan and the political ramifications of its militant groups in the Middle East. These dynamics all have an impact on the Armenian-Turkish-Azerbaijani equation. The “normalization” talks for Turkey are nothing more than an opportunity to advance their agenda and build goodwill with the West.

What can and should Armenia do? We should not criticize Armenia for engaging in this dialogue with Turkey. The pressure to participate was enormous from all the world powers. It’s easy for stakeholders to get two long-time adversaries talking to each other. Who can be against that? Improving this regional problem is what the great powers like to think they do well. The problem, of course, is that they never address the root cause. Bandages make for excellent short-term photo ops. They will tolerate almost any distraction to push the process along with empty rhetoric. Some of these countries actually think that holding meetings and issuing mandatory press releases are achievements. We should have learned from 30 years of the OSCE Minsk process that the ability to stand still and “keep the light on for tomorrow” is almost endless. As thousands of hours of diplomacy were spent and the commitment to peaceful solutions reaffirmed, Turkey and Azerbaijan attacked Armenians and the West was essentially locked in. Turkey, in its classic and cunning way, first waved a plastic olive branch in an attempt to trap the Armenians in a corner. When Turkish officials say they expect ‘sincere’ steps from Armenia, this is clearly not a good faith negotiation on Turkey’s part, but rather a reflection of a superiority complex. long-standing focus on the elimination of Armenia. We must understand that Armenia is in a difficult position. To their credit, Armenia replied that any “corridor” is unacceptable and that peace talks with Azerbaijan should be separated from normalization talks with Turkey. Turkey’s “one nation, two states” strategy is a racist fantasy that is not part of any legitimate dialogue. Armenia is not in a position to completely halt the talks for fear of putting Armenia in an untenable position. Emotionally, Armenia would be fully vindicated based on Turkey’s public positions which would simply be analogous to surrender. Their arrogance has created an unstable environment. On the other hand, Armenia should find a way to maintain its positions and effectively create a response that thwarts Turkish aggression.

There is a middle ground that could offer Armenia an option. It takes two parties for a semblance of bilateral talks. When Turkey goes too far with destructive and irrelevant demands, Armenia should take a “pause” in the talks. Azerbaijan used this approach to minimize the impact of its criminal behavior and optimize its messaging. When we pause a television program, it does not interrupt the programming, but simply delays the continuation for a specific intention. In the case of television viewing, the pause allows the viewer to retain the possibility of continuing after a reprieve. Referring to this diplomatic engagement, Armenia has the right to stall if the Turkish proposals are offensive or completely irrelevant. Using this approach will give Armenian leaders time to engage third parties to balance the dialogue. The timing of meetings and specific areas of interest are critical to the perceived dynamics of the process. It was Turkey that created the concern by not complying with the rules of engagement. Armenia has entered into this dialogue in good faith and has every right to consider countermeasures. Turkey can consult whoever it wants, but Azerbaijan has no direct role in this process. Realistically, both sides have preconditions. Interestingly, Armenia maintained its discipline, while Turkey continued to behave like a reckless tyrant with its rhetoric and actions. Armenia has conditions that relate to peace, justice and redemption, while Turkey describes criminal interests that are acts of aggression and will continue to destabilize the region. If the West could overcome its fear of alienating the Turks, it would see that most of its goals would be achieved without Turkey’s disruptive behavior.

Now is the time for Armenians to tone down the rhetoric within the nation. The Turks are waiting to exploit every sign of disunity, blaming the “lack of progress” on the Diaspora or other factions. Our collective focus should be on the misleading Turkish positions and exposing their criminal intent. Our voices become weaker when divided. Our role in the Diaspora is to defend and support Armenia’s prosperity. It gets complicated when opinions lead to tension. We should consider the implications of our disunity on the behavior of Turkey and Azerbaijan. It is a difficult balancing act. We can help, but we have to stay disciplined. Promoting actions in a civil and responsible manner can add value. The enemy with Western costumes still wears a fez in their closets with the same mentality as their ancestors. This must be our central theme the century-old problem of surviving Turkish neighbors bent on destroying Armenia. Stand tall, beloved Armenian nation.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan grew up in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the central executive of the AYF and the executive council of the Eastern Prelature, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently, he is a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also sits on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired computer storage industry executive and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to young generation and adults in schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian Diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.

Stepan Piligian

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