Turkey and Armenia hold talks in Moscow on normalization of relations

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Envoys from Turkey and Armenia will hold the first round of talks aimed at normalizing ties in Moscow on Friday, in a move Armenia expects to lead to the establishment of diplomatic ties and the reopening of borders after decades of hostility.

Turkey and Armenia have had no diplomatic or commercial relations for three decades and the talks are the first attempt to restore ties since the 2009 peace deal. This deal was not ratified and relations remained strained.

The neighbors are at odds over various issues, chief among them the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Armenia says the 1915 killings constitute genocide. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, but disputes the numbers and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated or constituted genocide.

During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of 2020, Ankara supported Azerbaijan and accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying Azerbaijani lands. Turkey began to advocate rapprochement after the conflict, as it sought greater influence in the region.

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying on Thursday that Yerevan expected the latest talks to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of borders closed since 1993.

With the borders closed, Turkey and Armenia have no direct trade routes. Indirect trade has increased slightly since 2013, but did not exceed $3.8 million in 2021, according to official Turkish data.

Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe Endowment, said in November that opening the border and revamping the railroad between Turkey and Armenia would have economic benefits for Yerevan, as it could be used by merchants from Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last year that the two countries would also start chartered flights between Istanbul and Yerevan under the rapprochement, but Turkey would coordinate all steps with Azerbaijan.

Flights are scheduled to begin in early February.

There is no easy hack

Despite strong support for normalization from the United States, which hosts a large Armenian diaspora and angered Turkey last year when it called the 1915 killings a genocide, analysts said the talks would be complicated.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Armenia needs to establish good relations with Azerbaijan for normalization efforts to yield results.

Emre Becker, director of the Eurasia Group in London, said a cautious approach focused on quick achievements was expected from both sides due to old sensibilities, adding that the role of Russia, which brokered a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh and is the dominant actor in the region, would be key.

“The talks are likely to pave the way for further discussions in the coming months. But reaching a comprehensive long-term agreement will be difficult due to the multi-faceted nature of the talks and domestic political constraints in both countries,” he said. “The biggest challenge will come from the question of historical reconciliation.”

He said the fate of the talks would depend on “Ankara’s acknowledgment that it must determine the scale of its ambitions.”

(Reuters)

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