Turkey and Armenia: Opening Minds Opening Borders
14 Apr 2009
Turkey and Armenia should seize their best opportunity yet to normalise relations, work on a new approach to shared history and open a European border that for nearly a century has been hostage to conflict.
Turkey and Armenia: Opening Minds, Opening Borders,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines how a decade of academic and civil society outreach laid the foundations for what is now intense official engagement between the governments. The two sides are now close to agreement on a package deal that will establish diplomatic relations, open the border and set up bilateral commissions to address a range of issues.
These commissions will include one on joint historical dimensions of the Armenian-Turkish relationship, which will work to broaden understanding of the Ottoman-era forced relocations and massacres of Armenians, widely recognised as the Armenian genocide. Turkey contests the term genocide, disputing its legal applicability and pointing to mitigating circumstances as the Ottoman Empire fought on three fronts in the First World War. But many Turks, including officials, now publicly express regret over the tragic and high loss of Armenian life.
“Turks’ and Armenians’ once uncompromising views of history are significantly converging, showing that the deep traumas can be healed”, says Hugh Pope, Director of Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Project. “At this sensitive time, third parties should avoid statements or resolutions in the politicised debate over genocide recognition or denial that could inflame opinion on either side”.
A separate but related issue, the stalemated Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, still risks undermining final agreement on the Turkey and Armenia normalisation package. Azerbaijan opposes any border opening until Armenia withdraws from its occupied territory. But Turkey should not sacrifice this chance to move forward, and should persuade its ally that détente which makes Armenia feel secure will do more for a settlement than continuing a fifteen-year impasse. For long-term normalisation with Turkey to be sustainable, Armenia, together with Azerbaijan, should ultimately adopt the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group basic principles for settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of the OSCE, and Armenia should withdraw from Azerbaijani territories that it occupies.
“Turkey and Armenia should finalise their agreement and thus create new momentum for peace and cooperation in the South Caucasus”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “They should not wait until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is settled. But outside powers such as the U.S., EU, Russia and others should build on their rare common interest to move both Turkish-Armenian normalisation and the Nagorno-Karabakh process forward”.