Армения: В Преддверии Внутриполитической Нестабильности
Армения: В Преддверии Внутриполитической Нестабильности
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  1. Executive Summary
Türkiye, Armenia Take Tentative Steps toward Normalisation
Türkiye, Armenia Take Tentative Steps toward Normalisation
Report 158 / Europe & Central Asia

Армения: В Преддверии Внутриполитической Нестабильности

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КРАТКОЕ СОДЕРЖАНИЕ

Армения, вернувшая себе независимость в 1991 году и одержавшая победу в войне с Азербайджаном 1992-94 гг., пребывает сегодня в состоянии покоя, что позволяет ей заниматься восстановлением своей экономики, однако стабильность эту нельзя назвать устойчивой. Нагорный Карабах по-прежнему остается неурегулированной проблемой, которая в любой момент может привести к новым вспышкам конфликта, а экономическая изолированность страны, ставшая следствием той войны, грозит стать постоянной, если решение не будет найдено в ближайшем будущем. Коррупция и нарушения демократических процедур стали источником разочарований для населения, половина которого по сей день живет за чертой бедности. Друзьям Армении на Западе и в России нужно объединить усилия для того, чтобы помочь ей преодолеть старую вражду с Азербайджаном и Турцией. Донорам следует быть активнее, настаивая на необходимости проведения демократических реформ и преобразований, имеющих целью улучшение управления.

Последние два десятилетия были бурными. В 1988 году северные районы страны сотрясло мощное землетрясение, в результате которого погибли по крайней мере 25 тысяч человек, так или иначе пострадала треть всего населения. С развалом Советского Союза распались традиционные экономические связи Армении, нарушился сложившийся к тому моменту социальный уклад, после чего началась война из-за Нагорного Карабаха. Сегодня - по прошествии 10 лет - в Армении царит мир, полным ходом идет процесс реабилитации экономики, однако по-прежнему слышны отголоски той войны, остается много поводов для опасений относительно безопасности.

Соглашение о прекращении огня, подписанием которого в мае 1994 года был положен конец вооруженной фазе конфликта вокруг Нагорного Карабаха, знаменовало военную победу армянских войск, однако настоящий мир так и не был установлен. На линии фронта не существует механизмов, которые позволяли бы предотвратить возобновление конфликта, а переговорный процесс заторможен. Теперь, когда Азербайджан получает значительные дивиденды от своей нефтяной индустрии и успешно развивает военное сотрудничество с различными государствами, в том числе с США, Турцией и Пакистаном, среди определенных сил в Баку возник соблазн рассмотреть возможность возвращения анклава. Ясно, что новое вооруженное столкновение - если предположить, что оно произойдет - обернется губительными последствиями для всего Кавказа и даже может "пролиться" на неурегулированные конфликты вокруг Южной Осетии и Абхазии. До тех пор, пока Армения и Азербайджан не разрешат мирным путем своих противоречий из-за Нагорного Карабаха (этой теме будет посвящен следующий доклад МГПК), не может быть никакой речи о длительной стабильности и полноценном экономическом сотрудничестве в регионе.

Выборы президента, состоявшиеся в марте 2003 года, представляются сегодня упущенной возможностью страны продемонстрировать на деле свою приверженность демократическим принципам и букве закона. В политической жизни Армении начались застойные времена. Оппозиция бойкотирует заседания парламента, правительство отказывается привести в исполнение решение Конституционного суда о проведении референдума по поводу действительности выборов 2003 года. Возможности открыто выражать политические воззрения -- посредством справедливых выборов, действенного парламента и свободных от пристрастий и внешнего давления средств массовой информации -- остаются ограниченными. Наблюдая происходящее, многие приходят к выводу, что лучше держаться в стороне от политики, другие мигрируют, и совсем немногие прибегают к уличным демонстрациям, а иногда и к насилию.

Последним по времени ударом по внутриполитической стабильности стали организованные оппозицией в апреле 2004 года акции протеста, которые, растянувшись на несколько недель, продемонстрировали то, каким глубоким является недовольство определенных сегментов населения политикой властей. Число участников этих митингов было относительно небольшим, хотя, надо думать, им не ограничивается контингент тех, кто имеет повод быть недовольными существующим экономическим неравенством, высоким уровнем безработицы, неэффективностью системы социального обеспечения и коррупцией. Оппозиция -- лишенная внутреннего единства и, как считают многие, движимая скорее желанием обладать властью, нежели стремлением улучшить систему -- не пользуется особой популярностью, однако ситуацию, и без того взрывоопасную, может еще более усугубить появление на сцене какого-нибудь харизматического лидера.

В последние десять лет в Армении наблюдается значительный рост макроэкономических показателей. Рост внутреннего валового продукта (ВВП) обусловлен увеличением производительности таких сфер, как строительство, обрабатывающая и пищевая промышленность, гранение алмазов, туризм. Помощь, поступающая из-за границы от большой армянской диаспоры, и денежные переводы от работающих за рубежом армян обеспечивают непрерывный приток в страну валютных средств. Однако результаты этого прогресса чувствуют на себе лишь немногие. Ежемесячный доход на душу населения по-прежнему остается на уровне ниже 80 долларов.

Имея сложные отношения со своими ближайшими соседями -- Азербайджаном, Турцией и Грузией, Армения в то же самое время культивирует крепкие связи с более крупными государствами - в первую очередь, с Россией, Ираном и США. Обязательным условием поддержания наметившихся на Южном Кавказе подвижек является экономическая интеграция. Этому препятствует нагорно-карабахская проблема. Во многом из-за этого остающегося неразрешенным конфликта Ереван лишен возможности участвовать в крупных торговых операциях регионального масштаба, в проектах по строительству нефте- и газопроводов, соединяющих Восток с Западом. По мере укрепления связей между Турцией, Азербайджаном и Грузией, в Армении все более усиливается чувство, что ее намеренно изолируют. Интенсификация интеграционных процессов могла бы помочь Армении в преодолении внутренних экономических трудностей, а также способствовала бы укреплению доверия между странами региона и увеличила бы шансы страны на проведение успешных мирных переговоров с Азербайджаном.

Для обеспечения стабильности Армении необходимо подкреплять успехи в экономике активной демократизацией и усилением власти закона. Применением силы ответив на уличные протесты в апреле 2004 года, президент Кочарян и его советники показали, что вряд ли будут приветствовать призывы сделать Армению более терпимым, демократичным и менее коррумпированным государством. Между тем причастность западноевропейских институтов и США к текущим в стране процессам растет, и, обращаясь к ним за дополнительной поддержкой реформам, в том числе в виде финансирования, армянские власти должны быть готовы предъявить в обоснование своих запросов реальные достижения. Сотрудничество с Россией и Ираном принимает все более широкие масштабы, однако Армения понимает, что нельзя исключать появления новых партнерских союзов; что для того, чтобы не оказаться в изоляции, ей необходимо расширять спектр своих контактов. А для этого ей в первую очередь необходимо сесть за стол переговоров с Азербайджаном и вместе найти пути урегулирования конфликта вокруг Нагорного Карабаха, долгосрочное урегулирование которого входит в интересы обоих государств.

Ереван/Брюссель, 18 октября 2004 года

Executive Summary

Armenia, which regained its independence in 1991 and won its 1992-1994 war with Azerbaijan, is at peace and rebuilding its economy but its stability is fragile. Nagorno-Karabakh remains an unsettled problem that easily could reignite, and the regional economic isolation that the war over it produced could become permanent if there is no resolution soon. Corruption and violations of democratic procedure have disillusioned a population half of which still lives below the poverty line. Armenia's friends in the West and in Russia need to work together to help it overcome old enmities with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Donors should do more to press for democratic reforms and good governance.

The past two decades have been turbulent. In 1988 a disastrous earthquake rocked the north of the country, killing at least 25,000 and affecting one third of the population. The collapse of the Soviet Union destroyed traditional economic ties and social texture and was followed immediately by the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Ten years later the country is at peace and busy rebuilding its economy, though the legacy of the conflict and significant sources of insecurity remain.

The May 1994 ceasefire that ended the war marked a military victory for Armenian forces, but there is no real peace. There are no mechanisms on the ground to prevent the conflict from restarting, and the negotiation process is stalled. Now that Azerbaijan is drawing significant dividends from its oil industry and developing military partnerships with, among others, the U.S., Turkey and Pakistan, there is a temptation among certain forces in Baku to consider trying to retake the enclave. Such a conflict would have disastrous consequences for the entire Caucasus, perhaps even spilling-over to affect simmering disputes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Until Armenia and Azerbaijan solve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem peacefully (an issue to be addressed in a subsequent ICG report), it is unrealistic to talk about long-term stability and full economic cooperation in the region.

The March 2003 Presidential elections were a missed opportunity for the state to demonstrate in practice its commitment to democracy and the rule of law. An uneasy political stalemate has set in, with the opposition boycotting the Parliament and the government refusing to implement the Constitutional Court's recommendation to organise a popular referendum on the legitimacy of the 2003 elections. Opportunities to express political grievances freely -- through fair elections, an active parliament, and open media -- remain limited. Consequently many choose to disengage from politics or to migrate, while a handful resorts to street demonstrations or in some instances violence.

Internal stability was most recently shaken during several weeks of opposition protest in April 2004, which revealed the intensity of a segment of the population's dissatisfaction with the regime and its policies. Yet, the numbers that turned out were relatively small and did not represent the totality of those unhappy with existing economic inequalities, high unemployment, worsening access to social services, and corruption. While the present opposition -- divided and seen by many as more interested in regaining power than truly fixing the system -- does not have wide popular resonance, the situation could become much more explosive if a charismatic leader emerged.

Armenia has benefited from substantial macroeconomic growth in the past ten years. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, currently over 10 per cent annually, is driven by the construction, manufacturing, food processing, diamond cutting, and tourism sectors. A large and committed diaspora and remittances from Armenians working abroad have guaranteed a steady influx of money. However, the fruits of development have been felt by only the relative few. Per capita monthly income remains under $80.

Armenia has difficult relations with its immediate neighbours, Azerbaijan and Turkey, while cultivating good ties with its larger partners, especially Russia, Iran, and the U.S. The Southern Caucasus badly needs economic integration to sustain its nascent growth but this is impeded by the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Yerevan is excluded from participation in all major regional trade and East-West pipeline projects, mostly as a consequence of the unresolved conflict. There is a growing feeling in Armenia that as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia link up, Armenia is being purposely isolated. Increased integration would not only help Armenia address economic inequalities within its borders but also promote regional confidence building and increase the chances of peaceful negotiations with Azerbaijan.

To guarantee its stability, Armenia needs to supplement economic success with robust democratisation and strengthened rule of law. By using force to stop street protests in April 2004, President Kocharian and his advisors showed they are unlikely to welcome calls to make Armenia a more tolerant, democratic and less corrupt state. Yet, as Western European institutions and the U.S. increase their engagement, they should condition additional support and funding on reform. Even as its co-operation with Russia and Iran increases, Armenia is aware that it cannot exclude potential partners and that it must extend its ties to avoid isolation. Ultimately this is most likely to occur when it sits down with Azerbaijan and finds the durable solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that is in both countries' fundamental interest.

Yerevan/Brussels, 18 October 2004

Bridge at the Margara village for border crossing between Armenia and Turkey, June 2022. CRISIS GROUP / Olesya Vartanyan

Türkiye, Armenia Take Tentative Steps toward Normalisation

Six months of contacts between Türkiye and Armenia have brought an agreement to move toward opening their shared border and launching direct trade. But Ankara and Yerevan are far apart on many issues. The road ahead will be long.

At the edge of the Armenian village Margara, a concrete bridge spans the Araks river, which delineates this stretch of the border between Armenia and Türkiye. Rolls of barbed wire and fences of different shapes and colours block off the bridge at both ends. Dense grass covers much of the road leading up to it. This abandoned place will soon see considerably more activity if Armenia and Türkiye follow through with an agreement to open the long-sealed border, albeit to foreigners only at first. Should they do so, it would be the first practical result of direct contacts the countries resumed six months ago after a long hiatus. Special envoys from Armenia and Türkiye announced the step after they convened on 1 July in Vienna, for their fourth meeting since resuming talks in Moscow in January. Their respective leaders confirmed the deal in a very rare telephone call ten days later.  

The two sides are now busy discussing the details. Armenian officials hope that the crossing can open as early as July or August, so as to give an additional boost to tourism that is already on the rise after two years of pandemic-induced decline. The ancient churches and cool mountain lakes in Armenia and eastern Türkiye may particularly attract Russians, whose choices for holidays abroad have dwindled as airlines cut back on flights out of Moscow due to the war in Ukraine. For Armenia, the opening would bring a symbolic – and, later, it hopes, a real – end to almost 30 years of isolation that has hampered economic growth.  

View of the mountain of Ararat from the Armenian side of the border with Turkey, June 2022. CRISIS GROUP / Olesya Vartanyan

A Long Way to Go

Armenia is landlocked. Its two longest borders – with Türkiye to the west and Azerbaijan to the east and south – are both closed due to its poor relations with those countries. Its other neighbour to the south is Iran, which is hamstrung by Western sanctions. Most of its trade passes across the northern frontier with Georgia.

If all goes well, Armenians and Turks – and their lorries – will eventually be allowed to cross the border at Margara, too. But for that to happen, the two countries will have to establish diplomatic ties for the first time since Armenia regained independence in 1991, upon the Soviet Union’s dissolution. The Armenian-Turkish relationship has long been clouded by the mass killing and displacement of Armenians in 1915, toward the end of the Ottoman Empire, and the dispute over whether those events constituted genocide, as well as by Armenia’s conflict with Türkiye’s ally Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

An open border would turn dead-end Margara ... into a key transport node in Armenia.

An open border would turn dead-end Margara, which has a population of fewer than 1,000, into a key transport node in Armenia: it is only 35km from the capital Yerevan, and around half that distance from the Turkish town of Iğdır, a crossroads near Iran and Azerbaijan. A functioning Margara crossing could increase traffic on transit routes throughout the Caucasus.

But Margara’s residents have a hard time believing that the future is bright. “For more than 45 years, since I moved here, we have been hearing promises of an open border. But it has never happened”, Guli, 64, says as she packs her bags for a long journey. Her house is only metres from the bridge across the Araks. A month ago, her grandson moved to Russia and is now waiting for her to join him. Most young people have left Margara in search of a better income. “I never wanted my grandson to leave his homeland”, Guli says. “And now I am going as well”.

What she sees from her window is a testament to the hopes that have risen and fallen several times while she has been here. Right next to the bridge is an abandoned grey building in late Soviet style, which was supposed to be a passport control and customs office. The border post here was meant to complement the only other crossing – farther to the north – that had operated in Soviet times but which Türkiye shut down in 1993. Construction started in the 1980s, paused and then resumed in the mid-1990s, when Armenia first tried to strike a deal with Türkiye to reopen the border. The talks failed, due to mounting tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and to this day only storks have used the building, which is perfect for their nests. Just outside Guli’s house is a road that Armenian authorities built some fifteen years ago, during another period of hope that faded. Instead of heavy trucks, only the cars belonging to the few remaining residents pass by.

A building that was constructed to house passport and custom controls at the Armenian-Turkish border, June 2022. CRISIS GROUP / Olesya Vartanyan

Because of the past failures, this time around Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government wants to see results quickly. Despite some domestic opposition to any rapprochement, the government says it has no choice but to keep trying to establish relations with Türkiye, a key regional power whose population of 80 million people dwarfs Armenia’s three million.

Forty years ago, when Armenia was a small part of the Soviet Union, Ankara had diplomatic relations with Moscow and the border was open. But, in the early 1990s, war broke out over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave that claims independence from Azerbaijan, and Türkiye shut the border in solidarity with Baku. It has stayed that way ever since.

What has changed now is that, in the 2020 war, Azerbaijan took back control of territories next to Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenians had captured in the early 1990s. The Azerbaijani gains took the sting out of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, as far as Ankara was concerned, and removed a key obstacle to normalisation of relations with Yerevan, even if Armenia and Azerbaijan are still far away from a final peace deal. Hence there is cause for cautious optimism, though a long, bumpy path lies ahead in turning the agreement into reality.

A Start for Direct Trade

Along with opening the border to foreigners, the Armenian and Turkish special envoys agreed to open their countries’ airspace to cargo movement “as soon as possible”. It is the first step toward starting direct trade between the two countries, by air and land. Today, all Armenian-Turkish commerce takes place via neighbouring countries.

Gevorg owns a shop at the biggest wholesale market in Armenia, a place called Meymandar some 15km from the Margara bridge. He has been selling food for over twenty years, his rows piled high with fruits and vegetables, mainly grown by Armenian farmers. Gevorg is now busy importing watermelons from Türkiye. At present, he can bring them in only if the trucks take a big northward detour via Georgia, he says, which makes the price a third dearer. “I have no clue what they will decide”, Gevorg says of the conversations between the Armenian and Turkish special envoys. “But many in this market will certainly join the ranks of the richest people in Armenia, if only they can agree to open the border for at least some of us doing the trade”.

Fruit sellers at the biggest wholesale market in Armenia- called Meymandar, some 15km from the Margara bridge, June 2022. CRISIS GROUP / Olesya Vartanyan.

Armenia’s predominant interest in opening up is clear: Türkiye has the biggest economy in the region. The German Economic Team, a consultancy, estimated in June that with an open border Türkiye could account for 10 per cent of Armenia’s foreign trade, up from 1 per cent today. Armenia’s exports to Türkiye could amount to $185 million based on today’s numbers (equivalent to around 7 per cent of Armenian exports in 2021), and Armenia’s imports could be worth $678 million (some 13 per cent of imports in 2021).

Opening the border has become more urgent in face of the economic downturn that Armenia expects as Western sanctions hit Russia, to whose economy Armenia’s is deeply linked. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Armenia’s Central Bank lowered economic growth forecasts from 5.3 per cent to 1.6 per cent for 2022. “They want to keep a good face, but the problems are yet to come”, a diplomat said of the Armenian leadership. Opening the border could be “fantastic for local and foreign businesses in Armenia”, the diplomat said, “if only it could really happen”.  

Armenian officials face critical questions about the impact of cheaper Turkish imports on small and medium-sized local businesses.

Still, some businesspeople are concerned by the idea of more trade with Turkey. The more trade potential is talked up, the more Armenian officials face critical questions about the impact of cheaper Turkish imports on small and medium-sized local businesses. While some Armenian exporters stand to profit, cheaper imports may indeed become a problem if Armenia does not start preparing immediately. As a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), it is restricted in imposing its own custom duties that could protect some business sectors. For other EEU members, including Russia or Kazakhstan, such measures are less relevant since they have long been trading with Türkiye; they do not have to open their borders to a major, and neighbouring, economy that was previously shut out. Even if Yerevan finds ways to put special transitional regulations in place, foreign experts caution that it will likely have to remove them quite quickly in order to allow the Armenian economy to fully enjoy the growth that will come from opening the border.

Armenian officials say they will talk about this topic only when a clear prospect for larger-scale trade with Türkiye becomes visible. Some Western partners have already offered expert support, assessments and legal analyses to help prepare Armenia for a smooth transition. Yerevan has not started considering these ideas yet.   

“Better Trucks than Trenches”

It’s not all about the economy. Yerevan also aims to solidify its relations with Ankara to minimise the chances of direct confrontation between the two countries. In the words of an Armenian representative, “No matter where the current contacts lead us, in the end a border with trucks is better than a border with trenches”. During the 2020 war in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, Türkiye supported Azerbaijan both politically and militarily, with supplies of drones and other weaponry, as well as by arranging for Syrian mercenaries to fight on Baku’s side. Despite years of close military relations between Azerbaijan and Türkiye, which share linguistic and cultural ties, no one in Yerevan expected such a degree of Turkish involvement in the war. Armenian sources reported that Turkish drones and fighter jets even entered Armenian airspace at times, leading Yerevan to conclude that Ankara was ready to engage directly in fighting. Some opinion polls suggest that these fears have doubled the number of Armenians who believe that Türkiye is their country’s main enemy. At 45 per cent of the population, the proportion is almost the same as it is for Azerbaijan.

Türkiye’s involvement in the 2020 war was also a wake-up call for Armenian officials who had tried to block efforts to allow Ankara a role in talks about Nagorno-Karabakh. They now argue that Türkiye’s exclusion from those talks and the lack of a direct channel between Yerevan and Ankara increased the risk that Turkiye would get involved militarily behind Azerbaijan. The Armenian leadership has been quick to learn from what it now sees as mistakes. Days after the 2020 ceasefire, senior officials started saying Yerevan needed to establish contact with Ankara. Weeks later, Armenian and Turkish officials exchanged their first messages via Western partners.

It was Russia that brokered the deal to end the Armenian-Azerbaijani fighting in 2020, which cited aspirations to freer regional trade, but the U.S. has been leading the effort at Armenian-Turkish reconciliation. One Western diplomat said U.S. President Joe Biden is determined to support Armenian-Turkish normalisation, as he seeks to calm U.S.-Turkish relations after a period of tensions. An Armenian official added that this commitment stemmed from Washington’s 2021 declaration that what ethnic Armenians suffered in 1915 was indeed genocide. According to another Western diplomat, the U.S. is keener than ever to further efforts to bring greater stability to the South Caucasus because of the Ukraine war and uncertainty about the Kremlin’s next steps.      

Türkiye seems to concur that the emerging contacts should lead to establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia.

Türkiye seems to concur that the emerging contacts should lead to establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia. A Turkish official called the closed border with Armenia a “total anachronism”. It will open, the official said, but the sides will have to help each other choose the right moments to make steps toward the “common goal”. The West can help, too, though primarily with symbolic gestures: Ankara has already made up its mind to build bridges with Yerevan, and it wants its foreign partners to acknowledge its positive steps. On the other hand, Türkiye remains committed to its promise to coordinate its moves with Azerbaijan. “We cannot proceed with steps on this front without movement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani process”, said the Turkish official. “Not necessarily because these processes are directly linked. But they are connected”.

Armenia is keen to improve relations with Azerbaijan, too, partly to reopen the transport links to the east along with those to the west. But nerves are still raw after the 2020 military defeat, and any mishap could easily derail progress.

Meanwhile, Russia seems to remain supportive of an Armenian-Turkish entente. Officials in both Yerevan and Ankara suggest that, while Moscow is not now directly engaged in the discussions, it has signalled no intention to spoil the contacts. Right after the 2020 war, Russian officials spoke in favour of direct contacts between Yerevan and Ankara, which, they hoped, could help support the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh. Moscow hosted the first Armenia-Turkey talks in January, and, since then, the war in Ukraine has only intensified Russia’s search for alternative transport routes to Türkiye, which has not joined Western sanctions against Russia. The most-used way goes through Georgia, where the roads are choked with lines of idling trucks. Adding routes through Azerbaijan and Armenia could relieve the pressure. Moscow’s increased demand for connecting roads with Türkiye has already sped up Armenian-Azerbaijani talks on resumed transport communication, which had otherwise remained deadlocked for over a year and half.

Residents of Margara village wash their carpets metres away from the border crossing with Turkey, June 2022. CRISIS GROUP / Olesya Vartanyan.

Preparing for Next Steps

Armenia wants to press ahead as fast as possible, for fear that history may repeat itself and normalisation grind to a halt. “The process is going at a snail’s pace”, an Armenian official said. If Ankara can move quicker carrying out its part of the first agreements on border crossings and air cargo, it will reassure Yerevan that there is more to come.

But Armenia should be patient. Even the small agreements on air cargo and border crossings for foreigners are significant – and no mean feat at the present juncture, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a crisis in international relations. The Armenian representatives are right to say that they need to seize the moment, as a lack of concrete steps now could doom to failure their hopes for eventual normalisation at a time of rising conflict around the world. But a “small step” strategy seems to be the only one possible at the moment.  

Outside parties should continue supporting the process. Any spillover of the competition between Russia, on one hand, and the U.S. – and European powers, too – on the other into this arena could derail the tentative contacts that finally seem to be delivering results. Thankfully, at least for now, neither power seems to be letting that happen over Armenia-Turkey normalisation talks.

As for Azerbaijan, it, too, has a stake in Armenian-Turkish relations. Although it may have initially sought Armenian concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku now sees normalisation of ties as in its interest as that could help advance its own aims to establish new transport routes, outlined in the Russia-brokered deal that ended the fighting in 2020. Baku wants a rail and road link to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan through Armenia. Indeed, officials from several other countries involved in the talks say Baku has been pushing for a greater say, wanting Ankara to make its own asks from Yerevan part of the normalisation talks. But Türkiye, fearful that doing so could stall the process, is keen to keep the two diplomatic tracks moving but separate.

On their side, authorities in Yerevan should start preparing Armenians for eventual normalisation. The country’s economy will need a transition period to avoid shocks. Armenian businesses need time and guidance to make use of new opportunities coming from new transit routes and access to the big Turkish market. Yerevan should begin making the appropriate plans, with support from foreign partners if needed.     

For many ordinary people in Armenia, the border opening will be a personal event. Sveta, 47, lives in Margara, only metres from Türkiye, which she has never been able to visit. Some three decades ago, she climbed to a high point in the village to see what was happening on the other side of the border. She saw women gathering vegetables in the large fields. “They were like us. Almost exactly the same”, Sveta says. Since then, she has occasionally checked on her neighbours. Sometimes, she can hear them singing. Sveta is still not sure what will come when the border is open, but she is keeping an open mind to something she had stopped believing would ever come to pass. “How will we live together?” she asks. “It has always been a fantasy”.