Rufat Ahmadzada
Observing the Caucasus, Iran and Middle East

The Cold War’s Last Remaining Closed Border: Open Borders & Normalization

Turkey-Armenia Relations


On 24th April, Armenians around the world will commemorate the 104th anniversary of the terrible events that took place in the Ottoman Empire under the Union and Progress government. It was a disastrous chain of mass deportations, killings, property confiscation and all sorts of violence. To Armenians this was genocide aimed at wiping out their presence in Eastern Turkey and other parts of the Ottoman Empire. The Union and Progress government’s policy towards the Armenian population was a factor that influenced lawyer Raphael Lemkin’s definition of the term “genocide”. After all these years Turkey does not officially recognize the 1915 events as genocide and this issue remains one of the major factors preventing the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

Although Armenia does not have a precondition for opening its state border with Turkey, back in the 1990s the Turkish government thought otherwise. Turkey stated that the reason it closed the border was the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijan’s Kelbajar District in 1993. In fact, the border was not functioning properly even before the occupation of Kelbajar, except for humanitarian purposes. Over the last three decades the closed border has constrained Turkey in projecting influence over the conflicting sides in the Mountainous Karabakh issue. Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan are strong due to economic, political and geostrategic factors, whereas its relations with Armenia remain closed. This is the biggest factor putting Turkey at a disadvantage in conducting a peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A democratic, Western oriented Turkey with strong democratic institutions could have helped Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to a certain extent to integrate with the West, bypassing Russian or Iranian influence over the South Caucasus.

The 2009 Geneva process failed in its attempts to facilitate normalization between Ankara and Yerevan. Unfortunately, the short-sightedness of some politicians derailed the process. It is beyond doubt that the Turkey-Armenia border could create a new chance for normalization not only between Turkey and Armenia, but also between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It also has the capacity to significantly improve the economic situation in Eastern Turkey and Armenia. In the long term, Armenia’s prosperity is closely connected to its normalized relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Solving the political disagreement remains difficult because of the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s denial. The genocide issue should be a major topic for the Turkish parliament instead of foreign parliaments and as long as Turkey’s political elites refuse to discuss the historic event it will be politicized by some external powers.

So, the opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia can contribute to the start of a regional normalization process. Turkish foreign policy should be based on normalizing relations with its neighbours, as President Erdogan’s ideological foreign policy has proved problematic for Ankara in solving its neighbourhood problems. Overall, the international community should encourage the regional states to set aside their preconditions and start dialogue based on goodwill and for the sake of future generations. To stick to the past is wrong and without talking to each other, the past cannot be faced.

About the Author
A native of Azerbaijan, I write extensively on political developments in the Caucasus, Iran and the Middle East, including for the website I have a Masters' degree in International Politics & Human Rights from City, University of London.
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