Pashinyan Should not Follow Sargsyan’s Mistaken Policy on Relations with Turkey
By Harut Sassounian
Here we go again. Back in 2009, Pres. Serzh Sargsyan engaged in a
misguided effort to sign an agreement with Turkey ostensibly to open
the mutual border. Even though Armenians around the world strongly
objected to the scheme, Pres. Sargsyan kept insisting that he was
right and everyone else was wrong.
Sargsyan could not see that Turkey had no intention to open the
border. Ankara used the border issue as a ploy to obtain maximum
concessions from Armenia, such as giving up on the international
recognition of the Armenian Genocide, accepting the territorial
integrity of Turkey, which meant that Armenians were to abandon their
demands for Western Armenia, and returning Artsakh to Azerbaijan.
These were the Turkish preconditions. Furthermore, even if Armenia
accepted these inadmissible conditions, Turkey would escalate its
demands, adding new ones.
Pres. Sargsyan did not understand that if Turkey really wanted to open
the border, it could have done so without signing any protocols and
without making any demands from Armenia. After all, Turkey was the one
that unilaterally closed the border, not Armenia, so it could have
reopened the border anytime it wanted. When Pres. Sargsyan toured
several Diaspora communities in 2009, supposedly to find out their
views on the border issue, he faced massive protests and
confrontations in Lebanon, France, the United States and Russia.
Finally, Azerbaijan succeeded in killing the Armenia-Turkey Protocols
by pressuring Turkey not to ratify them, in order to exert maximum
pressure on Armenia to return Artsakh. Ironically, Azerbaijan was the
one that ended up safeguarding Armenia’s interests, not Pres.
Now, in 2021, we see the repetition of the 2009 scenario, except this
time, the situation is much worse, since Armenia is led by a defeated
leader who has no choice but to accept Turkey/Azerbaijan’s escalating
demands for concessions. All those who believe that Armenia and Turkey
cannot remain eternal enemies and see nothing wrong with talking with
“our opponents,” are forgetting one key point: Who is doing the
negotiating? On the one side, we have a shrewd politician — Pres.
Erdogan of Turkey, and on the other side, we have the inexperienced
and defeated leader of Armenia! This is like asking the sheep to
negotiate with the wolf. The outcome is obvious.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that “Turkey is
willing to work for the normalization of relations with Armenia
pending the neighboring country’s abandonment of single-sided
accusations and embrace of a realistic outlook.” Amazingly, Prime
Minister Nikol Pashinyan considered Erdogan’s statement a “positive
signal” and promised to respond in kind! Turkey’s 2009 preconditions
are still on the table, except that Azerbaijan recovered most of
Artsakh by force. However, Turkey continues to demand that Armenia
give up the pursuit of the international recognition of the Armenian
Genocide and accept the territorial integrity of Turkey. Since last
year’s war, Azerbaijan and Turkey have added a new condition: Armenia
should sign “a peace treaty” with Azerbaijan, which would mean
accepting the territorial integrity of the latter, thus permanently
giving up Artsakh. Furthermore, even if Pashinyan were to accept such
inadmissible demands, Turkey and Azerbaijan would certainly impose new
more troubling conditions. This is a red line that no Armenian leader
has the right to cross! How can one negotiate with a country that
almost destroyed the Armenian race in 1915, and killed thousands of
young Armenian soldiers as recently as last year?
Having mostly fulfilled the first Turkish precondition — the return
of Artsakh — Azerbaijan now wants to complete the job by occupying
the rest, this time not by war, but by forcing Armenia to give it up
voluntarily, by signing a deceptive “peace treaty.” Azerbaijan is
continuing to twist the knife in Armenia’s bleeding heart by
encroaching on the country’s border and illegally holding and
torturing Armenian POWs, even after Pashinyan needlessly turned over
to Azerbaijan maps of 200,000 land mines in the Azeri-occupied
territories. The Nov. 9, 2020 agreement had no such requirement.
However, it did include a demand to return the Armenian POWs.
Pashinyan should insist that nothing will be negotiated until the POWs
are released and the Azeri troops withdraw from inside Armenia’s
border. Under these circumstances, Armenia must counter Turkey’s
preconditions with its own preconditions.
Then there are those who think that opening the Armenia-Turkey border
will promote trade and bring financial benefits to Armenia. Just to
the contrary, cheap Turkish products will flood the Armenian market,
bankrupting the local producers. Armenian manufacturers cannot compete
with Turkish producers who benefit from economies of scale, based on
an 85-million population market.
Let us not sell Armenia cheap by acting like Turkey will be doing us a
big favor by offering to open the border. In fact, Turkey stands to
gain much more than Armenia by opening the border. The Turkish city of
Kars, only 30 miles from Armenia, suffered a “massive blow” to its
economy after the border was closed, according to EurasiaNet.org. As a
result, the population of Kars province “shrunk from 662,000 in 1990
to 285,000 in 2020.”
It is ironic that Pashinyan, who came to power opposing all of his
predecessors’ actions, is blindly repeating the previous president’s
failed policy on relations with Turkey. He is even using Sargsyan’s
own words: “establish relations with Turkey without any
preconditions.” It seems that Armenia’s leaders not only do not learn
from past mistakes, but blindly repeat them. It would have been
somewhat understandable if Pashinyan, as the leader of a defeated
nation, confessed that he had no choice but to accept the
Azeri/Turkish imposed conditions. But, that’s not what he has said.
Pashinyan repeatedly has stated that these imposed conditions, such as
the planned route linking Nakhichevan to Eastern Azerbaijan and
opening the border with Turkey, are in Armenia’s best interests! Such
measures are completely against Armenia’s national interests. They are
in fact, the age-old dreams of Pan-Turkists, to connect Turkey through
Armenia to Turkic Republics in the Far East.
To make matters worse, in recent days, Pashinyan has welcomed Russian
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s announcement that Armenia should make
an effort to open its border with Turkey. This is not surprising as
such actions are in Russia’s interest in order to further distance
Turkey from NATO and the West. It is regrettable that while Russia,
Turkey, and Azerbaijan are diligently pursuing policies that are in
their national interest, Armenia’s leader has no conception about his
country’s national interest.