By Erik Davtyan (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In late August and early September, Armenia and Turkey entered a short period of activated bilateral relations that was generally stipulated by Armenia’s participation in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inauguration and an exchange of messages between foreign ministries of the two countries.
On August 28, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian attended Erdoğan’s inauguration in Ankara. During his meeting with representatives of Armenia’s youth on August 24, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan had already announced the official invitation from the Turkish side, adding that “the participation will probably be at the level of Foreign Minister.” The last meeting between Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers took place on December 12, 2013, in Yerevan within the framework of the 29th meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The Armenian delegation’s presence during the Ankara event received considerable attention and public scrutiny in Armenia. Nalbandian’s visit to Turkey took place on the eve of preparatory works for the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
During a meeting with students of Yerevan State University on September 1, Nalbandian described the visit as an opportunity to hand Erdoğan an official invitation from President Sargsyan to attend the commemoration ceremony of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, which will take place on April 24, 2015 in Yerevan. In an article published in the French newspaper Le Figaro, Nalbandian stated that “Turkey should reconcile with its own past,” hoping that Armenia’s official invitation “will not be a missed opportunity and that Turkey’s President will be in Yerevan on that day.” Armenian authorities perceive the visit to Ankara as a necessary step towards establishing a firm dialogue between the two states.
Nalbandian’s was highly controversial in Armenia, demonstrating that Armenian-Turkish relations constitute one of the most debated issues in Armenia’s foreign policy. The Prosperous Armenia party argues that since Armenia has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, the country should not send representation at the level of the Foreign Minister. Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Giro Manoyan stated that Nalbandian’s visit to Ankara was unwarranted due to Erdoğan’s strictly anti-Armenian statements during his recent electoral campaign in Turkey. Sharing the same view, the vice-president of the Armenian National Congress party, Levon Zurabyan, stated that “this gesture is intended to start a diplomatic process with Turkey,” leading to the implementation of the Zurich protocols signed by the Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers in 2009.
Nevertheless, some Armenian analysts believe that the visit was a positive step. The vice-president of the Caucasus Institute, Sergey Minasyan, says the visit indicated that the “Armenian side proved that Armenia is ready to launch initiatives in Armenian-Turkish relations.” Commenting on Armenia’s participation in Erdoğan’s inauguration, turkologist Vahram Ter-Matevosyan shares the viewpoint that Armenia needs to open its border with Turkey, hence any steps that do not damage Armenia’s national interests and national security should be taken to change the situation.
The reactivation of relations between Armenia and Turkey was also stipulated by statements given by Turkey’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, shortly after the formation of the new government headed by Ahmet Davutoğlu. On September 1, in an interview to Azerbaijan Press Agency (APA), Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey and Azerbaijan “will unite their efforts and forces in all issues,” underlining that Turkey “will fight together with fraternal Azerbaijan against the so-called Armenian Genocide.” Shortly after the appointment, the Turkish Foreign Minister blamed Armenia for the failure to reestablish Armenian-Turkish relations, which obtained a corresponding reaction from Armenian officials. Appearing on Arajin News in Armenian Public Television on September 10, Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan stated that “Turkey consistently implements a policy of denial regarding the Armenian Genocide and continuously makes failed attempts to deny and falsify historical facts. This very approach of the Turkish side continues to be an obstacle to the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations”.
By Erik Davtyan (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 21, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili paid a two-day official visit to Armenia. Accepting the official invitation from the Armenian side, Garibashvili had meetings with his counterpart Hovik Abrahamyan, discussing a wide range of issues in the fields of trade relations, infrastructure, education and culture. The Georgian PM was also received by Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan. The interlocutors discussed some aspects of Armenian-Georgian relations, as well as the agreements reached by the two states during Sargsyan’s official visit to Georgia on June 18, 2014.
The August meetings were Garibashvili’s first visit to Yerevan as Georgia’s PM, therefore there were some expectations in Armenia from the official visit. After the “Georgian Dream” coalition’s victory in Georgia’s 2012 parliamentary elections, Garibashvili’s visit became the second by a Georgian chief executive after Bidzina Ivanishvili’s visit in 2013.
Armenia is dependent on Georgia for communication with the outer world, and Georgia serves as a transit corridor for export and import. Since Georgia has recalibrated its foreign policy toward promoting trilateral comprehensive cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan, many in Armenia pay close attention to developments in Georgia’s foreign affairs and its attitude towards Armenia and Armenian-Georgian relations. In this context, the outcomes of Garibashvili’s visit and the high-level meetings potentially have significant implications for Armenia’s geopolitical situation.
Another matter of concern for Armenia is the future of bilateral relations with Georgia in light of the different paths of regional integration the two countries have chosen. After signing an Association Agreement with the EU on June 27, Georgia has considerably deepened its integration process with the EU. Meanwhile, Armenia continues its route towards membership in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. The possibility that these divergent integration processes may damage relations between Armenia and Georgia is nevertheless officially downplayed by both sides. During the meeting, Abrahamyan stressed that “Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union will not affect the existing economic relations with Georgia”, and added that “Armenia and Georgia could benefit from adhering to different integration units”. Garibashvili reaffirmed his counterpart’s assessment and added that it “might set a good example for the international community.” However, these viewpoints were criticized by some observers. Tatul Hakobyan, an analyst of the Civilitas foundation, stated that the different directions of integration will damage both Armenian-Iranian and Armenian-Georgian relations, “leading Armenia to economic, political and regional isolation”.
Aside from economic issues, the visit was also important in the context of national security and military affairs. A problematic development from Armenia’s perspective is that the defense ministers of Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan held trilateral meetings on August 18 in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic shortly before Garibashvili’s official visit to Yerevan. During the visit, the three states decided to develop their defense cooperation, and especially the prospect of increased Georgian-Azerbaijani military cooperation caused concern in Armenia. The trilateral meeting was perceived in some circles as a step toward creating a trilateral alliance against Armenia. However, Johnny Melikyan, an expert on Georgian affairs, downplayed the importance of the Nakhchivan meeting, stating that its agenda did not go beyond that of a series of similar meetings that have periodically been organized between Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan since 2011, and does not have any specific importance for Armenian-Georgian relations. According to Melikyan, Georgia is interested in sustaining the balance in the South Caucasus, not in undermining Armenia’s national security.
Other analysts expressed disappointment regarding the lack of output from Garibashvili’s visit. Arnold Stepanyan, leader of the civil initiative Multinational Georgia, stated that “Garibashvili’s visit to Armenia was perceived as an ordinary visit, as another meeting: nothing special was said or written.” Stepanyan thinks the state-level discussion of bilateral relations delivered less than expected and the lack of new agreements mark limited progress in broadening bilateral relations.
According to bestnews.am, “Garibashvili paid ‘a get-to-know-you visit’ to Armenia,” based on which increasing cooperation can evolve between Garibashvili’s and Abrahamyan’s cabinets. Despite the variety in opinions, the visit of the Georgian Prime Minister was generally perceived as a positive step towards an intensification of Armenian-Georgian relations.
By Mina Muradova (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Sochi talks on settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict initiated by President Valdimir Putin has not met the hopes of many Azerbaijanis for a breakthrough in peace negotiations. The meeting reached only its immediate aim – a decrease in deadly skirmishes on the line of contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops, which resulted in the deaths of at least 20 soldiers in early August. Many in Baku believe that the clashes were provoked by Moscow to justify its influential position in the region.
According to Yerevan, the fighting was a result of repeated small-scale Azerbaijani attacks to which Armenia responded. Baku for its part said that Azerbaijani troops forcibly prevented provocations by “Armenian sabotage groups.”
The recent clashes were the gravest since the 1994 ceasefire agreement was signed between the two sides with mediation of the Kremlin.
“The nature of the clashes is totally unprecedented,” said Lawrence Sheets, a Caucasus analyst told Bloomberg. “What has changed is that over the past weeks, we have seen the first instances of the use of high-caliber weapons, not just small arms as had previously often been the case. The verbal threats have also hit an unprecedented peak.”
Over past weeks, images of military vehicles and equipment most likely headed toward the frontline have spread in social networks. Controversial information about serious and deadly clashes gave rise to aggressive rhetoric from both sides, even in the virtual world. On Facebook, a number of Azerbaijani users called on the authorities to show “all our military power to Armenian side.” One Baku resident posted: “Now it is time to demonstrate all our military power. Our military aircraft have to destroy all territories along the line of contact, where the ceasefire was constantly violated in order to demonstrate Armenians how serious we are….”
Before President Ilham Aliyev left for Sochi, around 60 tweets threatening Armenia were posted via his official account. “We will restore our sovereignty. The flag of Azerbaijan will fly in all the occupied territories, including Shusha and Khankandi [in Nagorno-Karabakh],” he wrote. “Just as we have beaten the Armenians on the political and economic fronts, we are able to defeat them on the battlefield”.
Although Azerbaijan seems to the side that is most interested in changing the status-quo in the conflict, many in Baku believe that Armenia, a strategic ally of Russia in the South Caucasus, provoked clashes at the behest of the Kremlin. The theory is that Moscow wanted to use the situation in order to change of Vladimir Putin’s image from an intriguer and aggressor to a peacemaker in the region.
Vafa Guluzade, a former state advisor on foreign policy, said that Putin wanted to show that “Russia still plays a decisive role in the South Caucasus,” and therefore, Putin called for a summit on August 10 with his Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts in order to show the world his “peaceful, mediating face.”
Guluzade also noted in an interview to Interfax that the Kremlin tried to force Azerbaijan to join the Moscow-led Customs Union, an economic entity that Azerbaijani officials have declined to join. “The meeting with Putin’s mediation was organized just for show, demonstrating that Russia is a key actor in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh problem … Russia tried to compel Azerbaijan, up to the last moment, to join the Customs Union. But Azerbaijan today is a confident and military strong country, so it gave no result,” Guluzade added.
While the presidents were watching a sambo tournament in Sochi following the trilateral meeting, Armenian and Azerbaijani troops continued breaching the ceasefire agreement and taking hostages.
After the summit, President Aliyev said “We discussed the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Karabakh which has been going on for too long and needs to be resolved.” The president stressed that the main mission of the international mediators was to settle the conflict, not to freeze it or strengthen the confidence-building process. “I believe that the latest events will stir international mediators into action,” he said. “Azerbaijan wants peace, the neither war nor peace situation can’t last forever.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that the talks with Aliyev and Sargsyan, were “useful,” with both presidents reaffirming their commitment to seeking a solution exclusively on the basis of a peaceful approach. “There are only few uncoordinated aspects of the conflict settlement, the overwhelming majority of agreements are already clear.” According to Lavrov, several specific points will be finalized: “As they say, the devil is in the details, and the most complex issues are not solved yet.”
After Sochi, the rhetoric coming from Baku and Yerevan became even louder. Sargsyan stated that his country had missiles with a 300-km-radius, which could turn Azerbaijani towns into “Aghdam” referring to the ruined Azerbaijani city under Armenian control. Aliyev stated on August 30 that “…The position of Azerbaijan in Sochi sounded even stronger, thanks to the courage of the heroic Azerbaijani soldiers and officers and the enemy was dealt a devastating blow that they still can’t get over … Of course, Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani army is strong, and heroic Azerbaijani soldiers are a constant source of fear for them.”
According to Lawrence Sheets, “With all the current violent upheavals in the world, from Ukraine to Iraq and beyond, unfortunately some are not taking the current major escalation between Azerbaijan and Armenia seriously enough … This is a war, and we are now only a step away from any of the sides deciding to resort to the use of highly destructive and sophisticated missile systems they have acquired, capable of causing massive casualties and destruction.”
The U.S. called on Yerevan and Baku to take steps in order to reduce tensions and respect the ceasefire. U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern delivered a video message stressing that threats and militant rhetoric will not help resolve any conflict. Heffern repeated that there can be no military solution to the Karabakh conflict and called on the parties to start talks, since revenge and further escalation will make it difficult to achieve peace. “The best way to honor the memory of those killed is to stop clashes right now,” - he noted.
By Avinoam Idan (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The return of open fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict recently brought about a meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Sochi, under the auspices of President Putin, on August 10, 2014. The growing tension in the conflict and the Sochi meeting take place against the background of the crisis in Ukraine. The Karabakh conflict serves as Russian leverage in influencing and promoting Russia’s geostrategic aims in the Caucasus and beyond, and Russia’s new initiative in the conflict meant to improve Russia’s stance in its confrontation with the U.S. and EU and its hegemony over the gateway to Eurasia.
By Erik Davtyan (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 10, a trilateral meeting took place between the presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the Kazan meeting in 2011, this was the first such meeting hosted by a Russian president. On August 8, Presidents Sargsyan and Aliyev had both paid a working visit to Sochi in order to discuss a wide range of issues, concerning Armenian-Russian and Azerbaijani-Russian relations respectively. Since both parties had expressed their willingness to hold a trilateral meeting, their official visits to Sochi presented a good opportunity for the dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The last meeting of the two presidents took place on November 19, 2013, in Vienna and was conducted with the participation of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk.
The meeting focused on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the recent clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the line of contact. While the working visit also pursued some other important issues (e.g. Armenian-Russian relations), the concerns among Armenia’s population over the events on the borderline and the possibility of a state-level discussion of that situation became the main point of interest during the trilateral meeting. Many Armenians attached great importance to the Sochi meeting due to the tense situation on the line of contact, which has since early August caused the deaths of over 20 soldiers. The recent skirmishes were the bloodiest fighting in two decades, and the proceedings at Sochi were therefore followed closely in Armenia.
In the first week of August, the developing situation on the frontline raised concerns among the Armenian public, fearing a possible escalation of the conflict. While clashes on the line of contact have occurred from time to time in past years, the massive breach of the cease-fire for a relatively long period of time, and the everyday news on the tense situation triggered perceptions that a return to large-scale military operations could be imminent. The death of 18 20-year-old soldiers in a week raised deep concerns among almost all Armenians, in Armenia as well as in the diaspora.
On August 7, President Aliyev’s military rhetoric on Twitter raised additional concerns in Armenia. Aliyev stated that Azerbaijanis “have beaten the Armenians on the political and economic fronts,” hence they “are able to defeat them on the battlefield.” These statements, which were actually made on the level of president, where received with a deep anger among Armenia’s population.
Both the borderline situation and Aliyev’s statements received reactions from Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and were widely covered in Armenian mass media. Moreover, the international reactions to the events served to further underline the seriousness of the situation. The U.S. Department of State and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs both expressed their stances towards the situation on the line of contact, which was one of the rare cases when the co-chairing states expressed their opinion not on the level of co-chairs, but foreign offices.
Russia’s mediation attempt was largely in line with the expectations of the Armenian public. Hence, most Armenians welcomed the chance for a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. Despite the fact that Armenian society has an ambiguous attitude towards Russia and its relationship with Armenia, there was a relative unanimity towards the necessity of the Sochi meeting. Russia is considered to be Armenia’s strategic partner, and to secure part of Armenia’s state borders. Besides, Russia is one of the three members of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as Armenia’s most significant arms supplier.
As the working visits of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents started on August 8, some Armenian experts are inclined to link that circumstance with the 6th anniversary of the August war between Russia and Georgia, thereby implying that there is an indirect message to Georgia’s neighboring states, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, the Sochi meeting drew the attention of Armenia’s population primarily due to its consequences for the acute situation on the frontline, rather than the prospects for approaching solutions to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict itself. Therefore, this meeting, followed by a 10-month pause, largely satisfied the expectations of the Armenian public.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.