BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Here we go again. Back in 2009, President Serzh Sarkisian 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, Sarkisian kept insisting that he was right and everyone else was wrong.
Sarkisian 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.
President Sarkisian 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 President Sarkisian 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 President Sarkisian.
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 — President 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 Sarkisian’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.