By Tigran Avetisian
An American-Armenian analyst believes Armenia’s new administration is “much more desperate for a foreign policy success” than its predecessors because it faces “a lack of legitimacy” that stems from the controversial presidential elections and the ensued political crisis in the country earlier this year.
Richard Giragosian, therefore, thinks that a success like normalizing historically strained relations with neighboring Turkey is a priority for the current Armenian government.
Speaking on the recent thaw observed in Armenian-Turkish relations, the analyst told reporters in Yerevan on Wednesday that he is much more optimistic about the potential for the opening of the closed border between the two countries than about any breakthrough over Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the issues that Ankara has linked with normalizing its relations with Yerevan.
“In many ways we see the process of engagement between the Turkish and Armenian sides taking on a much faster pace than before. But the most important question is what comes next,” Giragosian said. “The second important question beyond ‘what next’ is why now. In many ways Turkey is following its own new assertive foreign policy. This is an initiative from Turkey, not from the Americans or from the Europeans… We are engaged with a new Turkey today.”
“The other important thing beyond the changing Turkey is that for the first time in a very long time Russia is actively supporting the Turkish-Armenian engagement,” the analyst added.
At the same time, Giragosian sees opposition from oligarchic circles within Armenia, rather than from the Diaspora or the Turkish side, as the most serious obstacle to opening the Turkish-Armenian border today.
“Many oligarchs in Armenia are threatened by competition to their commodity-based cartels,” he explained. “The opening of the border is important for Armenia to overcome its isolation. But it will threaten the existing closed economic structure.”
The governments in Armenia and Turkey have been pushing for improved relations since September when Turkish President Abdullah Gul accepted his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian’s invitation to attend a World Cup qualifier between the two countries’ national soccer teams in Yerevan.
The historic summit was followed by intensified high-level contacts between Yerevan and Ankara, including the latest meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers on Monday.
Edward Nalbandian and Ali Babacan pledged to continue efforts towards “totally normalized bilateral relations.”
Ankara has until now made the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the border conditional on a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement acceptable to Azerbaijan and a halt to the Armenian international campaign for the recognition by the world’s governments of World War I-era killings of more than 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. Ankara maintains that Armenians died as a result of internal strife, rather than a genocidal policy pursued by the government of the crumbling Turkish Empire.
Ozgul Erdemli, a representative of a Turkish non-governmental organization, Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership Center, thinks political developments in Armenian-Turkish relations should also be coupled with civil society initiatives.
“It is not enough when only politicians talk to each other. It is critical that both countries work also together with civil society organizations to influence the public opinions,” Erdemli told RFE/RL.
Erdemli also called on leaderships in Yerevan and Ankara to focus more on the future in their further search for reconciliation.
“I recognize there are problems related to the past, regarding the 1915 events and also regarding the Azerbaijani-Armenian dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, but in order to move towards reconciliation and take positive steps towards an engaged dialogue, we should focus more on the future. I believe the Armenian and Turkish leaderships right now are on this path,” she said.