As special envoys from Turkey and Armenia are set to meet in Moscow next week to discuss a roadmap for the normalization of bilateral ties, they will be on a critical mission to turn the tide of diplomatic relations shaped by ups and downs since the 1990s.
Despite being two neighboring countries, Turkey and Armenia have seen many difficulties in their diplomatic relations since Yerevan’s declaration of independence in 1991.
The two countries have long been divided by a range of issues – from Armenia’s refusal to recognize their shared border to its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the 1915 events between the Ottoman Empire and Armenians.
The bilateral relations, however, have gained a new dimension towards normalization recently, with Turkish and Armenian special envoys scheduled to meet in Moscow on Jan. 14 to lead dialogue between Ankara and Yerevan.
Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence on Sept. 21, 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It sent humanitarian aid to Armenia, which was struggling with serious economic problems after declaring its independence, and helped Yerevan integrate with regional organizations, the international community and Western institutions.
Turkey also invited Armenia to the Black Sea Economic Cooperation as a founding member.
However, the bilateral relations deteriorated after Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory.
Turkey ended direct trade with Armenia in 1993 and the border between the two countries was closed.
In 2005, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then Turkish prime minister, sent a letter to then-Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and proposed establishing a joint commission of historians to study the Ottoman-era incidents of 1915.
Kocharyan, instead, suggested a high-level political dialogue to normalize relations between the two countries.
Then-President Abdullah Gül congratulated his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan over his 2008 election victory. In what was called "football diplomacy,” Sargsyan invited Gül to a 2008 World Cup qualifier match between Turkey and Armenia in Yerevan.
Gül became the first Turkish president to visit Armenia after its independence.
It was only after one year that the Armenian president paid a visit to Turkish northwestern Bursa province to join Gül at the second leg of the World Cup qualifier.
High-level meetings continued when Erdoğan and Sargsyan met in Washington on the sidelines of the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit.
Turkey and Armenia signed two protocols for the establishment of diplomatic ties and improvement of bilateral relations on Oct. 10, 2009 in Zurich, Switzerland, which were a "roadmap” for the re-establishment of bilateral ties.
According to the protocols, the steps would include the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border two months after the protocol went into effect. The two countries also decided to establish committees in several fields and at various levels.
The Armenian diaspora, the church and nationalist parties in the country reacted against the protocols.
Turkey sent the protocols to parliament for approval, while they were also submitted to the Constitutional Court in Armenia.
Although the Armenian court ruled on Jan. 12, 2010 that the protocols could constitutionally be approved, it rejected one of the main premises of the protocols.
At the end, Sargsyan suspended the ratification process.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia carried out attacks on Azerbaijani soldiers and civilians for almost 30 years from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the surrounding area.
New clashes erupted on Sept. 27, 2020, with the Armenian army attacking civilians and Azerbaijani forces and violating humanitarian cease-fire agreements.
During the 44-day conflict, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and villages that were occupied by Armenia.
A Russian-brokered agreement ended the fighting on Nov. 10, 2020.
During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Ankara supported Azerbaijan and accused Yerevan of occupying Azerbaijani territories.
Turkey has stood by Azerbaijan since the start of the war, with Azerbaijani President Aliyev thanking his Turkish counterpart Erdoğan on every occasion.
This time around, however, the reconciliation efforts have Azerbaijan’s blessing and Turkish officials have said Ankara would “coordinate” the normalization process with Azerbaijan.
Following the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkish-Armenian relations have entered a new phase, with Erdoğan saying Turkey is ready for dialogue with Armenia.
Addressing Azerbaijan’s parliament on Jan 16, 2021, Erdoğan said peace and stability in the Caucasus will benefit the entire world, not just countries of the region.
"The opening of Turkey’s borders to Armenia will bring innumerable benefits to the country,” he added.
Armenia has acknowledged "positive signals” from the Turkish president, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian saying: "We will evaluate these gestures and respond to positive signals with positive signals.”
Armenia announced it would lift its embargo on Turkish imports as of January 2022.
Also Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s speech at the Turkish parliament on Dec. 13 signaled that a new era has begun in Turkey-Armenia relations.
On Dec. 15, Turkey appointed Serdar Kılıç, a former ambassador to the United States, as its special envoy to discuss steps towards normalization with Armenia. Three days later, Armenia named National Assembly Deputy Speaker Ruben Rubinyan as its special envoy for dialogue with Turkey.
Most recently, it was announced that special envoys from Turkey and Armenia will hold the first round of talks aimed at normalizing ties in Moscow on Jan. 14, as the two countries work to mend ties after years of animosity.
In their first meeting, the envoys will exchange views on a roadmap for moving forward, including confidence-building measures, Çavuşoğlu stated last week.
He also said that the two countries would also begin charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan as well. Turkish and Armenian companies have also applied for permission for charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan.
Russia also last week announced that it supports talks between Turkey and Armenia to normalize ties, stressing that “the whole world will benefit from this reestablishment of neighborly relations.”
The move is seen as part of an effort to end tensions in the Caucasus region. It is also part of Turkey’s efforts to reconcile with a number of countries it has fallen out with, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
Last month, Moscow hosted the inaugural meeting of a six-way South Caucasus peace platform, proposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The platform includes Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia.
Ankara has made frequent calls for a six-nation platform comprising of Turkey, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia for permanent peace, stability and cooperation in the region, saying it would be a win-win initiative for all regional actors in the Caucasus. Turkey believes that permanent peace is possible through mutual security-based cooperation among the states and people of the South Caucasus region.