Recent engagement between Ankara and Yerevan to thaw their decadeslong frozen ties should be viewed as normalization rather than reconciliation, Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) Vice Chairperson Noyan Soyak said.
Speaking to the Anadolu Agency (AA), Soyak highlighted that one of the foremost reasons for Turkey to withhold direct talks or start a normalization process with Yerevan was the Armenian occupation in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.
After a cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Armenia was realized through Moscow's mediation, it started the process between Turkey and Armenia, which is not a very unexpected development, said Soyak.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been tense since 1991 in the border regions of Nagorno-Karabakh, which were liberated by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in a 44-day war that ended in November 2020 with a Russian-brokered cease-fire.
Last September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the end of the conflict paves the way for an improvement in Turkey-Armenia relations.
"The South Caucasus is a very important and neighboring geography for Moscow," Soyak said, referring to the conflict.
"Having its regional disputes with Georgia in the Caucasus and Ukraine in the southwest – probably Russia wouldn't like to have another continuing conflict in the rest of the South Caucasus, which might have further weakened Russia's influence in the region," he said. "Russia plays a grandiose role in Armenia in many ways," he added.
"Moreover, strategic industries, including defense, energy, railways and the transportation sector, a large part of finance and communication infrastructures in Armenia are under Russian control," he said.
"Russia's influence over Azerbaijan, although it is not as visible as the case in Armenia, can also not be denied," according to Soyak.
Russia is the second-largest military supplier to Azerbaijan, he said.
"The biggest military supplier to Azerbaijan is Israel, which gives a glimpse of the idea of Israeli interests in the conflicted region, having a long border to Iran in the south," he said.
"Some senior bureaucrats in Baku privately suggest that a Turkish-Armenian normalization might even help smooth their own postwar relations with Armenia by showing the benefits of shifting from a war footing to an everyone-wins focus on trade. Therefore, we can easily say that Baku's approach to the normalization process has diverted 180 degrees," he said.
The first meeting of special representatives from Turkey and Armenia toward normalization was held last month.
The proposal for having the meeting in Moscow came from the Armenian side, Soyak reminded.
"This might easily be considered that Russia has a positive attitude toward the process. It also has another meaning that although Russia is not a party to this specific process," he said.
"We do not know much details, but both countries said the meeting was conducted in a 'positive and constructive atmosphere.' Our hope as TABDC is that the talks will bolster peace efforts for the Caucasus region and lead to establishing diplomatic, neighborly relations and reopening of the border to encourage trade and free flow of goods and services," he explained.
The second meeting of envoys with Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç and Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Ruben Rubinyan is set for Feb. 24 in Vienna.
Relations between Armenia and Turkey have historically been complicated. Turkey’s position on the events of 1915 is that Armenians lost their lives in eastern Anatolia after some sided with the invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. The subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties, with massacres by militaries and militia groups from both sides increasing the death toll.
Turkey objects to the presentation of the incidents as "genocide" but describes the 1915 events as a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties.
"Despite some different views, the majority of the diaspora is in consensus to support the economic development of the Armenian people through economic relations and regional integration with the neighboring countries, Turkey and Azerbaijan," Soyak said, referring to the West, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and South America.
"Armenia is located in the center of energy, telecommunication and transportation crossroads between Asia, Central Asia (the Caspian basin) and the EU. All the interested parties are after those crossroad advantages," he said.
The TABDC, co-established on May 3, 1997, in Istanbul and Yerevan, is the first and only official link between the public and private sectors in both countries' communities.