Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Armenia Sends Official to Erdoğan Inauguration

Move seen as tentative step towards reviving diplomatic process.
  • Armenian foreign minister Eduard Nalbandyan hands newly-elected Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan an invitation to attend the 100th-anniversary Armenian Genocide Remembrance in Yerevan next year. (Photo: Armenian foreign ministry website)
    Armenian foreign minister Eduard Nalbandyan hands newly-elected Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan an invitation to attend the 100th-anniversary Armenian Genocide Remembrance in Yerevan next year. (Photo: Armenian foreign ministry website)

The last time Armenia and Turkey started working towards a better relationship, the attempt foundered. Now the two countries might be about to give it another go.

Armenian foreign minister Eduard Nalbandyan went to Ankara on August 28 to attend the presidential inauguration of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, previously Turkey’s prime minister.

Nalbandyan’s presence gave rise to talk that the reconciliation process might be about to restart.

There are huge divides to be bridged. Above all, Armenians accuse the modern Turkish state of ignoring a genocide of Armenians carried out by the Ottoman authorities in 1915. Turkey acknowledges that killings took place, but rejects the use of the term “genocide”.

In more recent history, Turkey closed its border with post-Soviet Armenia in 1993 because of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. The Turks remain close allies of Azerbaijan, with which Armenia is still not at peace.

Despite this difficult history, Ankara and Yerevan made a real effort to seek a rapprochement some years ago. In September 2008, President Abdullah Gül paid an unprecedented visit to Armenia for a football match between the two national sides. In October the following year, after a lengthy talks process, the two countries’ foreign ministers signed accords in Zürich on restoring relations and reopening the border. The process was led by Nalbandyan and Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Neither country’s parliament ratified the agreements, however, and the whole process ground to a halt. In April 2010, Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan formally stopped the ratification process, accusing Turkey of trying to insert new conditions, and the process – known as “football diplomacy” because of Gül’s original trip – came to an end.

When Davutoğlu visited Yerevan in December 2013 – officially for a Black Sea regional meeting – expectations were raised, but little came out of his meeting with Nalbandyan. (See No Signs of Turkey-Armenia Thaw.)

Davutoğlu’s appointment as prime minister to replace Erdoğan as prime minister is seen as no bad thing among those Armenians hoping for a resumption in talks. He and Nalbandyan know each other, and both presided over the last set of complex negotiations.

According to Sergei Minasyan, deputy director of the Caucasus Institute, Nalbandyan’s visit was an opportunities to renew those ties and also to show that “despite all the difficulties in relations with Ankara, it [Armenia] is not prepared to isolate itself.”

Whoever is in charge, though, will be hard pressed to reconcile the two states on the genocide question.

In Ankara, Nalbandyan had a brief conversation with Erdoğan after the inauguration ceremony and handed over a formal invitation to visit Armenia in April 2015 to attend ceremonies for the 100th anniversary of 1915.

It is hard to say whether this will happen. For Armenians, the point is to get the Turks to acknowledge that genocide took place.

Ahead of the 2014 commemoration, Erdoğan issued a carefully-worded statement noting that “Armenians remember the suffering experienced in that period, just like every other citizen of the Ottoman Empire…. The events of the First World War are our shared pain.” This fell well short of what Yerevan wanted, and presidential chief of staff Vigen Sargsyan called it as “just another, though perhaps more refined, attempt to deny and conceal the fact of the Armenian genocide”.

“More is required from Turkey – to acknowledge and unequivocally condemn the crimes committed during this period,” he said. (See also Armenians Call on Turks to Say "Genocide".)

Commentators in Yerevan believe Turkey is under pressure to come up with a better formula ahead of the 100-year commemoration.

“Turkey, like Armenia, takes a fairly serious view of the 100th anniversary of the genocide,” Minasyan said. “It’s clear that it’s important for Turkey to take certain measures so as to avoid being the focus of news, political, emotional and moral pressure on the 100th anniversary.”

The invitation to Erdoğan was intended to give the Turkish leadership “an opportunity to somehow come to terms with history and try to turn a new page in its relationship with Armenia and with the Armenian diaspora,” Minasyan added.

As it embarked on a delicate diplomatic process, the Armenian government came under fire from the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun which denounced Nalbandyan’s presence at the Turkish leader’s inauguration, Erdoğan and his “anti-Armenian statements”, and the long-dead Zürich accrords.

“Dashnaktsutyun repeatedly stated that Armenia must refuse to sign these [2009] protocols. Instead, the authorities are trying to reanimate them despite Turkey’s hostile attitude,” party official Giro Manoyan told the А1+ news site.

Under attack, the ruling Republican Party defended the government’s actions.

According to party spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov, “By handing over the invitation in Ankara, Armenia has proved that it will fight against denial of the Armenian genocide, and shown that we expect the international community and Turkey to come to terms with reality. If he [Erdoğan] comes to Armenia, it will mean he acknowledges the fact that a crime was committed.”

Yekaterina Poghosyan is a reporter for the Mediamax news agency.