Turkiye, Armenia normalization talks remain ‘fragile,’ experts say
Special envoys agreed to ‘continue negotiations without preconditions’ after their first meeting
After an hour-and-a-half-long meeting Friday, Turkish and Armenian foreign ministries published the same statement hailing the talks and agreeing to “continue negotiations without preconditions.”
As the communique noted the meeting was conducted in a positive and constructive atmosphere, experts told Anadolu Agency that talks remain "fragile."
Former Ambassador to the US Serdar Kilic was named Turkish special envoy on Dec. 15, 2021 to discuss steps toward normalization with neighboring Armenia. Three days later, Armenia appointed its special representative, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Ruben Rubinyan.
Before the meeting, Turkiye's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that at the gathering, the envoys would exchange views on a roadmap for moving forward, including confidence-building measures.
In that context, the two officials conducted the first meeting in "a positive and constructive atmosphere" as they had "exchanged their preliminary views regarding the normalization process through dialogue between Turkiye and Armenia."
A prominent geopolitics expert on the South Caucasus, Nigar Goksel, characterized the release of the same statement by both countries after the meeting as a "positive first step" even though it "doesn't reveal much."
Goksel, who is also the Turkish director of the International Crisis Group, added: "Now that there is a direct channel, the risk that public messaging can be misinterpreted is diminished."
She said both parties "share an interest in normalization" and noted that mending ties would "pave the way for regional integration, with transport links expected to bring economic dividends and more stability."
"The normalization process will likely proceed step by step, ideally building trust along the way between Turkiye and Armenia, and also ensuring all other neighbors are positively disposed of," she said.
Although the opening of borders may still require some time, the International Crisis Group expert said, "there is an expectation that now bilateral talks will continue in Ankara and Yerevan, rather than in a third country."
Regarding Azerbaijan's position on Turkiye's talks with Armenia, Goksel said: "Baku's public statements are supportive, and this matters for Turkish public opinion."
Noting that the opening of a new transit route to Nakhichevan via Armenian territory is particularly important for Baku and Ankara, she said normalization talks "remain fragile" as a potential "escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan could negatively affect Turkiye-Armenia negotiations."
"Ankara's expressed hope is that momentum in Turkiye-Armenia talks can feed into a broader positive dynamic in the region," she added.
Yildiz Deveci Bozkus, a leading Turkish academician on Armenian studies from Ankara University, also told Anadolu Agency that the normalization process between Ankara and Yerevan is "highly fragile."
Bozkus said the fact that Turkish and Armenian ministries shared identical statements is "very important," as it shows that both parties "are on the same page."
Though the date and location of the next meeting were not announced, a prominent academician said the statement also "gives clues on the continuation of a positive process."
Both parties sharing the same statement is also important to prevent manipulation, she said. But "the process is very fragile, steps need to be taken very carefully."
"Public opinion emerged regarding this meeting both in the West and the East. In fact, especially when we look at the US, there are reports of (US President Joe) Biden receiving letters criticizing Turkiye on the talks and that the Armenian diaspora creating pressure. In this respect, we can say that the process is fragile," she said.
Stressing the importance of the continuation of negotiations without preconditions, Bozkus said such a move shows that "the events of 1915 will be discussed in the next period, but not in the near future. As part of normalization steps, the opening of borders, energy, and transportation will be addressed in the first place. Meanwhile, the events of 1915 are either placed aside or postponed to a later date."
She noted that talks continuing without preconditions also had a backlash for Armenia as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was criticized by radicals in that country as well as former politicians.
But having conditions before negotiations would not lead to results, she added.
Noting that during previous negotiations there were third parties such as international organizations or countries, Bozkus said current talks are being carried out directly between Turkiye and Armenia.
"This process, unlike the previous ones, needs to be continued with more rigor and sensitivity so that both sides do not miss this opportunity for normalization," she said.
Bozkus also drew attention to the necessity of normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, saying that success in talks between Ankara and Yerevan depends on it.
"Reopening of borders would benefit everyone, not only Turkiye or Armenia but will also have a positive effect on the region's trade route," she added.
Turkiye and Armenia have long been divided on a number of issues, from Armenia's refusal to recognize their shared border to historical incidents with the Ottoman Empire's Armenian population in 1915, during World War I.