Envoys from Turkey and Armenia will hold the first round of talks aimed at normalising ties in Moscow on Friday, in a move Armenia expects will lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening borders after decades of animosity.
Turkey and Armenia have had no diplomatic or commercial ties for 30 years and the talks are the first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord. That deal was never ratified and ties have remained tense.
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The neighbours are at odds about various issues, primarily the 1915 mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Armenia says the 1915 killings constitute a genocide. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated or constitute a genocide.
During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Ankara supported Azerbaijan and accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying Azeri territory. Turkey began calling for a rapprochement after the conflict, as it sought greater influence in the region.
Russia’s TASS news agency cited Armenia’s foreign ministry as saying on Thursday that Yerevan expected the latest talks to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of frontiers closed since 1993.
With borders closed, Turkey and Armenia have no direct trade routes. Indirect trade has risen marginally since 2013 but was just $3.8m in 2021, according to official Turkish data.
Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, said in November opening borders and renovating railways between Turkey and Armenia would have economic benefits for Yerevan, as the routes could be used by traders from Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last year the two countries would also start charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan under the rapprochement, but that Turkey would coordinate all steps with Azerbaijan.
The flights are set to begin in early February.
No easy breakthrough
Despite strong backing for normalisation from the United States, which hosts a large Armenian diaspora and angered Turkey last year by calling the 1915 killings a genocide, analysts say the talks would be complicated.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Armenia needed to form good ties with Azerbaijan for the normalisation effort to yield results.
Emre Peker, a London-based director at Eurasia Group, said a cautious approach focusing on quick deliverables was expected on both sides because of the old sensitivities, adding the role of Russia, which brokered the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire and is the dominant actor in the region, would be key.
“Talks are likely to pave the way for more discussions in the coming months. But delivering a comprehensive, long-term pact will prove difficult due to the multifaceted nature of the talks and domestic political constraints in both countries,” he said.
“The bigger challenge will come from the question of historic reconciliation.”
The fate of talks will depend on “Ankara’s recognition that it must right-size its ambitions”, he said.