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Armenia-Turkey, the necessary distinction between reconciliation and normalization of relations


Standpoint of Armenia 

Armenia-Turkey, the necessary distinction between reconciliation and normalization of relations

Ruben Shugaryan


Ruben Shugaryan

Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

In this concise version of an interview published by the website on 28th December 2016, Rouben Shougarian explains first why it is necessary to clearly distinguish between the two fields of reconciliation and normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. He argues that "When the two processes of normalization and reconciliation intermingle, a deadlock situation is create." Then, the former Armenian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs -and author of a PhD thesis entitled Contemporary History and the methodology of international mediation in Armeno-Turkish relations- analyzes Armenian foreign policy and the diplomacy of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. He observes, in particular as regards relations with the United States, that "the supremacy of the “national interests” over the “public interest” in the foreign policy of Armenia. Finally, the former Ambassador of Armenia in the United States concludes by stating that Armenia needs an independent foreign policy, which in his eyes implies the previous resolving of the question of Karabakh and the normalization of Armeno-Turkish relations.

Mr. Shugaryan,
on these prefestive days you are in Armenia in the Scientific Council of the Institute of Oriental Studies, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia for the purpose ofdefending your PhD thesis.It isentitled "The modern history and methodology of the international mediation of the Armenian-Turkish relations". What made you write this thesis?

I have been thinking about this topic for many years both when I was actively engaged in practical diplomacy, taking part in the negotiations on normalization of relations with Turkey and the Karabakh conflict and during the years of academic work, especially when teaching at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

This topic is one of the most pressing ones nowadays. I am aware of the various works, but perhaps there is no systematic work covering not only the history but also analyses of the methodology of work of the mediators carried out during these 25 years. My goal was to fill this gap as well as to offer a certain “road map” for the future.

What are the novelties you have put forward, as they love to say, in the scientific world?

If speaking about the novelties, I suggest necessarily distinguishing between two different fields on the level of reconciliation and normalization of relations. When pondering over the title of my work I hesitated whether to entitle my work “Armenia-Turkey relations” or “Armenian-Turkish relations”. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that if we speak about Armenia-Turkey relations, we have to talk both about reconciliation and normalization, perhaps paying greater attention to "normalization". This format assumes only and only the opening of the border and establishment of diplomatic relations. Governments of the two countries are the natural participants in this format. Meanwhile, the "reconciliation" aspect assumes much longer, delicate and complicated process, where, besides authorities, civil society of both countries should have their participation, and in the case of Armenia the Armenian Diaspora should also take part, whose voice must be decisive. In my opinion, the merger of these two processes has been the major mistake so far, which is not only unjustified, but also carries risks, especially in terms of criticism of the Diaspora.

It should be noted that despite the failure of the process, all involved parties achieved some success.

Turkey managed to show some “constructivism” to the outer world, especially in the run-up to the 100th anniversary showing the world that they have no prejudices and supposedly can easily look at their past via the subcommittee of historians.

It was necessary for Armenia to return to the international politics and be on the international map. And we did it; just remember the signing ceremony [in Zurich]. All of this was necessary for Armenia.

In the decade preceding the latter, the "complementary" policy helped to avoid big jolts, but also because of this policy, we lost some tempo, influence and perhaps the significance as well [in the international politics]. When any of the countries begins to describe its foreign policy with one word, it means completely the opposite. For example, Turkey's policy of "zero problems with neighbors" meant that Ankara had problems with all those neighbors. If we speak about an "initiatory" foreign policy, it means that “complementarity” hasn’t been initiative.

With football diplomacy we solved the problem of returning to the international politics, and also solved the issue of foreign legitimacy after the elections in 2008. We managed to achieve short-term results.

Russia solved its problems. For the first time not only didn’t the Kremlin opposed the Armenian-Turkish agenda, but also actively supported it. Firstly, because after the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Moscow had an image-related problem, and on the other hand, as a result of the war, Russia and Turkey came to the conclusion that their own positions should be bolstered in the region and the impact of third countries should be possibly reduced. To this end, on the background of decreasing the role of Georgia, perceived as an “annex” to the United States,  they opened a possibility for increasing the role of Armenia.

As a result of Zurich process, the European Union also benefited, because if those protocols had been ratified, the issue of Turkey's membership would have become much more tangible. "The signed, but not ratified" scenario was the best scenario for the EU.

In connection with Iran I must say that one can make judgements on the regional issues by examining the stance of Tehran. For example, during the Key West talks in 2001, Iran had a very quiet stance, because any tangible result was not expected there. The same thing is here: Iran seemed to be convinced that the protocols would be signed, but not ratified.

Georgia was initially worried about the prospect of a possible settlement, since as a result of it, the role of Tbilisi would have significantly reduced.

The United States needed to find some interim solution, as a result of which the Armenian-Turkish relations would have entered a new milestone, and every year on April 24 the White House would not have to seek for new synonyms of the word Genocide and thereafter justify itself before the Armenian community. The second goal of Washington, after the failures of Bush administration, was to record     any tangible political success. It is no coincidence that the President Barack Obama and the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid their first visits to Turkey, where the actual beginning of the process was launched.

This process resulted in almost all countries to have positive achievements. The only country that did not have a problem of getting a positive image was Azerbaijan, which had to acquire the image of a " powerful and influential" country in order it turned out that Turkey could not move forward in those relationships because of Azerbaijan.

When we speak about the Armenian-Turkish Zurich process,specialists often refer to the stance of Baku, as a country having a great influence on Turkey, which could have a decisive impact on the failure of process. But is this impact so decisive?Isn’t it a misunderstanding of the tail and head of one body?

I think you’re right. In this regard, there was a distribution of roles; it was the eastern localization of the western "good cop-bad cop" technique. But here it is more important to understand what methodological mistake the mediators have made in this issue.

Have you also studiedunofficial, public diplomacy opportunities in the issue of normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations?

Yes, I have considered not only the process of official negotiations, but also the possibilities and accumulated experience of Track Two of the so-called "intermediate platform" or Track 1.5 and public diplomacy. I have studied, for example, the works of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission and their relation to the Zurich process. I have also presented the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo process and was present at the signing of the related document in the White House in September 1993 as Armenia’s ambassador to the United States.

There are also certain historical facts, consistent patterns and proposals that are discussed for the first time, such as the mediation proposals by Canada and Italy in the settlement of the Armenian-Turkish issue.

In your work, you tell why Switzerland actually initiated the mediatory mission; you also indicate that the establishment of relations without preconditions is the same for three presidents of Armenia.Taking a look at this story from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in your opinion, why did these talks then became the subject of a sharp struggle between the different interpolitical cross points?

One of the main reasons, I think, is that every time the two processes of reconciliation and normalization have been merged both by the mediators and Armenia. The Armenian side did not struggle against it till the end. If we consider the Swiss mediation for understanding the role of the Diaspora, we must recall the trip of the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan around the Diaspora colonies, which is welcomed. But if we were to examine the issue of reconciliation, as I have mentioned, in that case the voice of the Diaspora had to be decisive. And if we talk about normalization, we generally need not to go to [Diaspora] and face a backlash. However, the president paid a visit because there was a Clause on the “subcommission of historians” in those documents. Another issue, of course, relates to the border, but in this regard we have to find a way to carry out proper explanatory works.

When the two processes of normalization and reconciliation intermingle, a deadlock situation is created.

Artsakh issue and relations with Turkey, or to be more precise, the lack thereof, as we know, are Armenia's the two most significant  points of  foreign policy. In your opinion, what are the points of the potential agenda of Armenia's foreign policy, which can be exploited next year and thereafter?

I believe that Armenia's foreign policy cannot be limited to these two questions (now I think that one cannot be solved without another).

After the independence, we have claimed for several times that we also deal with other issues independently. We've sent peacekeepers to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, there was an interesting development related to the issue of Iraq, which needs to be reconsidered now.

When we discuss the issue of sending peacekeepers, other countries were leaving the coalition of the US allies, such as Spain. At that time a large number of letters was flowing to Armenia from the Diaspora centers calling to refrain from that initiative. However, we became a coalition member in Iraq, won points in relations with the USA and so on. In this regard, we managed to do the things, which were dictated by our "state" interest, improved our relations with the US in various fields, while "national" interests required quite another thing.

In the recent years I have noticed the supremacy of the “national interests” over the “public interest” in our foreign policy, whereas there is no such distinction in the concept of "national interest" in various European languages. The second country, which perhaps has a similar distinction, is Israel.

As for the plans of the "next year", I think that we need to be very active in the Syria-related issue; we should be more visible and participate in various diplomatic initiatives.

I think, after a while, we should also have our participation in Arab-Israeli relations, particularly attaching great importance to the role and factor of the Armenian district in Jerusalem.

In the 1990s, Armenia also came up wih a number of mediatory missions, which nobody remembers now; for example a number of times in Georgia, in Lithuania in 1991 etc.    

How would you describe Armenia-NKR diplomacy on April days and thereafter?

I will describe the diplomacy of Nagorno-Karabakh as the one appropriate for that moment. Not only Artsakh managed to survive on the battlefield, but also to adopt a precise tactics in the field of diplomacy. For instance, NKR Foreign Minister Karen Mirzoyan’s interview to CNN together with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, which once again showed the two main parties to the conflict, can be mentioned.

It is a little bit more difficult for me to describe Armenia's diplomacy. If there is a domestic agreement that Karabakh should be more active and act as a party to the conflict, then it is a right stance. However, in any case, I think, Armenia's diplomacy should be not only more active, but also think about new ways, issues, new ideas and questions.

I think that after the April war, the most important question was not the question "what happened?" but "how did it happen?".

Until April 2016, Azerbaijan was going to escalation with low intensity. Under the new geopolitical conditions, the actions of Azerbaijan can be described as a war crime given the horrific violence against war prisoners and civilians. Baku did not even conceal the goals of their state policy and military aggression against NKR.

Armenia should try to understand and present to the world that the stance of President Ilham Aliyev becomes rougher and rougher with every coming day. Here I should highlight three milestones to show the continuity. Firstly, in 2011 Aliyev announced about the intention to strike civil aircrafts flying to the renovated Stepanakert airport. This was an unprecedented statement. Secondly, the fact of returning Safarov to Baku and honouring him with high state awards as a result of negotiations with Hungary and thirdly, the April war. These developments which, at first sight, are not interconnected should be placed in one package and submitted to various bodies – to the European institutions and non-governmental organizations, pursuing an aim to apply the norm of "remedial secession" towards NKR. Let me remind you that the same norm was applied towards Kosovo.

To be more expressive, I must say that maintenance of security of Artsakh with the help of Armenia in the 1990s and the military victory was the "price" we had paid in exchange for international recognition of NKR by the international community. We managed to protect the people of Artsakh from the threat of genocide on our own and the international community was no longer in need of any kind of intervention, and the independence of Artsakh was not recognized.

Does the diplomacy of Armenia take into account what kind of country Azerbaijan is with regard to NKR issue? I mean, does the Armenian diplomacy consider Azerbaijan as a country which is willing to find a real settlement of the conflict, or the country which uses the issue to ensure the inviolability of the elite within the domestic political issues.

In my opinion Ilham Aliyev is a political figure who does not think on the state level, hence, your question is close to reality.

Recently your third book has been released, which has a very interesting and provocative title "Does Armenia Need Foreign Policy", Gomidas Institute, 2016. The book covers different questions, in general, trying to present the challenges and opportunities of Armenia's foreign policy via Armenian-Turkish Zurich process. In this book, you also touch upon the relationship of Armenia with the RF, the USA and the EU, unsuccessful Association and EAEU membership reasons. But, in the end, you leave your reader alone to find the answer to the question posed in the title. I would like to ask you: "What kind of" foreign policy does Armenia need?

Armenia is in need of the independent foreign policy. In order for this policy to be "independent", either Karabakh issue and the Armenian-Turkish normalization must be resolved, or a serious progress should be reported in one of these two processes. But this does not mean at all that we must have one reflectory agenda. In English, I call it a ''foreign policy wish-list'', but this does not mean a ''foreign policy wishful thinking'' at all - somewhat a romantic way of thinking; these are different things.

We need to think what will our foreign policy look like, if these two issues are resolved.

In relations with Russia, which is a very important country for us, we need to achieve a genuine "strategic" alliance. These relationships can be mutually beneficial and effective when we shift from the status of a "younger brother" to real strategic relationships. In this case Russia itself will be interested in Armenia to have an independent foreign policy.