Even with Armenia, Erdogan is now baking sweet bread

Until a year and a half ago, Turkey was at odds with almost all countries in the region. Now President Erdogan seems on a mission to calm the conflicts one by one. Even that with Armenia.

Rob Vreeken

The agendas are set for the next meeting: more results were not in sight for the first meeting between official representatives of Turkey and Armenia, which took place in Moscow on Friday. Still, it was a historic meeting, after three decades of enmity. Both countries say they are aiming for ‘normalization of relations’.

The rapprochement is also the umpteenth consecutive turn in the Turkish government’s foreign policy. A year and a half ago, Turkey had conflicts with almost every country in the region, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and from Israel to Iraq. There was a threat of a military clash with Greece and Cyprus over gas drilling in the sea. At the beginning of last year, Ankara realized that this could no longer be the case. Since then, Turkey has calmed down the quarrels one by one.

Armenia can now also be ticked off. Both countries appointed envoys to end the freezing cold in the relationship. Top Turkish diplomat Serdar Kiliç and vice-chairman Ruben Rubinyan of the Armenian parliament made a start on Friday. Both parties said the meeting had taken place in a ‘positive and constructive atmosphere’.

Armenian Genocide

The neighboring countries have been at odds for almost thirty years. Turkey was quick to recognize the new state of Armenia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but diplomatic relations never materialized. After all, in 1993 a war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and Turkey sided with Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijanis belong to the Turkic peoples. The border between Armenia and Turkey was closed, trade came to a standstill.

Turkey once again showed itself to be an ally of Azerbaijan when it again clashed with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. Mainly thanks to the help of the Turkish army, which deployed plenty of drones, the Azerbaijanis won. They got a large part of the disputed area back.

Although Turks and Armenians have decided to put that episode behind them, the relationship between the two nations hangs over a much greater trauma: that of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The parties will never agree on its historiography. Even the term ‘genocide’ is taboo for the Turks.

However, that does not prevent the two governments from taking concrete steps. It was announced late last year that air traffic between Yerevan and Istanbul will resume in February after a three-decade hiatus. Armenia says it expects the national border to open and diplomatic ties to be established.

“Thaw” and “normalization” have recently become key words in Ankara’s foreign policy. The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come a long way in that regard. Once, up until about a decade ago, the officially proclaimed strategy was to have “zero problems” with neighbors, but since then it has turned out to be quite the opposite.

Quarrel about refugees

The low point was reached in 2020. With a series of Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria of course, the United Arab Emirates), Turkey was at odds. In the Mediterranean, the Turkish navy was on high alert because of the conflict with Greece and Cyprus over the gas discoveries on the spot. Relations with the EU were worse than ever after Erdogan threatened to open ‘the gates to Europe’ to four million Syrian refugees. Turkey argued with the US over Ankara’s purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft defense system.

Before the ship of Turkish diplomacy finally ran aground, however, Erdogan gave the steering wheel a big turn. Sweet rolls are baked with everyone again. There is constructive talk with Egypt, Greece and Israel and it is all hosanna with the previously maligned Emirates. Political scientist Talha Köse spoke in his column in the pro-government newspaper on Friday Daily Sabah of a ‘turning point’ in foreign policy.

Next month, Erdogan will take the next remarkable step. Then he pays an official visit to Saudi Arabia, the homeland of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – to the anger of the Turks – by a specially flown in team from the Saudi intelligence service. . Hottest question: will Erdogan shake hands with the man most likely ordered the assassination in Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman?