Sat, 29 Jan 2022

Turkey and Armenia both expressed optimism on January 13 ahead of the start of talks in Moscow to normalize relations as part of a broader Russia-mediated regional peace effort involving Azerbaijan.

Special envoys from Turkey and Armenia will hold the first round of direct talks in Moscow on June 14 following months of behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at building a broader rapprochement in the South Caucasus region.

Relations between Armenia and Turkey have historically been complicated over the 1915 mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans.

But it was the war between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh during the Soviet Union's chaotic breakup in 1991 that soured any potential for relations between Ankara and Yerevan. Armenia's victory prompted Turkey to seal the border in 1993 in support of its Turkic allies in Baku.

Regional dynamics changed when Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a six-week conflict in the autumn of 2020 over Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under ethnic Armenian control for nearly three decades.

NATO member Turkey threw its weight behind Azerbaijan in the war, which ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire in November 2020 that allowed its Turkic ally to regain control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territory, with Russian peacekeepers on the ground.

"Ever since Azerbaijan liberated territory under occupation, we have entered a new period in the Caucasus," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara on January 13.

"We have begun a process to normalize relations with Armenia. It's important for Armenia to seize the opportunity and establish positive relations with Azerbaijan in order for steps (to normalize relations) to yield results," he added.

Following years of frozen ties, Armenia expects dialogue to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations under the principle of "no preconditions," Vahan Hunanian, a spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, said on January 13 ahead of talks in Moscow.

"We expect that as a result of the process, diplomatic relations will be established between Armenia and Turkey and the border between the two countries, which was unilaterally closed by Turkey in the early 1990s, will be opened," the Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed.

Yerevan and Ankara in December announced that they would appoint special envoys to lead the talks. Former Turkish Ambassador to the United States Serdar Kilic will represent Ankara and Vice Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia, Ruben Rubinian, will lead negotiations for Yerevan.

In the meantime, Armenia lifted a ban on the import of Turkish goods that was imposed over Ankara's backing of Azerbaijan in the 2020 war with Armenia.

Turkey in December also announced that charter flights to Armenia would be allowed. On January 13, Turkish budget carrier Pegasus Airlines said it will begin regular charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan in early February.

Armenia and Turkey last tried to normalize relations in 2008-2009 in what was dubbed "football diplomacy," but the sides were ultimately unable to reach agreement.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have also held several rounds of EU and Russian-mediated talks since the Nagorno-Karabakh war to overcome border tensions and advance diplomacy.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian Service and sondakika.com

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036

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