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17 Dec 2009

Abnormalisation:The bumpy road to Turkish-Armenian rapprochement

Piotr Zalewski

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On 10 October in Zurich, the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers signed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations and open their common border (closed by the Turks in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan, with which Armenia was then at war). Four days later Armenian President Serge Sargsyan made good his pledge to visit Turkey for the second leg of a World Cup qualifier between the Turkish and Armenian national teams.

Appealing as it may be, implementing Turkey’s ‘zero problems with neighbours’ policy is often easier said than done. In a region as complex as the Caucasus, where the interests of several powers often intersect and collide, Turkey, for better or worse, will find it hard to be everyone’s best friend. Ankara must set priorities, make difficult choices, and reconcile itself to the fact that it cannot have its cake and eat it. To begin with, it must stop pretending that an opening with Armenia will come at no cost to its relationship with Azerbaijan. By the same token, it should realise that it cannot forever count on a two-thirds discount on Azeri gas. Finally, it must make the case, at home and in Baku, that it can better serve Azerbaijan’s interests by engaging with Armenia than pushing it away.

The author of this Commentary, Piotr Zalewski, is a freelance journalist and researcher at European Stability Initiative (ESI) in Istanbul.