Turkey, Armenia Hold First Talks in Years on Normalizing Ties

Turkey and Armenia on Friday said a first round of talks in more than 10 years was “positive and constructive,” raising the prospect that ties could be restored and borders reopened after decades of animosity. 

Turkey has had no diplomatic or commercial ties with its eastern neighbor since the 1990s. The talks in Moscow were the first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord. That deal was never ratified and relations have remained tense. 

The Turkish and Armenian foreign ministries said Friday the talks were held in a “positive and constructive” atmosphere, adding both sides were committed to a full normalization without any pre-conditions. They said special envoys had “exchanged their preliminary views regarding the normalization process.” 

The neighbors are at odds over several issues, primarily the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915.

Armenia says the 1915 killings constitute a genocide, a position supported by the United States and some others. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One but contests the figures and denies killings were systematic or constitute genocide. 

Tensions again flared during a 2020 war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Turkey accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying land belonging to Azerbaijan. Turkey has since called for a rapprochement, as it seeks greater influence in the region. 

In separate but similarly worded statements, the foreign ministries said a date and location for the next round of talks would be finalized later. 

Turkish diplomatic sources said the discussions between the delegations lasted for about 90 minutes. 

Russia’s TASS news agency cited Armenia’s foreign ministry as saying Thursday it expected the talks to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of frontiers closed since 1993. 

Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, said in November opening borders and renovating railways to Turkey would have economic benefits for Armenia, 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 also would start charter flights between Istanbul and Armenia’s capital Yerevan under the rapprochement, but that Turkey would coordinate all steps with Azerbaijan. 

The flights are set to begin in early February. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday Armenia needed to form good ties with Azerbaijan for the normalization effort to yield results. 

No easy breakthrough 

Despite strong backing for normalization from the United States, which hosts a large Armenian diaspora and angered Turkey last year by calling the 1915 killings a genocide, analysts have said the talks would be complicated. 

Emre Peker, a London-based director at Eurasia Group, said a cautious approach focusing on quick deliverables was expected on both sides due to the old sensitivities, adding that the role of Russia, which brokered the Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire and is the dominant actor in the region, would be key. 

Cavusoglu also has said Russia contributed to the process of appointing the special envoys. 

“The bigger challenge will come from the question of historic reconciliation,” Peker said, adding that the fate of talks would depend on “Ankara’s recognition that it must right-size its ambitions.”