For decades, all the publications and discussions about Turkey in Armenia have focused on the genocide and related topics. This has limited the opportunity to follow and understand, from different perspectives, the course and transformations of the Turkish state and society.
Turkey’s direct participation in the 44-day war was, by and large, a surprise for Armenia. Yet, if the large-scale socio-political, economic, cultural and religious changes that took place there over the past three decades were studied in-depth and continuously analyzed, the probability of it, and many other problems, would have been assessed and realized at the right time.
Both the political role-makers and the society in Armenia and Artsakh have turned a blind eye to the reality that a lot has changed not only in Turkey but in international relations where it is involved.
Armenia did not consider it necessary to understand on a scientific level – through professional analyses – the new environment and changed contexts as well as assess the opportunities and risks for the country deriving from them.
We considered it not important to be thoroughly informed about the country, which is considered the main threat to our security, to be able to predict its steps and, accordingly, to develop a dynamic policy, if necessary, to counter or cooperate.
Just in the same way we considered it unimportant to understand our ally in neutralizing the Turkish danger – new Russia, risen from the USSR ruins, and the changes taking place there and its current multi-layered interests.
All this in the spirit of – what else should we know? It is our fraternal Russia of the Soviet years which has a military base in our country.
And Turkey is the Turkey that committed genocide against us, there is nothing new to learn, we know it for quite long… Not to mention Azerbaijan, whom we contemptuously pretended not to notice from the height of the pride of the winner of the first Artsakh war, not to speak of to be interested in everything that was happening in that country and try to understand, predict and work out appropriate steps.
The Armenian public and political thought, like in many other issues, in this one as well, has clearly remained in the imagination of the Soviet era, with the belief that the individual weights, interests and relations of today’s Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan are still in line with Soviet era, therefore we can continue to rely on Russia’s strong role.
Having relied solely on that, the Armenian public and political thought was blinded to such an extent that it ignored the rapprochement curves of Turkey and Azerbaijan in the geopolitical coordinate system of the region after the collapse of the USSR and failed to make time calculation of their crossing point and assess its possible consequences on the Artsakh issue. This conditional crossing point would be reaching such level of rapprochement in which Turkey and Azerbaijan would converge militarily for Turkey to allow itself to do what it was not allowed to do in the first Artsakh war – intervene.
Against the background of continuous rapprochement between Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia’s task was to either reach an agreement with Azerbaijan on Artsakh issue or normalize relations with Turkey – before that crossing point – to give it a sufficiently favorable basis for refraining from its direct and diligent participation in the conflict. In 2009 Armenia tried to improve relations with Turkey in the form of the Armenian-Turkish protocols but failed (why and how is another topic for publication).
It should have been obvious then that only one option was left – to reach an agreement with Azerbaijan, until the Azerbaijani-Turkish curves cross, until there is no perception that the war waged together by those calling themselves one people, two states, seem natural course of events. But the stereotyped Armenian socio-political thought of the Soviet era still had an unwavering belief that Russia had the desire and ability to continue its restraining role in the spirit of the Soviet years.
After the collapse of the USSR, in the first decade, Turkey had still in inertial respect toward Russia and for that very reason it did not intervene during the first Artsakh war. In addition, at that time Turkey was still bearing the mark of a country with domestic political instability and successive economic crises since the 1980s. In the 90s, the bloody conflict with the Kurds was added to them. Turkey, embroiled in domestic instability and many problems and highly dependent on the European Union, did not have enough self-confidence it has today (although it still has many problems, but in other contexts, and has already turned into the one who dictates, including to the European Union).
Under these circumstances, one sentence uttered by Russian Defense Minister Shaposhnikov that a third world war would break out if Turkey intervened was enough to restrain it. This was done not because of the beautiful eyes of Armenians, but because Russia was still guided by the geopolitical friend-enemy compass of the Soviet years, according to which, Turkey was a hostile NATO member whose intervention and, in general, any movement beyond the border had to be ruled out.
In addition, the EU and NATO too played a restraining role in deterring Turkey to prevent what was avoided even in the worst of the Cold War – a military confrontation with Russia. The West was interested in the rapid establishment of stability and spread of democracy in the territory turning into a post-Soviet chaos, which would have become very complicated if it was engaged in either cold or hot war with Russia through Turkey.
In the following years, Turkey gradually began getting rid of its fear of Russia. The two countries began to develop active economic cooperation. Big mutual interests were formed, which mitigated the bloc mentality and perceptions and made them tolerant toward each other and ready to agree on a number of foreign policy issues.
The decisive circumstance in all this was that the control of Turkey’s fate in 2003 appeared in the hands of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a self-confident person with unspeakably great ability to calculate rationally and an unusual determination to dictate his own rules in a non-standard way, and with his type extremely differing from the previous Turkish political elite, especially with his unpredictability.
Vladimir Putin, who inherited the power in Russian from Yeltsin, was also a newcomer. Initially, he was forced to look for new, peaceful ways in international relations, including with Turkey, merely because Russia needed time to get on its feet and to avoid conflict wherever it could. The two newcomers started a cycle of cooperation, which developed based on consideration of mutual interests and in the pursuit of common interests from economic and international affairs. This allowed Turkey and Azerbaijan to intensively get closer under the eased Russian gaze.
The transformation of Russian-Turkish and Turkish-Azerbaijani relations resulted in weight changes in the Russian-Azerbaijani relations as well. This is attested by the fact that Russia failed to extend the contract for the operation of the Russian Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan exploited since Soviet times.
Azerbaijan has leased the plant to the Russians for $7 million a year since 2002, while in negotiations to extend it raised its demand from initial $15 million up to $300 million, apparently with the aim to raise the price to the point it was no longer beneficial for Russia and with this getting rid of Russia’s presence. The parties failed to reach an agreement, and in 2012 the Russians left Azerbaijan (according to experts, the station was not of crucial strategic significance for Russia and the high cost of the lease was not considered equivalent).
After Russia came to terms with Azerbaijan’s “no”, it was clear that nothing would be the same anymore. But the Armenian social-political thought, as if unaware of what was happening around it, turned the influence from Shaposhnikov’s sentence made decades ago into a “safety cushion” both literally and figuratively, sleeping soundly on it...
In developed countries, think tanks are constantly analyzing the socio-economic, public, domestic and foreign policy, military and cultural sectors of neighboring, fraternal, partner and problematic countries, outlining possible scenarios of developments and working on proposals to address them. There were not and still are not such capable centers in Armenia, the analysis of which would help and will help not only the decision-makers at the state-political level, but also the society to be informed about those countries, to understand the context of the processes and decisions related to them.
In general, the Armenian society has ignored a simple reality for a long time – being well-informed about the histories, societies, transformations, domestic and foreign issues, priorities, preferences, painful topics, red lines of neighboring, partner, fraternal or adversary countries is a prerequisite to manage relations with them effectively. In case of friends, ignorance can at some point turn them into an indifferent observer or even a counter side, and in case of adversaries, leave the chances of improving problematic relations unnoticed and unused, not to mention the danger of turning disagreements into an active conflict.
Without understanding the big and small interests of both the opponent and the friend and their motives, it is impossible to conveniently position one’s own interests in their orbit and implement them. And a state with limited geography and limited resources, such as Armenia, can serve its interests only with that formula due to not having influential and stable levers to impose interests. Delegating Armenian interests burdened by the conflict to Russia or the West, hoping that they will set aside their own interests and impose ours to others in the way we imagine, has been an Armenian “way of life” for decades. The consequences made us wait until September 27, 2020...
Especially not dealing with Turkey thoroughly was decisive in terms of facing the fact of missed calculations – Armenia failed to deal with Turkey, Turkey “dealt” with Armenia...
Today, when Armenia re-engages in dialogue with Turkey, unfortunately, from a very unfavorable starting point, it is no longer possible to ignore the need to establish a professional advisory body serving the government by analyzing the processes taking place in that country and in the context of new realities in international relations. The Armenian society should also be given the opportunity to be sufficiently informed about the neighboring, albeit problematic, country.
Irina Ghulinyan-Gerz is a journalist, Master of Management Sciences, expert in relations of the EU and the post-Soviet countries.
The views are her own.