Armenia and Turkey have never established formal diplomatic relations. In 1991, Armenians voted in a referendum to secede from the Soviet Union, and become an independent state. Later that year, the Soviet Union collapsed, and only then did widespread recognition of Armenia as a state occur. Though Turkey was among the first countries to recognize the Republic of Armenia, the two nations did not establish formal diplomatic relations. When war broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1992, Turkey supported Azerbaijan and closed the Turkey-Armenia border in 1993. In 2008 the then President of Turkey Abdullah Gul visited Armenia. Subsequently, the two countries announced plans to normalize diplomatic ties, with a provisional roadmap being prepared. However, this softening of hostilities did not last long. Disagreements between Armenia and Turkey, as well as intense pressure from within the two countries, affected any progress that had been made.
Origin Of Conflict Between Armenia And Turkey
Before the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey, Turkey's Istanbul was the seat of power of the Ottoman Empire, also known as the Turkish Empire. Its reach extended to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and North Africa. This included Armenia. In 1915, the Ottoman government carried out a systematic genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. However, the state of Turkey which succeeded the Ottoman Empire disputes the use of the word genocide to label the events that took place at that time.
Major Events That Influenced The Armenia-Turkey Relations
With the aim of wiping out the Armenian population, the Ottoman government implemented the systematic massacre of able-bodied Armenian males, and also forcibly conscripting them into the army or forced labor. Parallel to this, they deported women, children, the elderly, and the infirm, on death marches, into the Syrian Desert. They deprived these deportees of food and water, robbing them, subjecting them to rape, and mass murder. This led to the proliferation of Armenian Diaspora communities around the world as many Armenians fled the country. The Republic of Turkey has never acknowledged that this mass massacre of more than a million Armenians was genocide, claiming that the killings were neither deliberate nor systematic, justifying them with various reasons. One of the reasons given is that the Armenians sympathized with Russia, and as such posed a threat. Turkey attributes this death to starvation. Armenia-Turkey relations deteriorated further in 1992 when Armenia and Azerbaijan became embroiled in armed conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Though Turkey did not actively engage in the war, it showed its support for Azerbaijan by providing it with military aid and advisors, and also by closing its border with Armenia.
Current Relations Between Armenia And Turkey
After Turkey's President visited Armenia in 2008, talks began between the two countries which would have culminated in normalization of the relationship. Foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia signed an accord in 2009. Meanwhile, Armenians, both native and those in the Diaspora all over the world, protested against the deal which included controversial concessions that Armenia would have to make regarding the genocide and the border. These efforts eventually faltered. In 2013, Armenia's Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan made a controversial statement in which he stated that Turkey should return Armenian lands, to which the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied that no one could presume to claim land from Turkey. In the same year, Turkey's Foreign Affairs Minister termed Armenian land claims as "product of delirium."
Outstanding Issues between the Two Countries
The main bone of contention remains the two nations' view of the Armenian Genocide. Turkey continues to dispute that this was genocide, and rationalizes it with various justifications, going as far as to claim that the 1.5 million death tolls is an exaggeration, and claim the actual figure was around 200,000 to 300,000 people. Armenians in Diaspora have exerted pressure on governments around the world to recognize the genocide. 29 countries and 43 US states have passed resolutions that do so. Another outstanding issue is the border dispute between Turkey and Armenia, which is aggravated by Armenian people's claims of historically Armenian land on Turkey's side of the frontier. The Turkey-Armenia border is still closed.
Solutions To The Problem
The main issues underpinning the Turkey-Armenia hostile relations are the genocide and the border dispute. Unless the two countries come to an amicable agreement about how to treat these two problems, relationships will continue to sour. The genocide issue is particularly touchy, with many Armenians, both citizens and those in Diaspora, feeling that Turkey's refusal to acknowledge the magnitude is unacceptable. The two countries should find a compromise on both issues. To do this, the governments of both Turkey and Armenia will need to carry out an extensive public education program to ensure their citizens support the initiative to avoid a repeat of the failed 2009 attempt to thaw hostilities and normalize diplomatic relations.